A Guide to Making Your Indoors Safe

Stand still too long here in the midst of a soggy Pacific Northwest winter, and you might see moss sprout on your shoulders.

Oh, we exaggerate. But have you checked your roof lately? Or your gutters? You should, because all kinds of things grow and collect there. Here in the North Sound, we have to pay particular attention to what water and rainfall does to our homes, both outside and in. And that’s not all — smoke from increasing wildfires is altering our summers and our lives.

With rooftop moss, mold, carbon monoxide and other hazards in mind, we turn to our sanctuaries: Our homes. They are our safety zones. But an increased awareness in environmental — and environmentally caused — hazards means we must work even harder these days to keep them safe for us and our families. In this, our annual Health and Wellness issue, we offer some advice, from state, national and local organizations, on how we can make our homes safer and healthier.

1) Sign up with the U.S. Department of Health and American Lung Association for a Free Healthy Home Checkup and get a Home Environmental Assessment List (HEAL) from them to find out about home health hazards like mold, lead, asbestos and chemicals (lung.org).

2) Test your home for radon, an invisible, odorless gas released when uranium naturally breaks down in soil, rocks and water. It is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. You can get an inexpensive test kit from most home-improvement stores. Read more about it on epa.gov, the U.S. government’s Environmental Protection Agency website.

3) Same goes for carbon monoxide monitors. Get them for outside your bedrooms.

4) Make sure your bathrooms and kitchen have exhaust fans, and a dehumidifier in the basement to prevent allergy — and illness-triggering mold.

5) Inspect your chimney and flues every year, or at the beginning and end of fire-burning season, to look for creosote buildup, clogs, and cracks. This goes for clean-burning gas fireplaces too — a bird’s nest or other materials can wreak havoc with your chimney. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (csia.org) can help.

6) Get your roof inspected and gutters cleaned at least once a year. Bellingham’s A1Builders (A1builders.ws) has a handy checklist of things to consider.

7) Test smoke detectors monthly and have them placed on every floor and outside bedrooms. Change batteries at least once a year to avoid the ear-piercing 3 a.m. wake-up call that will rattle you and your pets.

8) With wildfires becoming a fact of life in our Northwest summers, think about upgrading the furnace’s air filter, or those in your central heating ventilation and air-conditioning system. Washington state’s Department of Health website (doh.wa.gov) is a good resource.

9) How often should you change air filters? We found a variety answers ranging from one to three months. Angie’s List says if it looks dirty, change it. Simple, right? If you have pets or people with allergies, change it more often.

10) Portable air cleaners that can be placed in various rooms are a good investment to help a range of trouble from allergens to smoky air from those wildfires. Get the Environmental Protection Agency’s (epa.gov) Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home, just released in August, for tips on selecting a portable air cleaner, furnace filter or HVAC filter.

For more content like this, check out our Habitat section here.

"But an increased awareness in environmental — and environmentally caused — hazards means we must work even harder these days to keep them safe for us and our families."