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12 DIY Hacks for a Healthier Materials Environment at Home

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

A Healthier Materials Environment at Home is important because:

  • There are at least 130 substances that are considered toxic to our health, many of which are in materials or are part of a production process, as outlined by The List of Toxic Substances in Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999)

  • We want to avoid having asbestos, mercury or lead in our homes, in which the 1978-1979 Canada Health Survey indicated that 25% of Canadians aged 6 or older had blood concentrations of the latter higher than the recommended healthy threshold (Statistics Canada, 2015)

  • At least 95% of all building material ingredients lack empirical data on the impact they have on human health and the environment

(Source: WELL v2, 2018)

Being wellness-conscious with our material choices reduces our risk of bringing harmful substances into our homes.

Of particular concern are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), toxic off-gassing chemicals that are found in many building materials such as “ insulation, paints, coatings, adhesives, furniture and furnishings, composite wood products and flooring materials” (WELL v2, 2018, pg. 167), and has been shown to harm our respiratory and reproductive organs, as well as cause cancer.

Furthermore, the presence of heavy metals in our household, the use of pesticides, herbicides, biocides, wood preservatives (like chromated copper arsenate, or CCA) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in older industrial components can further compromise our health and environment.

To ensure that our material choices are not making us sick during our fight against the COVID pandemic, we must do our due diligence in researching, managing and evaluating what substances are within our indoor and outdoor environments and to eliminate and substitute them with cleaner, healthy material alternatives when possible.

Here are therefore 12 DIY Hacks for a Healthier Materials Environment at Home (from Overall Project to External Site to Interior Spaces) within a reasonable price range:

1) Overall Project: Consider the Three Pillars of Sustainability

Cost: $0

Sustainability and Wellness are parallel frameworks but often converge in many areas, especially in WELL v2’s AIR, WATER, NOURISHMENT, LIGHT, MOVEMENT, THERMAL COMFORT, and MATERIALS Concept areas.

The three pillars of Sustainability are generally regarded as the Social, the Environmental and the Economic spheres.

When considering materials and products, it is therefore important to balance the health and wellness benefits that they bring, as well as how these three pillars impact our interior spaces, the architecture, the planning of cities, and our planet.

2) Overall Project: Ban the use of Lead, Asbestos, & Mercury

Cost: $0

Lead*, Asbestos**, and Mercury*** are three of the most hazardous ingredients to human health and were once prominently used in the AEC industry as building materials and products (i.e. plumbing and paints, fireproofing, and lamps, respectively).

After their ban or proposed ban in Canada in 1976, 1979, and 2011 respectively, the federal government has severely limited their use in both exterior and interior products due to their harmful effect on human health upon exposure.

Lead and Asbestos slowly phased out in favour for more healthier material and product alternatives, with Mercury in the process of following suite.

3) Overall Project: Lead, Asbestos and PCB Abatement Strategy

Cost: $0

If your house was built before the 1960s in Canada, and you are planning to renovate or demolish parts of it, consider the following information:

Homes during this era are likely to contain hazardous traces of lead in old paint, asbestos for heat resistance and fireproofing materials, and PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyl)**** in old industrial components, such as sealants, caulking, oils, paints, lubricants, and coolants.

Despite their uses, Lead has been shown to cause anemia and neurological defects in young children; Asbestos can cause mesothelioma, a respiratory cancer in which the lungs’ linings get filled with fiber when it is inhaled; and PCBs which can adversely affect our “immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other health effects” (EPA, 2020).

Due to the potential harm that these hazardous materials can have on humans and our environment, local laws typically outline an abatement strategy on how to handle these materials before repair or construction.

For a comprehensive strategy in handling these hazardous materials, please refer to WELL v2’s Materials Concept, Hazardous Material Abatement.

4) Overall Project: Create a Waste Management Plan at Home

Cost: $0

According to WELL v2, there are three essential plans that a project should consider when it comes to the management of Materials.

The first is that of a Waste Management Plan for our homes. Having one not only benefits the environment, but it can also save us cost by reducing the number of garbage bags we throw out each week (in Toronto, a Garbage tag per bag costs $5).

The following are key items to consider:

  1. Strategies in the reduction, the reuse, and the recycling of waste

  2. The disposal of Batteries

  3. The disposal of Pesticides

  4. The disposal of Lamps that may contain Mercury

5) Overall Project: Create a Pest Control Plan at Home

Cost: $0

The second plan that we should have at home is a Pest Control Plan, which focuses on eliminating the use of pesticides and making use of healthier or lower-hazard alternatives.