Moving and Remodeling with Asthma

Nancy Sanker Health Guide
  • OK, maybe we’re a little more adventurous than most. After all, at age eighteen my husband and I left the relative safety of home in Ohio for Colorado. We became seasoned do-it-yourselfers while remodeling three homes. And then were transferred to California where we trekked through 60 homes in five days before deciding where to put down roots. Who knew they would be temporary roots? Five years later we were playing the house-hunting marathon game again South of Atlanta and now…we must be crazy because we are packing up. Call it downsizing or call it waking up one morning and realizing we don’t need all this “stuff” – we’re out of here.

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    It’s time for you to benefit from our varied experiences and learn how to navigate when asthma is part of the family. Whether you are rolling out the map and considering where to move, plunging into the new/previously-owned housing market or strapping on goggles for remodeling, there are tips that can make your adventure a healthy one.

    Are you just at the dreaming-of-a-move stage? Or is a job transfer part of your future? Talk to your health care professionals first. Find out if they have colleagues who live in the area and the level of healthcare offered at nearby the hospitals. Visit the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology website and click “pollen counts” to reach the National Allergy Bureau for details about allergens across the country. Talk to as many “locals” as possible. Is there any type of industry in the area that is emitting potential irritants in the air? Use as many resources online as possible to become a detective and discover the best and worst of your new possible locale.

    So you’ve made the decision and it’s time to shop for a new home. There are several items to keep in mind as you travel from one potential abode to another. To make the best use of our time and the realtors, we advised our realtor that we did not even want to consider a house where cats had lived as they are a major trigger for me and no amount of cleaning seems to make a difference. Not everyone has such a severe issue with four-legged creatures, but it helped to eliminate potential disaster for us. We also did not want to consider a house where a smoker had lived as this irritant is exceptionally, well….. irritating. The American Lung Association (ALA) notes that tobacco smoke contains 4,000 chemicals, 200 of which are known poisons. Would I want the insidious “leftovers” in my living space?

    We also did not want to consider homes that were closely surrounded by pine trees because of pine sensitivity. We discussed this with our realtors who were amazed that while many of their clients mentioned allergies, they never considered the type/location of landscaping.

    Look beyond your yard too. In Colorado we discovered (too late) that we lived next door to a lot that sprouted a bumper crop of ragweed in August.

    A potential home in California was located right across the street from land that was vying for dust-bowl status. We did end up purchasing a home that was too close to a major highway in Yorba Linda and learned another lesson the hard way as we cleaned a layer of pollution off our glass table outside each and every day.

  • We also discussed types of heating because we had made a mistake in Colorado when we heated with a wood stove for a few years at the height of the energy crisis. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America there are more than 11 million wood burning units in America today. Wood burning usually occurs in cold, oxygen-poor conditions that increase the emissions of carbon monoxide and other inhaled chemicals and particles. If you must buy a home with a wood burning stove have it checked by a professional. Radiant, electric and forced air heating are alternatives, but costs vary considerably.

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    After you are settled, remember the American Lung Association recommends changing your furnace filter the first day of each season and using filters that meet its indoor air quality guidelines with a Minimum Efficiency Rating Value (MERV) rating of 10 or higher.

    As you search for a home, it will help to be armed with a list of common indoor allergens and how to treat them if you discover them after the move.

    Dust mites

    These microscopic creatures crave humidity and disgusting as it is, they love to munch on human dander or dry skin flakes. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), their droppings are the most common trigger of perennial asthma and allergy symptoms. Tile, hardwood and linoleum are better floor coverings than carpet, especially if the carpet is laid over concrete.

    Do you have to live with carpet? Vacuum weekly with a vacuum that has a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter or a double bag. Also, keep the humidity under 50% by using a dehumidifier or window/central air-conditioner to discourage mite growth. Floor coverings and upkeep are especially important when babies/toddlers are involved as they are in closer proximity to the floor and potential allergens.

    Animal dander

    People are not allergic to pet hair, but to proteins found in the saliva, dander (dead skin flakes) and urine. If you are to these proteins, keep that in mind when house hunting. If you must live in a place pets called home, it helps to know some individuals have found that duct cleaning and HEPA air cleaners reduce pet allergens, although there have been no conclusive studies. The AAAAI notes that pet allergens can linger for a year or more after the animal is not on the premises.


    Indoor molds and mildew thrive in dark, damp basements. When you’re looking at your prospective home do you smell mildew or see the stains of water damage? Mold may be lurking. If you have not already done so, consider having your new living space inspected. Some molds can be cleaned with a sponge and a solution of 5% bleach, a small amount of detergent and water. Wear gloves and a mask and if the mold seems pervasive, consider calling a professional. If it’s not obvious, search for the cause of mold growth and eliminate it.

    Use a dehumidifier to control moisture in the basement, but remember to empty the water and clean according to manufacturers instructions. Provide ventilation to help prevent future mold growth. Also, remember to check around the perimeter of your home for piles of moldy firewood, leaves and weeds.

  • Cockroaches

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    These pests have been around for 300 million years so it’s safe to say they’re here to stay. Keep your eyes open for their remnants in your potential new home. Once again, it’s the droppings that are to blame as they contain a protein that is a primary asthma trigger, especially in densely populated, urban populations. If you find them after move-in day, seal the areas where they can enter including crevices, wall cracks, windows, doors, drains and floor gaps. Cockroaches need water to survive in high humidity so fix all leaky faucets and pipes. In general, cockroaches feel less welcome in a dry, clean environment. Use poison baits, boric acid and traps rather than chemical agents that can irritate twitchy airways.

    Healthy Decorating and Remodeling

    So….. you found a place you can call home, but it needs a little paint or maybe it needs major remodeling. Did you know that there are paints available that have zero VOCs? I know, VOC is yet another acronym, but it’s an important one that stands for volatile organic compound. The good news is there are now paints with no VOCs, including Sherwin Williams Harmony and Pittsburgh Paints Pure Performance and the best asset is that there are almost no odors or irritating fumes.

    Unfortunately, VOCs are in many remodeling materials, including adhesives. Talk to someone at your home store and ask about the availability of no or low VOC items. If you must use materials with VOCs, AAFA recommends hanging plastic sheeting to block off the area where you are working and keeping your work space as ventilated (fans facing toward windows/doors) as possible. Wear a mask and goggles and if possible, dispose of debris via a window rather than dragging it through your living space. And it’s not over when it’s over - continue to provide extra ventilation for 3 weeks after completion of the project.

    I hope this blog helps you, whether you are dreaming of moving or you are actively searching or anticipating remodeling. And now…you can help me. Cross your fingers that we sell our current home soon!

Published On: August 03, 2006