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Healthy Home Office
Whether you're giving your existing home office an environmental upgrade or setting up an office for the first time, you're already saving energy by not driving to work. You may also avoid common workplace toxins, but even a home office can be hazardous. Here's how to make sure you aren't jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Green Create a work space that helps preserve and protect the planet's natural resources and your family's health. "The most important thing you can do is to keep the room well ventilated, if nothing else," Lanphear says. "And [of course] don't let people smoke in your home or home office." Secondhand smoke, also called passive exposure, is associated with many risks, including preterm birth.
Dolan and Zissu suggest turning off computers and lights when not in use and opening the curtains to maximize natural light; this can boost your mood and save on utility bills. Retrofit your home office with energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights (CFL), available at hardware stores.
Print out only what is necessary, and reinsert paper to print on the opposite side before tossing. Store used paper in a recycling container for your baby's first scribbles. To eliminate those unnecessary pages that print automatically, check out new software from GreenPrint (printgreener.com).
Greener Look for office furniture with Cradle to Cradle Certification, which shows it's made with environmentally safe materials (for an explanation of the certification, go to mbdc.com/certified.html). Consider green office supplies such as recycled paper and remanufactured printer cartridges, available at Office Depot and Staples. Also, turn in your used ink cartridges at these stores for a rebate coupon on your next purchase. Search out products such as refillable pens made from recycled cardboard, available at Green Earth Office Supply (greenearthofficesupply.com).
Greenest Put off remodeling or building if you can, but if you do remodel, choose the least-toxic materials you can find, such as low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint, including Olympic (available at Lowe's, lowes.com) and Benjamin Moore's Eco-Spec line (benjamin moore.com). Or use milk paint, a centuries-old formula made from purified milk protein, lime, natural fillers and pigment; The Real Milk Paint Co.'s product is all natural and organic (realmilkpaint.com).
Avoid renovations that require scraping, sanding or refinishing older walls or furniture. "One of the main sources of lead exposure in the U.S. today is lead paint in older houses (pre-1978)," says Ulrike Luderer, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at University of California Irvine. "This is important because of the hand-to-mouth behavior of very young children." (Something to keep in mind once you give birth and your baby starts crawling and walking.)
Lead levels accumulate in the body over time, and breathing in microscopic lead dust particles from windows and doors once coated with lead-based paint can cause irreversible neurological damage. Touching or mouthing objects coated with this dust is another common source of lead ingestion.
Some older Venetian blinds and pottery from foreign origins also may contain lead, cautions Miller. Over time, sunlight and heat can cause lead dust to form on the surface of these blinds, and children could inhale the dust. Lead-testing kits are available at hardware stores. If you suspect lead in your home, call your state health department for instructions.