Is Your House Killing You?
Tuesdays at 9:30 PM on the The Sundance Channel
Like we needed more shit to worry about. If you weren't already cowering in a corner about the slow groaning death of the economy, the viral threat of swine flu, poisonous Chinese toys or the pole-melting effects of global warming, now you can start freaking out about everyday household threats to our health. Mostly just start wigging out about mold. But there's more. Thanks to an Australian reality show airing this month on the Sundance Channel, American viewers can now begin wringing hands (those of you who haven't already been knee-deep in the subject on webMD) over the leaching of heavy metals from treated lumber, the particles of dust that colonize on your glasses and silverware, the poor quality of your ventilation system, noxious chemicals contaminating the air in our work rooms and kitchens, and, most ominously, the effect of mold — all kinds of the stuff — that grows in bathrooms, basements, roofs and drywall and which sometime requires the practical demolition of a house to be eradicated. The alarmist title "Is Your House Killing You?" gives you an idea of the show's pulse-racing and hypochondriac attitude.
Each episode begins with a family spelling out a litany of health problems. Some have suspicions about ways that the air quality might be affecting their breathing or their moods. Some appear oblivious to the fact that they're living surrounded by potentially poisonous chemicals. Some families are virtually coming apart because one member fears their home is making them sick and others — usually a spouse — thinks their sickly partner is slightly bonkers as well. "Is Your House Killing You?" is basically a home-fixing fantasy for germaphobes. And just when you think the show is pitched to paranoids, the two environmental scientists show up on the scene, driving a nifty compact hybrid. The experts put on their protective hazmat suits, goggles, breather units, and trot out the cool futuristic gizmos for collecting air samples, or swabbing for particles in the household dust and measuring whether moisture levels are conducive for mold.
The experts don't think it's funny. And they find safety concerns almost upon arrival at most houses. In the first episode, the Hatfield family is living in a home filled with hidden mold, and the husband (a chronic asthmatic) is making matters worse by doing his work as a sign painter in a poorly ventilated studio and without the proper safety gear. "You've got to move out of the house, and we suggest as soon as possible," the experts tell the family.
Not every episode requires that the family evacuate the house. Some problems — like unsealed chemically-treated lumber — can be solved by a day with a paint brush and a roller, and sometimes the culprit is a poorly ventilated basement. And while "Is Your House Killing You?" provides some handy tips — turns out it's best to get rid of mold using vinegar rather than bleach — the overall effect is one that will probably just make the average adult a little more manic. What about that creeping gray mildew on the shower curtain? The thin layer of white dusty mold that shows up on my shoes at the back of the closet? That lumpy bit of dry wall near the leaky roof? None of it's good. And some of it might be aggravating your asthma, causing things like eczema or worse. The gist is that it's probably not a bad idea to dust and do a little disinfecting wipe-down now and again.
Sorry to be the one to relay that news. One other lesson to learn from the show is that if you're the weekend warrior type, read the warnings on that treated lumber or those paints and cleaning agents you bought down at the local hardware store. You might be saving a few bucks, but the run-off from your new deck might be making your tomato patch toxic. And watch out for all that mold.