If your home was damaged by a storm or flood, the tremendous work, expense and stress can mean a daunting and difficult ordeal ahead. But it's possible to create a silver lining from the disaster. If you restore for more than before, you can return to a better home -- a more resilient, comfortable, and healthy home to enjoy with peace of mind. This is one of a series of articles about ways to do that.
Take control of your future with these healthy home improvements to make your home a better place to breathe, live, thrive and enjoy than ever before. It’s a great investment to upgrade during restoration, even if your insurance won’t cover the incremental cost.
Review and, when possible, apply the following healthy home principles to your home restoration plan:
Keep It Dry – With every renovation component, plan for moisture control:
- Specify leak prevention and moisture control weather barriers, integrated shingle-fashion with full-protection flashing of windows, doors, and penetrations.
- Invest in a high-performance roofing system to prevent leaks, wind and hail damages. Specify step flashing where roofs meet walls. (Check and enforce manufacturer installation recommendations.)
- Slope the grade to provide good drainage of rainwater away from the foundation. A 5% or greater slope for 10 feet is recommended.
- For raised homes, install an airtight, low permeability insulation system. See Cupped Wood Flooring and Subfloor Moisture Problems -- Causes and Solutions article.
- Ensure indoor relative humidity (RH) control (40-60%, or under 50% for dust mite control) with bath, kitchen and laundry exhaust fans correctly ducted to the outdoors, right-sized air conditioners (NOT oversized). Add an Energy Star dehumidifier if needed to maintain RH below 60%
- Learn more about moisture and mold control methods. Explore the EPA mold site www.epa.gov/mold, the Building America Program Solution Center basc.pnnl.gov , and this LaHouse Resource Center website.
Keep It Clean - Restore with easy-care, durable finishes and furnishings with smooth surfaces that can be wiped clean. Consider adding large commercial doormats, shoe cubbies and storage at the family entrance.
Keep it Pest Free - Use integrated pest management (IPM) practices by eliminating sources of food, water and shelter for pests. Seal gaps with pest-resistant barriers; eliminate hiding places; use borate-treated materials; install termite barriers and inspection access. Learn more from the LSU AgCenter Pest Management articles.
Keep It Safe – Make your restored house a safer and more convenient home for all ages and stages of life:
- Strengthen handrails, remove tripping hazards, and improve lighting.
- Add child-safe features, especially to avoid burns, falling out of windows, and poisoning.
- Install new smoke detectors, carbon monoxide (CO) alarms, fire extinguishers and GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets in wet areas;
- Include adaptable and accessible (universal design) features like 3-feet wide doorways with low thresholds; bath grab bars; faucets and appliances that can be reached while seated; lower counters with knee space; lever handles, curbless shower, etc.
Keep it Contaminant-Free – Require safe work methods to control the release and spread of mold, lead-based paint, asbestos, chemicals and bacteria. See guidelines in Storm Cleanup Highlights, Mold Removal Guidelines, Rebuild Healthy Homes and www.cdc.gov/disasters. Also add these indoor air quality home improvements:
- Prevent combustion pollutants by replacing gas space and water heating equipment with direct-vent, sealed-combustion types that cannot backdraft into the home, or with electric heat pumps. Install quiet and large exhaust hoods over gas cooktops that cover all burners.
- Rigorously air seal between a garage and living space, or separate the garage from the home.
- Use low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints, adhesives and finishes; choose low-formaldehyde insulation and wood products; choose Green Label low emission carpets, air out new carpets for three days, and air out new foam mattresses until no odor is detected.
- Plan storage space for household chemicals outside the living space and above likely flood level.
- Choose smooth floorings and furniture when occupants have dust mite allergies or asthma.
- Test for radon (a cancer-causing radioactive soil gas that can build up in homes) with a simple test kit.
Keep It Properly Ventilated – Upgrade exhaust fans, fresh air ventilation, distribution and filters:
- Install quite exhaust fans in all bathrooms and over the cooktop with ducting to the outdoors (not into the attic) installed according to manufacturer instructions (full size and without dips, u-turns, sharp turns).
- Seal central air ducts and air return plenums airtight with mastic, not duct tape. Have ductwork leak-tested by a certified professional to measure air leakage and find leaks. Or, install entire HVAC system within the conditioned space for even better air quality and energy efficiency.
- Use MERV 11-13 disposable air filters. Note that high efficiency filters may restrict air flow too much for some systems. Check with your HVAC contractor.
- Consider adding a balanced or supply-only fresh air supply system with flow control and air distribution. Avoid constant exhaust-only systems in a warm, humid climate.
Keep It Maintained – Create a low-maintenance home.
- Choose long-warranty, low-maintenance replacement siding, roofing, windows, doors and steps that resist decay fungi, termites, moisture, sun and wind damage.
- Install leaf guards on gutters. Or, if you rebuild the roof, create 2-foot roof overhangs without gutters and moderate roof slopes to shed water away from the house.
Keep it Comfortable – Make it easier and more affordable to stay warm in winter and cool in summer with energy-efficiency improvements. See Improve Your Home and Prosper.