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10 Affordable Ways to Make Your Home Safer and Healthier

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3. Get your home tested. continued...

The main source of lead is old paint and dust that forms when paint chips and erodes, Landrigan explains. Lead paint can be a problem in any home built before 1978, when lead paint was banned.

"In tough economic times, we have to make wise decisions with our money -- and a lead test is one of those," says Landrigan. "Lead poisoning is tragic, and it happens too often. We're not just talking about the big cities. Older homes everywhere may have lead paint."

  • Check with your local health department about lead paint testing. A lab test of a paint chip runs from $20 to $50 per sample. You can also hire a certified professional to test your home, which will cost more.
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a safety alert on its web site about lead-based paint testing. It offers guidelines on reducing your exposure -- like covering walls with gypsum wallboard.

Colorless and odorless, radon gas comes from the natural breakdown of the soil and rock underneath your home. Any home can have a radon gas problem -- whether it's old or new, well-sealed or drafty, whether it has a basement or not.

Breathing air containing radon gas can cause lung cancer. In fact, it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.

  • You can buy a $20 home radon test kit at most hardware and home stores.
  • For more information, check the EPA's web site for "A Citizen's Guide to Radon."

4. Ditch pesticides.

Pesticides kill roaches, mice, ants, and lawn pests. But overexposure and chronic small exposures may put children at risk of a range of health problems, including asthma, learning disabilities, and problems with brain development.

These chemicals are expensive, too. "These pesticides are not cheap," says Landrigan. "You can easily spend a hundred bucks on one Saturday morning on them."

The problem is, "people don't see the damage the chemicals are doing to themselves and to their child," he tells WebMD. "It's silent, but nevertheless real damage."

Save money and promote health by focusing on prevention. Simple steps can keep roaches away -- like washing dishes very carefully, cleaning up all food residue, keeping food packages and containers tightly closed, and sealing any cracks that are a point of entry into your home. Landrigan has tested these methods in New York City apartment buildings, where roaches can seem firmly entrenched. "It's basic stuff, but it works," he says.

Instead of spraying herbicides on your lawn, "don't be so worried about weeds," says Landrigan. "Get used to a little imperfection. Rather than spraying, your time is better spent burning calories -- pulling weeds," he says.

You can learn about non-chemical, commonsense ways of reducing indoor and lawn/garden pests -- a concept called Integrated Pest Management. Look for the EPA's on-line booklet: "Citizen's Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety."

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Do you recycle?