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Reduce allergens, improve indoor air-quality with these tips

Healthy House Design

Ten tips for a more eco-friendly home environment.

Designer Regan Billingsley, owner of Regan Billingsley Interiors in Kensington, Maryland, is no stranger when it comes to living green. “As someone who has asthma and allergies, I find the environment of my own home to be an important focus for my health,” she said. “I extend the same focus on improving indoor air quality to my clients.” With over 15 years of experience, Billingsley is more than equipped to design eco-friendly interiors for her clients. Here, she shares some of her go-to tips for a greener environment.

1. “I often tell my clients that the most economical way to transform a room is through paint,” said Billingsley. She opts for low-volatile organic compounds (VOC) latex paints for walls and water-based stains for floors and millwork. VOCs are gases emitted from certain solids or liquids that can be harmful to the health. In recent years, several major brands like Benjamin Moore have developed no-VOC paints. 

2. Reusing furniture pieces or buying gently used items are great ways to reduce waste in landfills. “If solid wood furniture is out of your budget, I recommend scavenging local estate sales and flea markets for antiques,” said Billingsley. “With a fresh coat of low-VOC paint, an old piece can look hip and chic.”

3. When you can’t find that perfect piece of secondhand furniture, consider splurging for pieces by sustainable manufacturers. “Companies like Cisco Brothers fabricate environmentally friendly upholstery using organic, natural materials,” said Billingsley. “Their sofas not only incorporate beautiful details, but are also some of the most comfortable seating around.” 

4. Avoiding synthetic materials in the home is a good way to reduce exposure to chemicals. These materials are often made from nylon or polyester, which are highly flammable and are often treated with chemicals that will release toxins into the air. “We emphasize natural materials, such as linen, silk, and cotton for upholstery, window treatments, bedding, and soft accessories,” said Billingsley.

5. Choose organic mattresses over traditional beds. The latter are often made from synthetic materials that are treated with dyes, adhesives, flame-retardants and other chemicals that contribute to off gassing. Organic cotton, wool and latex from organically grown latex trees are the common materials used for organic mattresses. As such, they are hypoallergenic and free of high-VOC chemicals. 

6. Remove wall-to-wall carpeting and replace with hard floor surfaces and area rugs to reduce allergens. Billingsley recommends choosing natural fiber rugs, such as wool, sisal, or jute. “Wool is actually naturally fire retardant and stain resistant due to the natural oils of the fiber,” she said. “Wool also attracts dust and pollen, so it can help trap air allergens.”

7. “Embrace the vacuum cleaner and explore the various attachments,” said Billingsley. She suggests vacuuming carpets and area rugs regularly as this will reduce airborne dust. An upright vacuum with a beater bar or brush is most effective for cut pile carpets, but loop pile carpets will require the suction-only attachment to prevent pulls and fuzz. 

8. Placing houseplants throughout the home adds visual interest with the added benefit of purifying and adding moisture into the air. Certain houseplants are known to have specific purposes. For instance, spider plants and philodendrons purify air rapidly and remove formaldehyde, which make them perfect for newly renovated homes. 

9. Switching to natural cleaning products is an easy and economical way to go green. “I created an interior cleaning guide for my clients using natural products such as lemon, mild soaps, vinegar, and nontoxic cleaners,” said Billingsley. Her favorite product is Bon Ami. “It’s a natural cleanser that will do everything,” she said. 

10. Insulating the home properly is by default green because it saves energy. However, foregoing the conventional fiberglass insulation for a natural product is certainly the healthier option. Sheep wool insulation is a natural, renewable and sustainable product. Wool is noncombustible and extinguishes itself during a fire, which means it doesn’t need the chemicals to reduce flammability that are necessary in most fiberglass insulation.

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