This article appears in Spring Home & Garden magazine 2020.
Some renovation projects boost your home’s value, while others can improve your health. The best home upgrades can do both.
“There’s more and more evidence showing that the air we breathe and the things we live around affect us,” said green building and design expert David Schneider, principal and lead designer at Pure Home Design in St. Louis. “Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors where the air can contain two to five times higher concentrations of pollutants than outdoors. That can affect our health.”
Homeowners are often willing to pay a premium at the outset for options like healthier flooring and whole-house water filters because of the long-run economic benefits, Schneider said.
A University of Texas at Austin study found that homes that are built to LEED standards showed an 8% boost in value, while homes built to green standards saw an increase of 6%. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a home built to high standards of energy efficiency, water and air use and quality, building materials and more. A green home incorporates some features such as solar panels.
Healthy home projects can be as small as regularly changing furnace filters, which will improve air quality, to as costly as adding energy-efficient windows, which can boost mood and mental health.
“Selection of materials is a big factor in a healthy home. You want the lightest chemical footprint possible,” Schneider said.
When upgrading flooring read labels and look for materials that have low levels of toxicity, such as sustainably grown hardwood and natural ceramic, porcelain, cork and stone, Schneider said.
Homes older than 40 years may contain lead-based paint.
“If it’s in good condition, not flaking, just paint over it,” Schneider said. When in doubt, test for lead and avoid sanding because that can spread toxic chemicals.
When repainting select eco-friendly paint such as ECOS, Behr Premium Plus or other brands with low or no volatile organic compound emissions, Schneider said.
Consider a mattress upgrade. The Consumer Product Safety Commission warned about toxic flame retardant chemicals found in mattresses and other furniture in 2017. Opt for a green mattress that is certified chemical-free.
Let the house breathe
As we’re spending more and more time indoors, we’re also building tighter houses, which trap allergens, smoke and dust mites inside, Schneider said. Air purification systems such as energy or heat recovery ventilators “work like a lung” pulling fresh air in and pushing old air out, he said.
Studies about the benefits of air purifiers are inconclusive, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, but a portable or whole-house system may be helpful for people who suffer from allergies.
Whole-house water filtration systems are relatively inexpensive, with under-the-sink models that can keep your water safe from lead, chlorine and other chemicals costing under $100, Schneider said.
Traditional vacuums recirculate dirt into the air. A central vacuum system is designed to improve a home’s air quality and balance moisture, said Robert Buckwald, owner of ThinkVacuums.com. The motor and dirt canister of a central vacuum is typically installed in a garage or basement and requires less emptying. Dirt, dust and allergens are sucked up then transported away from living areas.