"The Garage." Those two words dredge up unhappy and dreary images like oil-stained concrete, drippy paint cans, and dusty shelves full of pesticides and lawn sprays. The thought of trying to clean out the garage is enough to make even the most hardened heart wither.
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But there's a good reason why cleaning, and greening, your garage is worth all of the hard work. Many people don't realize that the nasty smells in their garage are actually harmful fumes that contribute to indoor air pollution. These fumes can cause immediate negative effects such as headaches, respiratory trouble, asthma, fatigue, and dizziness.
More seriously, the EPA says that long term effects include heart disease, respiratory disease, and cancer. Pesticides, paint, fuel, oil, running cars, and lawnmowers all emit harmful fumes that have shown up in indoor air quality tests. This means you and your family are often breathing in chemicals that could be harming your health and well-being for years to come. If you're buying a house, it's another big reason why getting a thorough home inspection is important. Greening up your garage doesn't seem like such a chore anymore, right? It's really a necessity!
Well, here are five easy tips to get started:
1. Seal Cracks and Holes
Air can move through the smallest spaces. Go into your garage and diligently examine any wall that attaches the garage to your house. If there are any cracks, no matter how small, seal them with caulk. Make sure you pay special attention to corners; these often crack first. If your drywall is simply screwed in, unscrew them to check the interior wall for cracks. Additionally, check the door and door frame. You might want to attach a door skirt at the bottom to further seal off this space.
2. Ditch the Chemicals
Did you know most insecticides and herbicides come from nerve gases designed for wartime attacks? Many use organophosphates, which have been linked with cancer and a diminished ability to reproduce. These chemicals give off gas continually and yet they're sitting right there in your garage. They need to go! But don't just dump them down the drain; they need to be disposed of responsibly. Call your local waste management company, or city services, to see how to dispose of herbicides and pesticides in your area. Most cities consider them to be hazardous waste, and require you to treat them as such. You can also check Earth911 to find a local facility that will take these items.
3. Look at Your Heating Unit
Many homes have their furnace located in the garage. If yours is, then be aware that this is likely contributing elevated levels of pollutants into your home. When your furnace kicks on, it's using the air found in your garage. This air, which contains off-gassing from oil, pesticides, and paint lying around, is then blown into your home. In other countries, such as Canada, most builders wouldn't even think about putting the furnace in the garage for precisely this reason.
The best solution is to move your furnace to a different part of your home, inside a utility closet or down in the basement. It's going to be a costly project, but should be prioritized accordingly, right up there with anything else you would do in making your home more energy efficient. Of course you'll also need to decide whether to do it yourself or hire a contractor for the work involved. If you decide it's too expensive, another option is to purchase a high-quality air filter to get rid of some of these chemicals. And even if your furnace isn't located in the garage, a high-quality filter can still drastically improve your home's indoor air quality.
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4. Don't Run the Car
If you run your car in the garage (perhaps to warm it up in the winter or while you're waiting for family members) even with a car door open, those exhaust fumes are going to end up in the house. A better idea? Pull out into the driveway and shut the garage door if you need to keep the car running for a long period of time. An even better idea? Go green: carpool, ride a bike, drive a hybrid car, or find ways to save money on gas while driving. You'll help save the environment and won't have to worry about fumes in your garage either.
5. Dispose of Paint
If you're a homeowner, you probably have at least half a dozen partially filled paint cans sitting in your garage. They're a bane of any homeowner's existence, and before you know it you've got a veritable mountain of them spanning several shelves. You can reduce the off-gassing from these paint cans by sealing them with cling wrap and then hammering on the metal lid. It's an easy way to prevent those fumes from getting into your home. If you know you'll never use that paint again, consider putting it up on Freecycle.org for someone else to use. Or, call your city to find out how to dispose of it safely.
Many homeowners give little thought to their garage. Most of the time, it's a space used to accumulate stuff no one really wants to deal with. But it's important to keep the garage clean and free of chemicals which can off-gas into your home. Considering the long-term effects of many of these chemicals, making the effort to dispose of them properly is definitely worth the trouble. Not only will this green improvement increase the value of your home, but it will ensure you and your family's safety in breathing clean air.
Heather Levin is a contributor for The Greenest Dollar as well as the Money Crashers personal finance blog where she talks about various methods to save money and save the environment at the same time.