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Shelly Barnes: Keep your house healthy for you and your children

Shelly Barnes • Updated Dec 14, 2016 at 8:00 PM

We all want to do our best as we raise our children. It’s the most joyous, yet daunting responsibility most of us will ever experience. But how many of us are aware of all the health and safety hazards that might be lurking in our own homes, and where do we access credible information concerning them? Once we identify a problem, how do we go about finding the time and resources to correct it?

Martha Keel, a professor and environmental health and housing specialist with University of Tennessee Extension, recognizes that information comes at parents from so many different sources that it’s hard to know what’s truly a risk.

 “Children are at greater risk from environmental hazards than adults. First, their bodies are smaller and still developing. Some exposures can permanently affect how a child’s growth and development,” Keel said. “Second, a children’s curious nature increases their risk of exposure when they crawl on the floor and put things in their mouth.”

There is a simpler approach to ensuring your home is healthy and safe, according to Keel. She recommends eight healthy home principles:

• Keep it dry – Repair all roofing, exterior, and plumbing leaks immediately. This will prevent mold and mildew. Make sure the humidity levels in your home remain between 40-60 percent year-round. The use of dehumidifiers may be necessary in the summer.

• Keep it clean – Use mats at doors to keep dirt out of the house. About 80 percent of the dirt in our homes comes in on us, especially our shoes. Clean regularly using damp cloths and mops. Dry dusting and sweeping just spreads the dirt around. Natural or nontoxic cleaning supplies are the safest to use. Wash your own and your child’s hands often with soap and water.

• Keep it pest free – Seal all cracks and crevices around your home, making it difficult for pests to enter. Store food products in pest-proof containers, and keep food and water away from pests. Never use pesticides where children can reach. Contact your local UT Extension office to learn more about controlling pests using integrated pest management.

• Keep it ventilated – Use exhaust fans in bathrooms while showering and in kitchens while cooking. Always make sure clothes dryer exhaust hoses are vented to the outside, not the attic or crawlspace.

• Keep it contaminant-free – Test your home for radon. It the home was built before 1978, have children tested for lead poisoning. Never allow smoking in your home or car. Purchase low- to no-VOC cleaning and remodeling products, such as paints. Use natural or nontoxic formulations.

• Keep it safe – Keep smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in working order. Set water heater to a maximum of 120 degrees. Childproof according to child’s age and follow the ABCs of safe sleep for infants – alone, on back, in crib. Keep medications, cleaners, and all toxic substances out of the reach of children.  Poison help is available at 800-222-1222.

• Keep it maintained – Inspect and repair cracks and holes in the foundation, clean gutters to keep them from backing up and fix peeling paint. Replace furnace filters regularly and have your heating/cooling system serviced once a year by a reputable contractor.

Keep it comfortable – Inspect your heating and cooling system to make sure it’s operating properly. Seal all cracks and crevices, especially around doors and windows, and make sure your insulation levels are right for where you live. For more information, visit energy.gov/energysaver/insulation.

“Instead of trying to identify every hazard, follow the eight principles to reduce the chance of your child being exposed to something harmful or dangerous,” Keel said.

Keel adapted her eight principles from those offered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and UT Extension has published a handy pamphlet that can be downloaded from the UT Extension publications website at extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/SP789.pdf  

 UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state and provides equal opportunities in all programming and employment. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.

For more information on this or other family and consumer sciences related topics, contact Shelly Barnes, family and consumer sciences Extension agent for UT Extension in Wilson County. Barnes may be reached atsbarnes@utk.edu or 615-444-9584.

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