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 in last week’s post here.
MarcieMom: Hi Celia, it’s good to have you back to share how to make our homes more friendly to us, and less to the allergens!
Mold is another common indoor allergen and more of it can be read from CDC. Like house dust mite, they thrive in room temperature and humid environment. Their feeds include materials like wood, leather, dead skin and cotton and wool fibres. Mold spores are airborne and trigger symptoms and conditions such as watery eyes, sore throat, respiratory issues, nasal congestion, eczema and even asthma. Minimizing mold growth can be via control of temperature, control of humidity and reducing their food.
MarcieMom: As I’m preparing for this, I’m surprised to learn that many building materials are food sources for mold, including wallpaper glue, greases, paper, textiles and wood. Do you have suggested common materials to use for our walls and floors, and in our bathroom, so that there is less food for the mold?
Celia: Solutions that resist mold are a fundamental part of Space Kit’s designs. There are many design considerations to make with regard to moisture. Good designs don’t leak, cause condensation, or trap moisture. Some options include using good quality door seals and gaskets for shower doors. Usage of moisture and mold resistant backer boards and vapour barriers.
MarcieMom: Mold needs moisture to grow. We’ve covered controlling the humidity in our room in the interview on house dust mite. Are there other areas in our home that traps moisture easily and what can we do about them (both during renovation and on maintenance basis)? I’ve read that certain paints, leaks, damp basements, poor drainage or plumping traps moisture, and also condensation on cool surfaces can increase mold.
Celia: Basically mold feeds on untreated, natural surfaces. Space Kit promotes the use of natural materials, like stone, ceramics, plaster and wood and we advocate finishing them properly. For example, wood is a beautiful home material, especially for floors, but it needs to be finished properly, so use varnishes, stains, paints, and fill all the cracks. In using any natural material, make sure all the surfaces are coated and maintained. Wool carpets are dyed and the dye is bound with a sealer. If you keep carpets clean and off any floors that have moisture issues like concrete floors in a basement, they should not feed mold. Space Kit’s window treatments use materials that hinder mold, like synthetic materials. For bathrooms, we recommend tiling the full walls.
Note: be vigilant about spotting mold: undersides of tables, on ceilings, etc. and treat immediately before it spreads.
MarcieMom: What about the selection of cabinets, walls, wall coverings, bookshelves and also the positioning of furniture? Do these affect mold growth?
Celia: None of these affect mold growth if there if proper air circulation.
MarcieMom: My guess on the common area in our homes where mold thrive is the bathroom where it is often damp. What are your recommendations to minimize mold in bathroom?
Celia: Our designs are intended to minimize moisture retention, for example, we like glass shower doors (with systematic wipe-down after showering) instead of curtains. Proper ventilation for bathrooms and dryers is critical.
Cockroach, more precisely the allergens found in their droppings, saliva and bodies, is another common indoor allergen. From the AAFA website, it is mentioned that ‘When one roach is seen in the basement or kitchen, it is safe to assume that at least 800 roaches are hidden under the kitchen sink, in closets and the like’. Cockroaches thrive in warm and humid environment, and they feed on our food (thrash, scraps, starch) and water. The particle sizes of cockroach allergen are large and tend to settle on surfaces. They not only worsen allergic conditions, but carry bacteria. Symptoms or conditions of allergy to cockroach may be itchy eyes, itchy skin, eczema rashes, nasal congestion, asthma and allergic rhinitis. Minimizing the growth of cockroach can be done by observing hygiene and minimizing their food source, water and shelter.
In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, of the children in the study, “36.8 percent were allergic to cockroach allergen, 34.9 percent to dust-mite allergen, and 22.7 percent to cat allergen. Among the children’s bedrooms, 50.2 percent had high levels of cockroach allergen in dust, 9.7 percent had high levels of dust-mite allergen, and 12.6 percent had high levels of cat allergen”.
MarcieMom: I understand that cockroaches hide outside the home, what are the possible areas in our home to ‘seal off’ cockroaches?
Celia: Sealing the hole around the steam pipe and sealing the hole around all plumbing and electrical pipes. Also, you can utilize drain covers to prevent critters from entering up into your home through showers and sinks.
MarcieMom: Chemicals may trigger irritation either in airway or skin for young children. It is best, therefore, to use cockroach trap. This may sound strange, but is there a need to plan ahead where cockroach traps should be placed?
Celia: If proper preventive measures are appropriately taken such as sealing of holes and cracks, then there is no need to plan for precautions.
MarcieMom: While we’re on the topic of chemicals, which are the materials you would commonly recommend that are safe for young children, and for how long would ‘airing’ be required before the family moves into the home?
Celia: Materials with zero or low VOC content are recommended for children and adults. It is best to move in after all the fumes from the paint have disappeared (i.e. that are no off gassing smells) and the home is dust free.
MarcieMom: Thank you so much Celia for helping us improve our homes and minimize the indoor allergens, right from the renovation stage!
For previous post in this series,