Congratulations! You’re about to (or maybe already have) moved into a brand new or newly renovated home. Surviving a construction project is no small feat and now you’re ready to make your new space your own. But there’s one thing you need to think about before you get too comfortable, and it has to do with that new home smell. Unless you’ve specifically worked with a design and construction team to use healthier construction materials and implement strategies to improve indoor air quality during and after construction, chances are your new home is releasing toxic chemicals into the indoor air.
There are some things you can do to reduce your exposure, and the sooner you can do them the better. Read on to learn why that new home smell is harmful and what you can do about it.
What’s in that new home smell?
15 years ago when I first started by green buildings career, my job involved calling manufacturers of paints, sealants, adhesives, and other construction products to ask about the ingredients and volatile organic compound (VOC) content (more on that later). The poor people on the other end of the phone were lost and confused – back then, these were bizarre requests!
And while there are many healthier options available now, most contractors don’t pay attention to ingredients when they are building homes. They might be using low-VOC paints because most paints market themselves that way, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Plus, the definition of low VOC excludes some components (like the tint part of paints), and it doesn’t mean no VOC.
The reality is, indoor air quality is affected by much more than just paint. There’s the millwork, insulation, construction activities, adhesives and sealants, flooring, and more. Here are just a few examples:
- Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, is a common additive in glues used in particle board and laminated millwork that off-gasses over time.
- Construction materials like paints, adhesives, sealants, and coatings, release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that include carcinogens, hormone disruptors, respiratory irritants, and more.
- Construction dust and debris can continue to contaminate indoor air after the workers are gone, especially if proper measures were not taken to maintain indoor air quality during construction.
- Flame retardants and stain repellents in carpets and window treatments.
And since newer homes are typically better sealed than older homes, all these chemicals get released into the air and have nowhere to go. Plus, if you already have soft surfaces like carpets and furniture in place, these absorb the chemicals released from other materials. These can also contribute their own indoor air pollution too.
What you can do to detox your new home
So, I hope you understand that the new home smell isn’t anything to breathe easy about – especially if you’ve got children. The good news is, there are things you can do to reduce the impact of these chemicals on the health of your home now and for the long-term.
Here are 6 things you can do to improve the air quality in your new home.
1. Replace the furnace filter after construction is finished.
Chances are, the filter your contractor left in the furnace is a basic (and not very effective) one. This isn’t something to cheap out on. You’ll want one with a rating of at least MERV14 or is advertised to remove allergens. I recommend electrostatic versions for extra pollutant removal – Filtrete is the go-to in our home. In the first several months after construction, check it every month and replace it when it’s dirty.
2. Run the furnace fan (or ERV/HRV if you have one) at all times.
This will help flush fresh air through your home to dilute and remove indoor air pollutants. Check the instructions on your programmable thermostat to set it up to run all the time regardless of whether your furnace or air conditioning is running.
3. Bake off the toxins.
Some indoor air pollutants, like formaldehyde and ozone, are released faster at increased temperatures. If you haven’t moved in yet and are OK paying the utility bill, crank the heat up for a few days to speed up the process – while allowing the polluted air to escape quickly such as running fans to open windows. If you don’t move enough air through the space, the toxins released from solid surfaces will be absorbed by soft surfaces and just be re-released over time. For this reason, I typically suggest this strategy for single rooms where you can open a window and close the door.
4. Open windows.
Flushing as much fresh air through your home as possible is the best way to clear out toxic VOCs. As much as possible before you move in and at least until that “new home” smell is gone, open windows – and more than one to promote cross ventilation.
5. Run the bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans.
In case you haven’t noticed, the key to reducing toxins from accumulating in your home is to get as much outside air moving through your home as possible. In addition to opening some windows and running your furnace fan, run your bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans for a couple of hours a day after you move in, preferably with a window open nearby. Make sure the fans actually vent to the outside and aren’t just recirculating air through your home!
6. Consider an air purifier.
If the smell of your new home is bothering you, or you want to take extra precautions to improve indoor air quality, you can invest in a stand-alone air purifier. I typically recommend using these in your bedrooms, since your body does much of its natural detoxification when you sleep so it’s important to create a space that’s as toxin-free as possible.
To learn more about air purifiers, and find out which ones are the best, grab my free Top 5 Air Purifier Guide here.
7. Choose personal care and cleaning products that keep your air healthy.
Following these tips will help set you and your family up for a healthier start in your new home. And once you’re all settled, make sure you’re using products and implementing habits that will continue to support healthier indoor air quality for the long-term.
Your personal care and cleaning products are a great place to start – you can learn how to tell which brands are actually healthy vs just plain greenwashed in my Complete Guide to Healthy Cleaners & Personal Care Products (click here to learn more).