Improving our Homes for Eczema Children – Minimizing Indoor Allergens (House Dust Mites)

Celia Imrey, Architect and Co-Founder of SpaceKit
Celia Imrey, Architect and Co-Founder of SpaceKit

For parents with eczema children, it is very likely you’ve ‘scanned’ your homes looking for possible triggers of eczema flare-ups (I know I did!). While most of us think about our bed sheets, our laundry and carpets, we may not think about the layout and materials of our homes. For this series, I’m pleased to have Celia Imrey, architect and co-founder of SpaceKit, to share her knowledge from more than 20 years of experience in designs for homes, museums, libraries and hospitals.

More on Celia – Celia graduated from Yale University (Masters of Architecture) and Brown University (Bachelor of Art and Semiotics, Magna Cum Laude). She is an Associate at the American Institute of Architects and is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional) Accredited Professional. She founded her own practices since 1996 and has taught architecture and art courses at Yale, Brown, Columbia/Barnard and NYU.

MarcieMom: Hi Celia, it’s so good to have you share with us on improving our homes. It’s also the first time I’ve an architect as featured guest, so I’m excited for the fresh perspective your interview will give to readers of this blog.

Common Indoor Allergens

The common indoor allergens are dust mites, mold, pet dander and cockroaches (droppings). We will consider how we can improve our home environment to minimize indoor allergen. Let’s start with the dreaded, all pervasive dust mites!

Dust Mites

Dust mite is a very common trigger of eczema for children, and more of it can be read in this post. They thrive in room temperature, humid environment and feeds on our dead skin. There are different allergens within the dust mite dropping, and they vary in particle size which renders some airborne while others tend to stay on surfaces. It may trigger different allergic conditions and symptoms for different ones in your family, depending in part, whether their airways or their skin is sensitized to the allergen.

Measures to reduce house dust mites are listed here, and they include removing carpets and stuff toys, washing in above 60 degC water and getting dust mite covers.

MarcieMom: Let’s suppose we are not changing where we live, but able to change our room layout and materials we use (ie major renovation):

Do the materials which we use for our floor, and for our walls, make a difference? For instance, will certain wall materials or paint or finishing increase the surfaces for dust mites to live while others make it more difficult for them to thrive?

Celia: At Space Kit, we recommend using natural materials where possible, especially for carpets. Dust mites take refuge in carpets but can’t live on hard surfaces like wood floors or plastic. Wherever you have carpets or rugs, use wool. The natural lanolin in wool repels dust mites.  Paint does not affect dust mites that we know.

MarcieMom: Is there a way to manage the humidity of our home? Both in the overall sense, meaning to reduce trapping moisture in our home; and also particular to the child’s bedroom, should it be say further away from the bathroom or have windows positioned a certain area (or if windows can’t be moved, for the bed to be positioned differently)?

Celia: Proper natural and mechanical ventilation are essential for healthy living, especially in bathrooms, kitchens and laundry areas. A well designed home takes air circulation (and thus temperature and humidity) into account; there is directionality to air circulation, and Mechanical Spaces (where air handling equipment are) are designed in relation to the spaces they serve in order to maximize air circulation and minimize dead air pockets. Humid conditions can be countered using air conditioning and ensuring that windows are fully sealed when closed. Furniture placement near humid areas will encourage mites.

MarcieMom: For a child with eczema, like mine, needs to be kept cool and so sleeps in air-conditioned room. As the air-con dries the air, I actually have a humidifier on. The risk of a humidifier is of course it promotes the growth of dust mites and mold. Do you have a solution to keeping the room cool, without making it dry or too moist?

Celia: You could cool the air before having your child sleep in the room. This will minimize the amount of time the child sleeps in dry air.  You could use the smaller, directional humidifiers to provide humid air only to the pillow area and then remove and treat the linens each day. It’s a lot of changing sheets but very hot water kills mites immediately, so regular laundering should be part of your solution if you use a humidifier.

MarcieMom: Sunning and ventilation helps to remove dust mites. What factors should we consider so that our bedroom can have sufficient sunlight and ventilation? (just thinking aloud -do different color walls make a difference? Does the type of window make a difference too?)

Celia: We love sunning and ventilation at Space Kit too! Light materials and paint colors help bounce light around. For bedrooms, use window treatment that provides sufficient privacy when open.  If you like sleeping in a dark space but have a privacy issue, you will need two kinds of window treatment, one for darkening the room and one for providing privacy while letting light (and some air) in.  Quality window treatment that is easy to use is critical.  You need to be able to operate it or pull back the curtains with a simple hook or tie.  Ease of use encourages you to use your windows to live in a healthier manner.

Thanks Celia, I’ve learnt much from your sharing! Next week, we will tackle other indoor allergens.

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