Is Your Kitchen Making You Sick, Literally?

Headaches, burning eyes, itching skin, trouble breathing – sound familiar? It does to more than one quarter of Canadians who suffer from allergies, asthma or environmental sensitivities.

Recent research has shown that sometimes the cause of this discomfort is close to home – in fact, it’s in the home. Though we hear a lot about the dangers of outdoor air pollution, studies are now showing that the quality of air indoors can be many times worse than the air outside.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), Canada’s authority on housing, has done extensive research on indoor air quality and has some tools and tips to help Canadians improve the indoor environment.

For example, for people planning to renovate the kitchen, one of the most popular renovation projects, CMHC’s publications have several suggestions.

First of all, it is helpful to think of your house as a system. One part of the home does not exist by itself. The home’s indoor air quality is influenced by all the other parts of the house and how the house is used as a whole.

Since the kitchen is where most cooking, washing and cleaning happens, ventilation is particularly important. If you are installing a new range, use an effective exhaust fan or range hood vented directly to the outside to remove cooking odours and moisture. Fan noise is reduced if the motor is installed outside.

People who cook with gas stoves are exposed to combustion gases. To avoid this, either use sealed combustion gas stoves or wire the stove in such a way that the exhaust turns on every time the gas stove is used.

Solid surface counter tops and solid wood cabinets are emission-free unlike choices such as particleboard. Water-based floor and trim finishes have a low content of volatile organic compounds and are a good alternative to paints high in noxious fumes. If particleboard is used, seal all surfaces and edges with laminate or with sufficient coats of low-odour sealant. Use low odour latex-based paints when painting.

Hard finish flooring such as ceramic tiles are the best choice for the kitchen, followed by vinyl composition tiles. These avoid the emissions from volatile compounds found in carpets, linoleum and sheet vinyl flooring and the organic vapours in their cleaning compounds. Ceramic tiles are also easy to clean.

Before you wrap up your project, have a look under the sink. Despite their airtight containers, the collection of cleaners stored there are sending emissions into you home 24 hours a day. These are better boxed up and stored outside or placed in a sealed container. Better yet, buy only non-toxic products.

To help home renovators make healthy choice, CMHC created the Healthy Housing Renovation Kit. The Kit contains This Clean House (video) and several publications which represent 16 years of housing research.

CMHC also publishes, Building Materials for the Environmental Hypersensitive, a practical sourcebook detailing over 200 common building and health issues associated with them. The first and only comprehensive guide of its kind in Canada, this book helps persons with asthma, allergies and other environmental sensitivities choose healthy building materials for their homes.

To order CMHC’s Healthy Housing Renovations Kit for $24.95 (prices may change), Building Materials for the Environmentally Hypersensitive for $29.95 (prices may change) or other housing publications contact your nearest CMHC office or CMHC’s web site at

Tips for healthy renovation of the kitchen:

  • Install a vented exhaust fan to remove cooking odours and moisture in the kitchen.
  • Use an overhead range hood instead of a downdraft hood. One that is vented directly to the outside is much more effective than a charcoal-based recirculating type.
  • Gas ranges can introduce potentially hazardous gases into the home. If buying one, get a sealed combustion gas stove which vents the combustion gases directly to the outside.
  • Use solid surface counter tops and cupboards made of solid wood, or thoroughly sealed composite wood.
  • Hard-finish, non-porous flooring such as glazed ceramic tiles are a good choice for the kitchen.
  • Cleaning products stored under the sink give off noxious emissions so are better kept in sealed containers, or use only non-toxic products.