The Perspective

Improving the Health of Your Home

“Water, air and cleanliness are the chief articles in my pharmacopoeia.”
— Napoleon I, as in Napoleon Bonaparte, who has been dead for 193 years.

Clean water, clean air, and overall cleanliness . . . the concept of the healthy home as a public health issue traces itself back to the mid-19th century when typhoid and tuberculosis were still common, untreatable illnesses. Physicians of the day promoted the concept of the healthy home as a way to combat illnesses, reduce deaths and improve the health of the poor. The advent of indoor plumbing, cleanable interior surfaces, good ventilation, and better food storage in homes all contributed to better health and improvements to public health.

Today, structural and safety issues as well as indoor air quality remain an integral part of the healthy home concept.

Most Americans spend almost 90 percent of their time indoors, two-thirds of which is usually at home,” said Mackenzie Burns, Healthy Homes specialist at UNLV’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “When you consider that risk equals hazards multiplied by exposure then the time spent in your home can greatly increase your risks if there are hazards in your home.”

Healthy Homes specialists take an overall approach to identify risk factors that contribute to an unhealthy situation. Some are obvious like indoor air quality including secondhand smoke, carbon monoxide, allergens, pests, or mold all of which can contribute to health issues like asthma. Other risk factors include lead poisoning, radon gas, poor water quality, exposure to household chemicals, an even structural issues that can lead to injuries or falls. In 2011, the American Housing Survey estimated that about 6 million homes were considered substandard, which increases the risk of negative health outcomes associated with the home.

“Many times, people are not aware of the interconnectivity of their homes. One seemingly small problem can escalate into a larger issue. For example, a small leak provides water for mold to grow, it provides water for pests to drink, or a leak may destabilize lead-based paint or cause more structural damage which in turn can create an uneven floor where someone can trip and fall,” said Burns.

While there is no specific data for Southern Nevada, the Nevada Healthy Homes Partnership (NVHHP) and partner programs have identified some common trends locally. Pests and mold problems related to poor general maintenance practices are a problem in rental homes as well as owner-occupied homes. A majority of homes that have been reviewed as part of the Nevada Healthy Homes Partnership lacked recommended safety devices like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors or fire extinguishers.

“It’s important to know that for many purposes soap, hot water and elbow grease are all that is necessary for cleaning,” added Burns. “Some chemical cleaners can be harmful and pose an undue risk for poisonings or trigger asthma attacks. We tell our participants (in the NVHHP) that they want a home that is ‘clean and cleanable’ and wet-cleaning techniques are preferred for removing allergens. Smooth surfaces work best . . . a carpet can be an asthmatic child’s nightmare. Keep a checklist and post it in your home so you remember to clean your dryer vents twice a year, inspect for leaks, change your air conditioning air filters, and check the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.”

NVHHP has eight tips to a healthy home:

  1. Keep it dry
  2. Keep it clean
  3. Keep the air fresh
  4. Keep it pest free
  5. Keep it safe
  6. Keep it contaminant free
  7. Keep it maintained
  8. Keep it green

The Nevada Healthy Homes Partnership is collaboration among UNLV, the Southern Nevada Health District, the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health, the City of Henderson, Rebuilding Together of Southern Nevada (RTSN) and other public/private housing authorities and health agencies in Southern Nevada. NVHHP identifies, assesses and remediates multiple health- and housing-related hazards and connects participants with community resources. It is one resource available for qualified homeowners. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency all have Healthy Homes links on their websites.

The Surgeon General’s office offers a Healthy Homes checklist so you can evaluate your own home and see where you might need to make changes. In addition, there’s plenty of information available on the Nevada Healthy Homes Partnership website, including a link to local resources.

Table of Contents | Read Next Story | Subscribe

The Perspective Footer