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Safe and Non-Toxic Home Materials for Kids

I had the privilege of interviewing Andrew Pace, Founder of The Green Design Center, about non-toxic home materials so we can nourish our kids back to health in a safe, healing environment.

Our focus is on identifying the safest building materials for your home and addressing potential hazards that could impact your family’s health, particularly concerning eczema. No matter how meticulous your approach is with diet, supplements, and skincare, a toxic living environment can undermine your child’s health. If you suspect that chemical sensitivities in your home are exacerbating your child’s eczema, here’s a concise action plan to address the issue effectively.

Listen Below For The Entire Episode on The Eczema Kids Podcast

Healthy Building Turning Point

The first major turning point occurred a few years into Andrew’s business. An installation of waterproofing material for a below-grade parking structure led to complaints from residents in the condos above about odors. The assumption was that water-based materials were safe, but despite precautions like sealing off areas, the odors persisted. The situation escalated when three workers were hospitalized due to inhalation issues, as the coating was depleting the oxygen in the room.

The project was halted, and answers were sought. This led to discovering AFM (American Formulated and Manufacturing), a small company in California specializing in paints and coatings for people with chemical sensitivities. They assisted in completing the project safely, leading to a significant realization: the need to reevaluate the materials being sold.

“No matter how meticulous you are with diet, supplements and skincare, a toxic living environment will undermine your child’s health and exacerbate eczema.” -Andra McHugh

“Natural” And “Water-Based” Does Not Mean Safe

At that time, “water-based” products only required 50% of the liquid to be water, allowing the rest to be any solvent. Learning from this experience, a decision was made to advocate for safer, less toxic materials for homes and facilities. Over 30 years, awareness has slowly grown.

The current challenge lies in combating misleading marketing. Terms like “environmentally friendly,” “green,” or “zero VOC” often give a false sense of safety. It’s similar to seeing “healthy” or “all-natural” labels on grocery store products—they don’t always mean what they seem.

Greenwashing

Years ago, a presentation was put together for architectural and design firms to discuss these types of products. The phenomenon of “greenwashing” in the marketing portion of the industry was highlighted. Greenwashing involves overselling the environmental benefits of products simply to boost sales. One common tactic is labeling products as “natural” or “naturally derived.”

It’s crucial to understand that “natural” does not necessarily mean “safe.” For example, asbestos and arsenic are natural, yet they are harmful to humans. So, the need to dig deeper into the true nature of these materials and understand what we are really being surrounded with is emphasized.

Is A Non-Toxic Home Even Possible?

There’s no such thing as a perfectly non-toxic building material or even a perfectly healthy home. Clients are always advised to find the right balance, considering the healthiest options based on their personal health issues.

For instance, let’s take paint, a common example. Over the past 20 years, every paint manufacturer has developed zero VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paint. This sounds alarming, but it refers to carbon-based molecules that vaporize at room temperature, potentially rising to the atmosphere, reacting with nitrogen and UV light, and creating low-level smog. The EPA regulates VOCs for this reason.

Inside a can of paint, there are hundreds of chemicals. Nowadays, most of these chemicals are free of VOCs, but they’ve often been replaced with other chemicals not classified as VOCs. So, when a customer seeks a healthy product or home, the key question is: what specific health concerns are they dealing with?

For example, many families with autistic children require materials that are completely free of chemical off-gassing, as these children often spend a lot of time on the floor and are sensitive to these chemicals. This includes flooring materials and bedding that release harmful chemicals. For families dealing with PANS or PANDAS due to mold exposure, materials that help prevent mold growth or manage moisture and mycotoxin release are essential.

Ultimately, the term “healthy” means finding options that are better than the traditional alternatives, tailored to the specific needs of the family or individual. For us eczema warriors, our top priorities are chemical sensitivities and off-gassing.

Managing Expectations In Your Home Environment

A lot of times, that is the reality. It’s important to manage expectations and allow oneself some grace, understanding that perfection is unattainable. Even with unlimited funds and the top experts, it’s impossible to make everything perfect. Trying to do so can lead to frustration and financial strain.

