How does your home smell?

A very personal question, well yes – but judging by TV adverts and the pages of glossy magazine ads devoted to the matter, it’s a subject homeowners are concerned about…. Or is it?  Have we simply been brainwashed by years of advertising into a belief that our homes must be filled with a pleasing floral aroma at all times?

Recent reports claim outdoor air pollution contributes to 40,000 early deaths in the UK each year. Whilst no one is saying indoor air pollution is as serious a problem, modern homes are often full of chemicals and there are calls for the long term effects of all these chemicals to be studied.

As a designer who believes in sustainable and eco-friendly design, I prefer not to wait for years of studies to tell me that breathing in fumes in our homes is bad for us. Let’s take a common sense look at it, and you can decide for yourself.

Human beings are meant to breathe fresh air, not toxic chemicals, we probably all agree on that. Modern levels of insulation in buildings are increasingly turning our homes into almost air-tight boxes. This is fantastic news from an energy saving and heat loss point of view, but while we’re busy sealing out cold and damp, we may be sealing in chemicals from products we use.

To get a feel for the chemicals at large in your home, check out the labels of some of those cleaning and DIY products in your cupboards and look at the warnings given. ‘Dangerous to breathe’ ‘Avoid contact with skin’ and so on.

So how can you minimise the more harmful chemicals in your home?

  • Consider changing your regular cleaning products for more natural ranges such as Method or Ecover. Supermarkets like Waitrose increasingly also have their own eco ranges too.
  • If you don’t smoke, don’t allow visitors to your home to do so. Many years ago we might have felt obliged through politeness to provide an ashtray for guests. The dangers of smoking are now so well known that no family member or friend should be offended by you asking them to smoke outside.
  • If there is a persistent unpleasant smell in your home that isn’t from an obvious, temporary source, it needs investigating, not masking! For the pet owners amongst us a forgotten ‘present’ is a possibility, but do be sure to get more worrying options such as mould, mildew or a gas leak checked out.
  • Consider the choice of materials used when decorating your home, whether you do the painting or get someone in to do it. The use of harmful chemicals in paint – Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – was restricted a number of years ago by industry regulations, but not eliminated, so some paints are still better than others. It’s especially important in rooms where people sleep as the chemicals remain and are given out into the air long after the ‘new paint’ smell has worn off.
  • Be wary of too many chemical room scents, especially the kind you need to plug in. They use electricity unnecessarily and you’re still breathing in the chemicals even when you’ve stopped noticing the scent. Be especially careful if you have family members with asthma or allergies.

And finally…

  • Get some fresh air into your home. Don’t waste heat or create a security risk, but do open windows and doors when you can. A blast of fresh air and some real flowers or a little natural perfume oil is much better than all those fake floral scents!

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