Is Your Home Toxic? A Total Energy Makeover That May Improve Your Health

In order to have a healthy home it makes sense to consider things like air and water quality as well as natural lighting, food and access to healthy recreation as environmental factors that help us feel better in our homes.
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When not spending time at the office, at work meetings, or her son's sporting events, Marissa comes home to her apartment. Home should be a place that fosters our best energy. And yet, as I learned when I was recently at a Smart Living event in Boulder, Colorado many homes today have numerous energy "deductors" that can detract not just from our energy, but from our overall health as well.

See this month's segment on "Good Morning America Health" to learn what home energy makeovers Marissa received and why. Check back at the end of the month to see how she feels after having lived with these new items and routines. But first, here are some in-depth responses from my interview with Smart Living expert Scott Gwozdz. Gwozdz, a Harvard-trained ethnographer has researched this topic from several different angles for over 20 years. Currently, Gwozdz teaches corporate social responsibility and sustainable business at the University of Colorado, LEEDS School of Business and runs Kickstand Communications, a consumer research firm located in Boulder. At Kickstand, Gwozdz focuses on consumer insights in green and health living. Together with partner Robb Shurr, Gwozdz completed the 2010 Smart Living Research, one of the largest consumer ethnographic studies of its kind done on green and healthy living (includes 350 conversations, 17 communities around the country) to research the disconnect between what people say they want to do and what they really do.

Last month, I had Gwozdz conduct an interview with Marissa to assess her home energy, health issues and identify areas where she could improve her home energy and health.

Koff: What did you use to assess Marissa's energy needs? Deficits / opportunities?

Gwozdz: Marissa and I discussed her living space with a smart living lens. We all spend about half our time in our homes, so the essential factors of the healthfulness of our homes and apartments can make a big difference in how we feel. It makes sense to consider elemental things like air and water quality as well as natural lighting, food and access to healthy recreation as environmental factors that help us feel better in our homes. As life in the world accelerates, it's even more critical to create a safe, clean and healthy home environment. Marissa's demanding schedule makes it both challenging and that much more important to pay attention to specific healthy changes we all can make at home to feel better and have more energy.

Koff: When it comes to making changes -- how do you suggest people go about it? All at once or ...

Gwozdz: We suggest that people start small. This is a process of making small changes and it's certainly not about being perfect. Get some good information about how to look into these areas and pick one that works for you. I know from making changes in my house five years ago that it can be contagious, and I have really noticed the difference in better sleep and better energy during the day.

Koff: What are a few examples of changes people can make with huge energy / health payoffs and little investment?

Gwozdz: Start with things like a no shoe policy, or cleaning out the toxic products under the sink, or unplugging the bedroom. All of these easy Smart Living changes cost next to nothing, and they make a difference right away. Our experience in talking with hundreds of people in our research is that once you start, you are inspired to take further steps. Water filtration, more local food and natural cleaning products can be some of the next areas to consider investing in to make your home a healthier place.

Koff: Marissa got this stuff donated -- doesn't it all cost more? What if I'm on a budget?

Gwozdz: New cars and air filtration systems can be very expensive. Especially in this economy, very few people can afford big-ticket items. We learned this loud and clear in our research, and we have focused our Smart Living changes on things that can be done on a budget, often for no additional cost. A lot of the suggestions we have, involve common sense and just a change of habit -- like shoes off at the door. We love those easy changes, and hope many people will make them.

In terms of the products we use and healthier choices, it can cost a little more -- in the realm of 10-20-30 percent more. Things like hormone-free beef and non-toxic cleaners cost a little more, but things that you put in your body and that affect the air you breathe can have a real impact on your health. Often tradeoffs like buying a little less meat can help when you are on a budget. Other times, it just makes sense to pay a little more. Your family's good health can actually save you money, which is something we don't always consider when thinking about our habits and making smarter product choices.

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