Allergies & remodeling

Jun 10, 2011 at 10:29 a.m. ET

You can't always see them, but asthma and allergy triggers lurk all over your home. When these triggers become airborne, they pollute the interior air and cause wheezing, coughing, tightening of the chest and even frightening shortness of breath in allergy sufferers -- but they're unhealthy for everyone. Reducing exposure is important to the quality of everyday living, but becomes even more critical when you're remodeling your home. Choices you make in products and installation can make a big difference in an asthma- and allergy-friendly remodel and in creating an anti-allergen home.

Refinishing wood floors

1Plan ahead

Finding an experienced contractor and products that offer the most protection takes planning. Laboratory-tested materials are available today that are certified to offer a higher level of protection against irritants such as mold, mildew and dust mites. Choose building materials free of urea, phenyl, formaldehyde and other chemicals that can emit fumes known to irritate the skin and airways. Mold-resistant wallboard and backer board are musts for damp and humid areas such as bathrooms and kitchens. They help prevent mildew from forming and spreading, and they defend against mold.

2Lose the carpet

Hard-surface flooring is always a better choice than carpet. Carpet creates a perfect environment for dust mites and retains moisture that can encourage the growth of mold. Instead, do your homework and select a hard-surface floor in wood, tile or synthetic that is allergy friendly and can be maintained with floor varnishes, waxes, cleaning solutions and other products with a low volatile organic compound (VOC) content. There are even low-VOC choices for cabinetry and furniture, and beautiful hues of low-VOC paints that will freshen rooms with color while being allergy and environmentally friendly.

3Maintain interior air quality

Everyone breathes more easily with an air filtration system that features a washable/replaceable HEPA filter. These heating/ventilation/air conditioning systems keep temperatures comfortable while they filter the air to remove allergy-inducing particles and help improve indoor air quality.

4Keep it dry

Moisture is the enemy. Areas where water collects -- windows and doors, leaky pipes, damp basements, weeping walls -- are breeding grounds for mold.

5Store it safely

Never store cleaning and remodeling solvents, chemicals and paints in your attic or basement. Instead, keep them in a well-insulated storage space away from the house.

6Protect yourself

Wear a protective face mask in the work area, and erect a barrier of heavy plastic sheeting in doorways to block off the remodeling site. Air out the house by leaving windows open in the work area for as much as three weeks after completion of the project to expel fumes.

With careful product choices and thoughtful construction, you can have a beautiful remodel that pays long-term dividends in easy maintenance and kindness to your health. Do it right, and breathe easy!

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