Healthy home-hunting: 10 things to look for

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What makes a home healthy? There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to finding a home that will enable you and other members of your household to thrive, that most people aren’t aware of.

I remember when my naturopath made the connection between homes I’d lived in all my life, and my health, and telling me that for the rest of my life I’d need to get a building biologist to inspect any home I wanted to move into, to ensure it was ok for me to live in.

I thought that was a bit far fetched but in hindsight I could have saved myself a lot of pain, not to mention medical expenses and costs associated with multiple house moves.

I’ve learned so much through my own trial and error though, and from the wonderful building biologists and integrative health practitioners I’ve met along the way, and I’ve accepted that finding a home that ticks all of the boxes is pretty much impossible (my dream of building my own healthy home burns bright). But I’ve finally landed in one that is as close as I’m going to get for now, in beautiful northern NSW.

You have to decide what’s most important to you, and do the best you can with the knowledge you have.

Here are some tips I hope might help you avoid making same mistakes I have across the course of four years of healthy-home hunting and staying in more homes than I can count.

Note: The guidelines I’ve included here for safe distances are from Nicole Bijlsma’s book, Healthy Home, Healthy Family which I highly recommend getting if you want to know about these topics in more detail.

  1. Avoid homes at the bottom of a hill, or with land sloping down towards the property – you want water to flow away from your home not into it – so at the top of a hill is ideal, or where the land is flat, and adequate drainage is essential. Garden beds around the home without adequate water proofing can also contribute to moisture build up and mould.

    Two of the apartments I lived in, in Sydney were on hills, moisture in the bottom of both buildings were a significant problem, even in the most recent one which was a completely new build. There was significant damp in the basement and I couldn’t park my car in the basement car park because I would get (mould) symptoms every time I got in my car.

    Mould gets through every type of building material so if it’s in the basement it can make it’s way through to the rest of the building. Although my symptoms in this home were nowhere near as severe as in the previous apartment, I wasn’t able to fully recover.
  2. Ensure the house is more than 5 metres away from power lines or tram lines (or at the very least, areas of the house you spend most of your time – the bedroom for example), and 600 metres away from high voltage transmission lines – you want to avoid exposure to high level electromagnetic fields. For more on why, and for more tips on how to reduce your exposure in your home, check out my article: What you need to know about EMFs and your home.
  3. Try to choose a place more than 500 metres away from traffic pollution – in her book ‘Healthy Home, Healthy Family’, Nicole Bijslma, founder of the Australian College of Environmental Studies, says that living within 200 metres of heavy traffic can exacerbate asthma and allergies.

    A report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare revealed substantial variation in diseases across Australia which can be mapped to polluted areas, and the incidence of cancers and asthma are highest in the inner regional areas of Australia where industry, heavy traffic and mining are located. 

    If this can’t be avoided, a good quality air purifier with a HEPA filter and activate carbon filter is a good idea, particularly if there are young children, pregnant woman, or anyone in the home with a weakened immune system.
  4. Avoid living within 400 metres of a phone tower – you can head to the ACMA website and type in your location to see where the nearest phone towers are. There is now another consideration which is are there any 5G towers planned for that area – the RFNSA website enables you to search current and proposed towers, although I question how accurate and up-to-date this is – there has been chatter in stop 5G Facebook groups that the 5G locations have been removed from these maps (presumably because of growing public concerns about the health impacts).

    There are Stop 5G Facebook Groups popping up in local communities all over Australia so they are a good way to try and understand what’s happening in a area you may be considering moving to.

    If you want to understand how mobile phone radiation and other wireless technologies impact our health and how to reduce your exposure, check out my blog post: Is wireless technology harmful to your health?
  5. Check where the electrical metre box is – you want to avoid a situation where anyone in the home is having to sleep or spend long periods of time near a metre box, another source of high level EMFs. They are extremely costly to move to a different location.
  6. Look for signs of water damage – cracked walls, peeling paints, floorboards, water stains, can be tell tale signs of mould. Taking a moisture meter so you can do moisture readings is a good idea.
  7. Choose a home with plenty of natural light – sunlight kills mould spores.

    I am amazed at how many homes in northern NSW have little to no natural light. Presumably because it gets so hot, the thinking when these homes were designed was to keep them cool in the summer time. But no natural light in a humid climate, with no air con (which few places here have) is prime breeding conditions for mould.

    My health went rapidly downhill when I moved into my first Sydney apartment, where my bedroom had no natural sunlight, within a few months there was mould growing on the outside wall of my bedroom.
  8. Look at the shape of the roof – much like the gradient of the land your home sits on, so is the shape of the roof. Flat roofs may look trendy, but they’re not ideal in terms of moisture build up – you want water to flow off the roof and away from the house.
  9. Ventilation is key – are there plenty of window and doors that can be opened to let fresh air through? If you’re in a humid climate – climate control (i.e. reverse cycle) is absolutely critical to preventing mould inside the home. Also make sure there is proper ventilation in wet areas like the. laundry, the bathroom and cooking areas – exhaust fans to vent the air outside, or windows and doors that can be opened.

    Ventilation is a common problem even in new builds, which are designed for energy efficiency, so they are air-tight, resulting in condensation in the building which can also lead to mould growth.
  10. Ask the real estate agent if there have been previous mould issues – I’ve heard shocking stories of homes with mould problems being painted to hide the problem. Agents are required to tell you if you ask.

I’ve managed to find a beautiful brand new home (300 metres from the ocean, yay!) – but even this comes with a trade off, which is high levels of VOCs (from carpet, paint and building materials).

In China they wait 3 months before moving into a newly built home so they can air out every day – even the banks recognise the importance of this, giving people three months before they have to start paying their loan for a newly built home.

Here in Australia, we move straight in! As a work around, I’m opening the doors and windows at every opportunity and I have my air purifier in my bedroom.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of what to look for but I sincerely it hope it helps you make the same mistakes I made when healthy-home hunting. If in doubt, seek out a building biologist, particularly if someone in your house is sensitive, they are worth their weight in gold and will help you avoid making costly mistakes in the long run.

Note: The information I share on Oh My Goodness is based on my own personal experiences and beliefs, and what I do may not be right for everybody. Anyone with health concerns should consult a healthcare, or environmental medicine professional, and do your own research too.

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Zara is a healthy home coach and keynote speaker on a mission to empower 1 million people to takes steps towards a healthier home. Zara learned about the link between our homes and our health after going through two different types of cancer. Zara is passionate about shining the spotlight on what she believes to be the least understood health challenges of our time, and sharing the things she wishes she had known, that could have prevented the illnesses she has been through. Recognised as one of Australia’s leading health influencers, Zara was a finalist in the 2014 Bupa Health Influencer of the Year Awards. She has appeared on TEN News, Today Show and The Project, been featured in the Herald Sun, I Quit Sugar, and contributed Medibank’s Be. Magazine and Fairfax health online publications. Zara contributed to the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s first comprehensive report on breast cancer in young women in Australia.

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