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Overlooked
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Overlooked

You’ve vacuumed and decluttered.
You’ve dotted your walls with family photos.
Your house is now a home.
But what are you forgetting—and how is it hurting your well-being?

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Whether you’re starting a family or creating a solitary safe haven, the idea of “home” is grounded in at least two common elements: comfort and security. These are seemingly straightforward. You paint your walls and display keepsakes. You install locks and alarms. You invite over loved ones, cook them meals, and divvy up household chores. You curl up on the couch and take a deep breath.

But have you considered the quality of the air you’re breathing? Or what type of light illuminates your living space? What about the factors that impact a good night’s sleep, or how to equitably divide housekeeping duties? These elements form the unseen foundation of a healthy home and could impact your everyday life more than you know.

So, just how healthy is your home? And what changes can you make to improve the well-being of those in it?

Test your knowledge of air quality, lighting, and other household priorities by answering the four questions below. After you answer, keep reading to find out more about each subject. Good luck!

Which of the below tasks can negatively impact your home’s air quality?

You’re wrong

It may come as a surprise, but all of these household activities create emissions that can negatively impact indoor air quality—and potentially your health. On average, Americans spend 90 percent of their lives indoors and are exposed to a variety of pollutants within the walls of their homes. Dr. Delphine Farmer, a principal investigator on the 2018 study HOMEChem—which studied the chemistry of indoor air in one test home—notes that the health risks associated with short bursts of indoor pollutant exposure aren’t fully understood. “But every time you smell something,” she says, “that means you’re [smelling] volatile organic compounds in the air, and I think that’s important to remember.”

When Dr. Farmer and her colleagues studied the effects of various cleaning products on air quality, they discovered some “intimidating chemistry,” particularly when bleach was used in a dirty home. “When cleaning with high-powered cleaners, you definitely want to ventilate your house,” she says, noting that the bleach interactions resulted in compounds she “[doesn’t] think one should be breathing.” Pine-scented cleaners also introduced “a huge amount” of volatile organic compounds into the air, though how repeated exposure to these chemicals affects one’s health over time is unclear. (It’s worth noting that of the 82,000 chemicals that are used commercially, 85 percent lack corresponding health data.) Cooking, Dr. Farmer notes, also introduces particulate matter and gases into your home’s air. “While you’re cooking, the air definitely has very high concentrations of what we think of as pollutants outdoors,” she says.

You can reduce the potential health risks associated with indoor air contaminants by limiting your exposure to the chemicals and particulate matter released during routine household activities. But what additional protective measures can you take when performing these tasks? To start, you can run a kitchen fan or HVAC system to ventilate your space—or open a window, depending on the outdoor air quality. You can also use an air purifier with both HEPA and activated-carbon filters; together these filters can trap harmful chemicals like formaldehyde (found in composite-wood furniture and cabinets and even new-car smell) and common allergens like dust and pollen.

All of these household activities create emissions that can negatively impact indoor air quality—and potentially your health. On average, Americans spend 90 percent of their lives indoors and are exposed to a variety of pollutants within the walls of their homes. You can reduce the potential health risks associated with indoor air contaminants—many of which are not yet fully understood—by limiting your exposure to the chemicals and particulate matter released during these routine activities.

But what additional protective measures can you take when performing these household tasks? To start, you can run a kitchen fan or HVAC system to ventilate your space—or open a window, depending on the outdoor air quality. You can also use an air purifier with both HEPA and activated-carbon filters; together these filters can trap harmful chemicals like formaldehyde (found in composite-wood furniture and cabinets and even new-car smell) and common allergens like dust and pollen.

  • Read more from Dyson & The Atlantic

  • THINK BEFORE YOU BREATHE Learn the origins of the country’s first indoor air crisis, and calculate how much time you’ve spent indoors. Read the article

  • ARE YOU POLLUTING YOUR OWN HOME? Learn how our behavior may be making impossible-to-see pollutants even more harmful to your health. Read the article

At what time of day should you avoid exposure to blue-light sources?

You’re wrong

Whether or not you’re aware of a light source’s color wavelength, it’s likely affecting your circadian rhythm, which can have multiple health ramifications. Your circadian rhythm, according to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, is connected to “sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, eating habits and digestion, body temperature, and other important bodily functions.” In particular, blue-light wavelengths have been found to suppress melatonin, thereby disrupting sleep. These wavelengths are common in the artificial lighting often used in homes, such as LEDs and fluorescents, as well as our computer and phone screens.

Limiting screen time before bed and using blue-light filters on your technology will cut down some of your nighttime blue-light exposure. And by using LED lights that simulate the properties of natural daylight, one can curb the potential effects of blue light on sleep.

Which of the below health effects is associated with poor sleep?

You’re wrong

For many, it’s a challenge to get a good night’s sleep. And research shows that regular poor sleep is associated with all of the health effects listed above. Myriad factors can negatively impact sleep quality, from lighting (as mentioned previously) to environmental noise and air temperature.

The environmental noise that can keep you awake at night is often out of your control (think cars, construction, and planes). But there are ways to at least partially soundproof your home even beyond installing insulation or replacing existing windows and doors. If you have hardwood floors, adding a carpet or rug will absorb some noise. You also can reduce the amount of nighttime sounds emanating within your home by ensuring your electronics and appliances are not running or are built to operate quietly. When choosing a purifier to keep near your bed, for instance, consider options designed not to add noise to your home. The cooling method you choose also could prove key to a good night’s sleep. Heat exposure has been found to cause sleep disturbance, and the best temperature for adult sleep is often thought to fall between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.

Of the below household priorities, which ranks highest among married Americans as key to a successful marriage?

You’re wrong

Sharing household chores ranks highest among these qualities (and above shared religious beliefs), according to a 2015 survey. A recent study also found that couples who “established a shared understanding of their respective responsibilities were less likely to monitor and critique each other’s behavior.” Whether you’re living with a partner, family members, or roommates, these takeaways are relevant—and can help you avoid squabbling over who does the dishes and who folds the laundry. Establishing your living space’s equitable division of household chores can create a more positive home environment and reduce stress.

From cleaner air and intelligent lighting to achieving peace and quiet, the changes you can make to improve your physical and emotional health at home are small but often have an outsize impact.