In a newly built home, there are typically between 10,000 and 15,000 chemicals present. Reducing this by any percentage, whether it’s 10% or 90%, isn’t perfect, but it’s a significant improvement. It’s crucial to acknowledge these efforts and complement them with a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Top Home Modification Priorities For Parents Of Kids With Eczema

For parents of kids with eczema, this specific challenge shares some commonalities with conditions like autism. It’s important to identify the most harmful materials or chemicals found in homes that could exacerbate eczema symptoms.

One significant factor is the absorption of chemicals through the skin, our largest organ. Spray foam insulation is a notable trigger. Even after installation, it can continue to off-gas for two to five years or longer, causing skin reactions. This is an example of how building materials can release harmful chemicals long after moving into a home.

Common sources of chemical off-gassing include flooring materials, wall finishes, cabinetry, furniture, and window treatments. Additionally, it’s crucial to consider spray foam insulation, pesticide applications (especially in termite-prone areas), and the HVAC system. The HVAC system, which functions as the lungs of a home, must be adequate to purify and sanitize the air regularly. This is particularly important for those with eczema, dysautonomia, or chronic inflammatory response.

If Your House Is Not Safe, Your Family Cannot Be Healthy

Our family recently moved to California into a newly renovated house for my husband’s job, which unfortunately didn’t work out, and we had to move back. During that time, my husband oversaw the renovation, and my daughter, who is the most sensitive, had persistent skin issues. Despite having extensive knowledge about eczema management, nothing seemed to help. We didn’t eat out, money was tight, and it was a challenging period. The house had solar panels and who knows what else in the walls, making it hard to pinpoint the cause.

Safest Materials For Non-Toxic Homes

When asked about the best materials for flooring, paint and a few others, Andrew mentioned that remodeling can be more potentially harmful than building new. He is frequently asked whether it’s safer to renovate an existing home or build from scratch, especially considering health concerns.

Most people might assume renovation is better due to less potential exposure and stress. Stress is a significant factor in health issues due to its impact on cortisol levels. But in Andrew’s opinion, building from scratch is often healthier. This approach allows for careful selection of each product going into the home, ensuring safety from the start.

With remodeling, it’s like peeling the layers of an onion—you might uncover one issue only to find more problems beneath. You also face uncertainties about the previous owner’s honesty regarding any repairs or incidents like pesticide applications or minor floods that could have caused mold. Therefore, building from scratch often provides a cleaner, more controlled environment.

Remodeling also proves challenging when accommodating residents within the home during the process. Vigilance regarding ventilation and safeguarding measures becomes paramount depending on the specific areas undergoing renovation. For instance, when renovating bedrooms or bathrooms, it’s crucial to install barrier walls—such as zip walls—to prevent dust and odors from spreading to other parts of the house. It’s also essential to cover return air grills and HVAC grills to prevent the circulation of contaminants throughout the entire home.

Additionally, employing devices like Negative air machines or air scrubbers helps eliminate the dust and debris generated during demolition and reconstruction, directing them outside to prevent internal dispersion.

Hard Floors Are Better Than Carpets For Eczema

Regarding materials, my preference strongly leans towards avoiding carpets altogether in favor of hard surfaces. Even when opting for area rugs, it’s imperative to ensure they are entirely synthetic and free of chemicals. Hard surfaces generally offer superior benefits, but it’s crucial to select materials like hardwood flooring carefully, ensuring they do not release substances such as formaldehyde. Engineered hardwood, which I endorse for its durability and pre-finished convenience, demands careful selection of brands free from formaldehyde in adhesives and finishes. The same diligence applies to paints and coatings, where prioritizing truly toxin-free options over merely zero VOC products becomes crucial for indoor air quality.

Best Air Filter For Eczema Sufferers

Andy recommends the Austin Air brand air purifier. He also likes IQ Air and Air Pura.

