Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Paint can be Non-toxic

We have some very good news to share - our home will soon be a little fuller this summer as we welcome a newborn to the family. So at Humphrey House we've begun what will soon become a flurry of activity preparing for baby.

One of the first things to tackle was the room we'll be using as the nursery, which is one of the two bedrooms in our converted attic. This former guest bedroom needs a makeover - and finished off (windows were never stained or trimmed!). Nothing motivates you to finish a punchlist quite like a deadline. I had to first actually finish mudding and taping the drywall around the windows (which had never been done and for three years has been craftily covered by curtains).

Once the walls were ready, we naturally wanted to paint and found that we are definitely trying to create a safe healthy room, so when evaluating options, we went beyond "typical" green paints that focus on low emitting levels of VOC's (volatile organic compounds). These VOCs can be very harmful to human health. We have been using Low-VOC paints before for our kitchen remodel, but with a newborn that takes many more breaths than an adult, we wanted something as safe as possible. The fact is, most low-VOC paints still are toxic. So we decided to go with a paint that not only has low VOC emissions, but also is made from non-toxic materials, called AFM Safecoat - which also does not have any formaldehyde. It was $10 more for a gallon than regular paint (we needed just one gallon). Is it worth an extra ten bucks to know the air is free from formaldehyde and other toxins, less likely to cause chemical sensitivities and asthma in our baby? Yes. I see this decision as very cheap insurance.

We went with a nice bluish-purple for the walls that Jen likes to call a "shade of periwinkle". I like the color selection because this particular color looks different in daylight vs artificial light so gives some variety to the room. In terms of installation, the AFM Safecoat paint does roll on the walls a bit differently - a bit more loosely and not as firm. So it take a bit more effort to apply. It also was pretty thin on the first coat, but incredibly deep after two coats. Jen was quite happy to see the "old" (a mere 4 years) yellow walls go away.

It's worth noting that just because it is non-toxic low-emitting paint doesn't mean it is low emitting before it is dry. There is an odor that is less offensive than regular paint, but still noticeable for a few days as the paint cures. But now it's virtually undetectable.

Next, we'll have to tackle the windows in this room which have been unstained / unpainted for nearly four years(!) and then trimmed out. Then we'll be ready for some nursery furniture! But of course the impending arrival of the baby means its time to polish off several other items on the wishlist punch list, so there will be more to follow.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Purifying our Water

Water is something many of us take for granted. Although we try to conserve and minimize our impact with efficient fixtures and rain barrels, it's not always easy. Partly because we live 10 miles from one of the greatest resources of freshwater in the world.

However, there are increasing reports of contamination in Lake Michigan. Since our tap water comes from the lake, hearing about the rising levels of Fluoride and Chromium-6 (the villain in Erin Brockovich's story) concerned me. What effects would this and other contaminants have on our family's health? Why isn't testing for a probable carcinogen (i.e. cancer-causing substance) mandatory for our water? Well not being one to wait for the wheels of bureaucracy to resolve this public health issue, I began looking for a water purification system.

After a bit of research, it seems a Reverse Osmosis (RO) water treatment system is really the best assurance for having pure water. So for the holidays, we bought one for Humphrey House. It took awhile for things to settle down so I could install it - and even longer to write a post about this.

The RO system involves an extra faucet near your kitchen sink, and a lot of room in the cabinet underneath it. We went with a Watts reverse osmosis system.

Installing it into our Zodiaq counters could have been quite difficult, but we had four holes already drilled - one for the main kitchen sink faucet, one for the handle, one for a pullout sprayer, and one for a soap dispenser. We decided we could ditch the soap dispenser and put the special RO faucet in its place, so that saved a lot of work.

Otherwise, installation was pretty straightforward. One of the more challenging aspects was to try and find room under the sink for everything since we have two bowls (which means two drains), a dishwasher line, and a garbage disposal under there already. The RO system consists of a filter unit and a large storage tank. The tank is needed because it takes some time to filter the water properly, so you need to store the treated water so when you turn on the faucet there is enough ready to come out.

It took some playing around to see what configuration would leave us with at least some storage room under the sink. I finally decided that centering the tank behind the center column would work best. The filter system nicely attached to the wall of the cabinet, so we can slide sponges or towels underneath if we need to. But as you can see from the photos, it's pretty tight down there!

This actually gave us a good opportunity to purge many of our toxic cleaning products that had been stored down there and keep them out of way from little hands. We recently got a Activeion ionator HOM Portable Cleaner and Sanitizer which permanently replaces the need for most chemical cleaners anyway, so the timing was perfect.

Anyway, now if we want some clean fresh water, we simply have to lift the handle on the special RO faucet (on the left in the photo below) and out it comes!

There were some gurgling drain noises made by the system as it filled up the first time and was used for the first week or two, but now it has quieted down and is unnoticeable when its refilling the storage tank.

The best part about this is the lack of any odor from the treated water, and the simply pure taste. I swear once you try this and then try tap water you will notice the taste and smell and appreciate your reverse osmosis system when you come home. I know we do!