Expert Interview with Lisa Beres on Making Homes Healthier

Making homes healthier

Ron and Lisa Beres are passionate about making homes safer and healthier.

The couple test homes for toxins and teach people how to eliminate hidden dangers from their home with step-by-step solutions to improve their health via their online program Change Your Home. Change Your Health.

They’re Building Biologists, Certified Green Building Professionals, published authors and the founders of The Healthy Home Dream Team.

We recently checked in with Lisa to learn more about what a Building Biologist does, the biggest health offenders in homes today and what homeowners can do to combat them. Here’s what she had to say:

What is a Building Biologist? How did you become interested in this field?

I was over the “South Bay” moon when I moved into my newly-remodeled California beach cottage over 13 years ago. As a former interior designer, I relished in the design elements and aesthetic appeal. It had new, plush carpeting, white thermafoil kitchen cabinets, a fresh new coat of paint, and an adorable little gas fireplace. Ahhhhhhh, that “new-home smell” was proof positive that everything was fresh and clean!

But pretty soon, I was having trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I’ve always been a high-energy person, but suddenly I was tired all the time. I began experiencing flu-like symptoms and my hormones were going haywire. I went to doctors, naturopaths, endocrinologists, chiropractors and acupuncturists. None of them could tell me what was wrong. That’s when I began researching. Could my “clean, fresh, new abode” be the cause of my troubles?

I discovered how toxins in our homes, food and personal care products can bioaccumulate and wreak havoc on our bodies by creating a multitude of illnesses and diseases. I discovered Baubiologie and learned about the connection between our homes and our health. I made changes to my home. My health returned … and I found a new calling.

From a design perspective, what are the biggest health offenders you find in a home?

Indoor air quality is the biggest health offender in homes today. From a design perspective, VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) including benzene, toluene and formaldehyde can off-gas from a variety of furniture, finishes and other sources in our homes. Toxic exposures can occur from paint, carpeting, vinyl, adhesives/sealants, kitchen cabinetry, flame retardants in upholstery and electronics as well as from chemical-based detergents, fragrances and household cleaning products.

How do you approach a new project? How do you start evaluating a room? What problems are you looking for?

I start a new project with a one-on-one personal assessment by evaluating the occupant, not the room. This gives an indication of where to look in the room or entire home for potential hazards. For example, mold growth is often associated with hay fever-like symptoms, allergies, asthma and respiratory issues; whereas other symptoms may be linked to electromagnetic radiation, lead, radon or exposure to noxious gases or carcinogens.

What room or rooms of a house do you think pose biggest threat to residents’ health?

The biggest threat to residents’ health is definitely the bedroom. Often the most overlooked room in the house, the bedroom is where we spend the most time – one third of our lives. It can contain a host of chemical toxins hiding in the mattress, pillows, linens, bed frame, flooring and indoor air; as well as electric and magnetic fields and exposures to radio frequencies.

What are some commonly-used products in today’s home that you’ve found can pose a hidden threat to residents?

Almost everything in homes today is a potential threat – even personal care products. For example, 1,328 chemicals have been banned from personal care products in the European Union compared to only 11 chemicals banned in the U.S.. We are being exposed daily to products suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutation, reproductive harm and/or birth defects.

From gas leaks and radon to improper wiring and toxic chemicals, our homes have become a toxic brewery. Benzene can be emitted from glues, paints, detergents and furniture wax; formaldehyde used as a preservative is emitted from numerous building products; xylene and toluene off-gas from a variety of household and consumer products; and ammonia is found in aerosols and sprays. When you consider that Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, it goes without saying that everyone should be taking a deeper look into their own environment from a health perspective and making it a priority to create a healing space.

What are some of your favorite alternatives for these products?

We wrote an entire book titled Just GREEN It! Simple Swaps to Save the Planet & Your Health that outlines which products to choose and those to skip. In a side-by-side comparison format, we name brand names for everything from air purifiers and water filters to insulation and cleaning products. We have an online resource guide that you can view as well.

What sort of discussions would you love to see prospective homeowners have with an inspector before buying a specific property?

I would love to see homeowners ask questions about materials that are going to benefit their health and nurture the future of their children. Instead, what we see today are homeowners wanting to keep up with the Joneses by prioritizing granite countertops (which can emit radon and are not a sustainable choice) and stainless steel appliances versus zero VOC paints, a whole-house water filtration system or formaldehyde-free insulation and cabinetry. I recently witnessed a mansion here in Orange County being built for over $15 million … with pink fiberglass insulation! Homeowners need to be educated and understand the critical importance of the materials we choose to live with, ingest, absorb and inhale in on a daily basis.

What types of information about a home’s safety would you like more home inspectors to share? How can they go beyond warnings about radon and mold to look after a prospective buyer’s health?

Formaldehyde is one of the most prevalent indoor air polluters in our homes today. Many homeowners think if they can’t see or smell the danger, then it must not exist. As we know, formaldehyde is a carcinogen and can be present in floorboard, insulation, kitchen cabinetry, adhesives in particleboard and on flooring (both laminate and so-called green flooring like bamboo). Formaldehyde can even be present in air fresheners and wrinkle-free sheets!

What are some of your favorite resources for staying on top of new research or products that can make homes safer and healthier?

We created a website to do just that with over 350 articles, a Healthy Home Quiz, a free weekly newsletter and dozens of healthy home how-to videos.

As a baubiologists, our priority is health; therefore some go-to resources include The International Institute for Building-Biology® and Ecology, The Environmental Working Group, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, The Healthy Building Network, Healthy Child and many more.

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