You want to get a unit that is big and bulky and full of carbon. The, the ones that are small and they look nice in a room and they’re not very noisy. They don’t work, period. They sell well through the influencer realm on Instagram, but they’re not designed to actually do the job. And you know, sometimes old school is the best school.

Formaldehyde And Your Family

When it comes to mattress and bedding choices, opting for organic materials is essential. Brands like Naturepedic and SaviRest offer excellent options for mattresses and bedding. I just ordered some organic sheets from Coyuchi!

It’s crucial to select items that are free from chemical dyes, pesticides, and flame retardants, which can often be present even in products claiming otherwise. For example, materials advertised as flame retardant-free have been found to contain high levels of these chemicals, similar to how paint manufacturers replaced formaldehyde with formaldehyde donors in the 1980s. While a gallon of paint may test negative for formaldehyde initially, these donors can combine during curing to release formaldehyde over several years, unbeknownst to consumers.

Likewise, some products claiming to be free from flame retardants may use ingredients that inadvertently produce these chemicals during manufacturing or use. This loophole allows manufacturers to circumvent disclosure regulations, sometimes resulting in unforeseen health effects, as seen in a case involving excessively high formaldehyde emissions from supposedly “Green Guard certified” carpeting.

In one notable instance, a family experienced skin sensitization issues due to formaldehyde emissions from their new home’s carpeting, despite it being certified as meeting green building standards. After investigative testing revealed the issue, the manufacturer initially contested the findings but later acknowledged potential indirect sources of formaldehyde in their supply chain. This incident underscores the complexities and challenges in ensuring truly safe and toxin-free materials in construction and home furnishings.

Water Filtering For Non-Toxic Homes

For those residing in homes served by municipal water systems, the water typically undergoes treatment using substances such as chlorine, fluoride, or chloramines, among other methods. It’s crucial to visit your municipal website and access the latest water report, which details the specific treatment methods employed.

This report provides a baseline, although it’s essential to note that these measurements are taken at the water source, not necessarily reflecting conditions within your home. Considering factors like the age of plumbing and external piping helps determine the appropriate filtration system needed. Based on these considerations, recommendations can range from straightforward solutions to more comprehensive systems like multi-tank UV lights for whole-house filtration.

Alternatively, if your water source is from a well, it’s advisable to take a sample to a local lab for testing. This ensures any potential presence of organisms or contaminants can be identified and addressed, possibly through methods such as UV treatment.

In an ideal scenario, I advocate for a whole-house filtration system that addresses both bathing and showering water, crucial points where exposure to chlorine, fluoride, and other chemicals occurs, particularly affecting children. Additionally, for drinking water, I recommend a structured approach rather than reverse osmosis, as the latter strips essential minerals, resulting in what some describe as “dead water.”

Navigating these choices can be complex, but it’s essential to prioritize solutions that maintain water quality without compromising essential elements beneficial to health.

EMF’s And Your Kids

EMF’s are a complex topic because we all appreciate and rely on technology, but there needs to be boundaries. Take 5G technology, for example—there’s significant debate about its impact, with some groups suggesting it’s more harmful than previous generations like 4G or 3G. The truth is, it’s not necessarily worse because the signal is stronger; rather, it allows for more data transfer, making it more integrated into our daily lives. We’re now immersed in technology unlike any time before in history.

Just over a century ago, before widespread electricity, fossil fuels, and plastics, humanity lived for millennia without these influences. Now, in just a blink of time, we’re expected to adapt to technologies our bodies have never encountered. It’s no surprise our bodies struggle to adjust, and there’s no perfect solution because technology evolves rapidly, often outpacing our understanding of its long-term impacts.

As everyone suggests, precautions are crucial. Simple habits like not keeping cell phones near the body or bed are essential, especially considering the bedroom should ideally be the safest space in the house. If EMFs are a concern, measures like using EMF-blocking paints, window films, or bed netting can help create a shielding environment. It’s also wise to ensure electrical conduits are not positioned near sleeping areas to mitigate potential EMF exposure, which, while not toxic to most, can affect sleep patterns, notably REM cycles.

Ultimately, prioritizing the bedroom as a sanctuary from external influences like EMFs can significantly enhance overall health and well-being.

How To Test For Mold In Your Home

Mold has emerged as one of the most pressing topics in Andrew’s consulting work, driven by a growing understanding of its detrimental effects. Previously, chemical sensitivity was seen as a distinct condition, but we now recognize it often as a symptom of broader issues such as chronic inflammatory response, mast cell activation, and dysautonomia. Similarly, conditions like eczema likely stem from underlying autoimmune and inflammatory responses.

Regarding mold and bacteria, actinomyces—an overlooked gram-positive bacteria found in degraded building materials—is now gaining attention due to poor construction practices. To combat these issues, maintaining low humidity levels is crucial. While mold typically thrives in environments with 50% or higher humidity, I advocate for keeping levels around 35-40%, optimal not just for mold prevention but also for respiratory and skin health, and to mitigate chemical off-gassing.

For those concerned about mold, I recommend conducting a home air check using a straightforward system available on our website. This test provides insights into VOC levels, airborne formaldehyde, and active mold presence in your home. If mold is detected, consulting with an Indoor Environmental Professional (IEP) becomes essential for more comprehensive testing and remediation strategies.

Even a small amount of mold can trigger significant health reactions, underscoring the importance of addressing mold growth promptly and effectively. As part of Andrew’s commitment to raising awareness, he’s involved with Change the Air Foundation, a nonprofit focused on educating about mold detection, remediation, and prevention in our built environments. I believe this effort parallels past public health challenges like lead and asbestos, marking a crucial initiative for our generation.

Top Things You Need For A Non-Toxic Home

  1. Start with a Home Air Check
  2. Get your HVAC system cleaned and scrubbed – no chemicals or fragrance!
  3. Get a Whole House Water Filter
  4. If you live in a humid place (above 30 percent humidity) get a Whole Home Dehumidifier
  5. If you recently built a home or completed a renovation, do a micro-particle cleaning
  6. Address EMF exposure– particularly in the bedrooms

How To Research Healthy Home Materials

Check out Andrew’s podcast, Non-Toxic Environments. His website is The Green Design Center. As a parent trying to raise healthy, happy kids who have to be indoors sometimes, I talk about this subject often. Check out Exhausted Parents Guide to EMF Exposure, How to Protect Your Kids From Dirty Electricity and EMF’s, How to Identify Eczema Triggers and 5 Tips for Creating a Skin-Friendly Home.

If you’re looking for more help to put all of these pieces together, alongside a healthy diet, supplementation plan and skincare routine, the Natural Eczema Solutions course is for you my friend! Get rid of your child’s eczema in 90 days.

non-toxic home
non-toxic home
non-toxic home

FAQ


How can I test my home for mold and chemical sensitivities?

A home air check system is a simple and effective way to test for VOCs, formaldehyde, and mold. The system includes tubes and an air pump that collect air samples, which are then sent to a lab for analysis. Results provide insights into the most likely sources of contaminants and the active mold count in your home. Pair those results (and resulting action) with an eczema-busting diet, organic skincare routine and supplements and you’ll be looking at a whole new kid!


What is the importance of low humidity in a non-toxic home?

Maintaining low humidity levels (around 35-40%) helps prevent mold growth and reduces chemical off-gassing, both of which can exacerbate eczema and other health conditions. Higher humidity levels can elevate chemical off-gassing and support mold growth, creating a more toxic environment.


How can I further protect my family from EMFs in the home?

Avoid keeping cell phones near the body or bed.

Use EMF-blocking paints and window films.

Consider bed netting to create a shielding environment– use code ‘eczemakids’ to save 15%

Ensure electrical conduits are not positioned near sleeping areas to reduce EMF exposure.I

nstall a kill switch to cut off power at night, minimizing electromagnetic fields in the bedroom.

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