Home Improvement

ASK RK: Tips for norovirus prevention in the home

Renovations continued despite the pandemic outbreak, but homeowners are reconsidering what materials to use and the updates to invest in based on the latest information on how virus contamination is spread

There’s an old cliche: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” If this is true, then mother has been really, really busy the last few months. 

From the debate on the best fabrics to use for face masks, to whether or not steel and plastic were the most effective materials to use in a hospital, the discussion these days boils down to the best methods and materials to combat the transmission of viruses and bacteria. This includes norovirus prevention for your family and your home. 

The reason is simple: the novel coronavirus (known as SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19) is a respiratory virus that is transmitted by droplets sprayed out when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks. These droplets can land directly or be transferred to surfaces. The virus then spreads when someone else touches the contaminated surface and then touches their mouth, eyes or nose. This is known as fomite transmission. 

While researchers and scientists are still examining how and what surfaces, materials, work best, the big takeaway is the importance of selecting the right material for the job — a factor that certainly applies when planning and executing home construction and renovations — and the need for consistent and persistent hygiene practices. This may include personal hygiene practices as well as home-hygiene practices to prevent noroviruses. 

Norovirus prevention tips for your home

Norovirus prevention starts with understanding what can be infected – including surfaces in your home – and how to properly prevent cross-contamination.  To help with norovirus prevention, I’ve compiled a list that includes:  

  • What researchers currently know about the efficacy of specific materials in preventing or deterring the transmission of viruses or the growth of bacteria or mold; 
  • Where these materials are used in your homes; 
  • The best ways to disinfect these materials or limit their possible contamination curve. 

Best and worst materials for norovirus transmission:

Copper

  • 4 hours: The length of time the novel coronavirus has been found on copper after initial contamination. 
  • Uses: Sinks, door handles, table or floor lamp switches, pots and pans, tea kettles

Aluminium

  • 2 to 8 hours: The length of time the novel coronavirus has been found on aluminium after initial contamination. 
  • Uses: Soda/pop cans, tin foil, water bottles 

Cardboard

  • 1 day: The length of time the novel coronavirus has been found on cardboard after initial contamination. 
  • Uses: Boxes used to carry groceries, non-perishable food containers, packaging for goods delivered, packing and shipping boxes 

Plastic

  • 2 to 3 days: The length of time the novel coronavirus has been found on plastic after initial contamination. 
  • Uses: Utensils, children’s dishes, ‘non-disposable’ replacements (such as refillable water bottles), disposable grocery items (such as bottled water), grocery bags, handles (refrigerators, ovens, microwaves), light switches, milk bottles (in some states and provinces), laundry hampers

Stainless steel

  • 2 to 3 days: The length of time the novel coronavirus has been found on stainless steel after initial contamination. 
  • Uses: Faucets, sinks, doorknobs, non-disposable food containers (such as water or drink holders and travel cutlery), appliances, pots and pans

Metal

  • 5 days: The length of time the novel coronavirus has been found on metal after initial contamination. 
  • Uses: Doorknobs, jewellery, handles

Glass

  • Up to 5 days: The length of time the novel coronavirus has been found on glass after initial contamination. 
  • Uses: Drinking glasses, mirrors, windows

Ceramics

  • 5 days: The length of time the novel coronavirus has been found on ceramics after initial contamination. 
  • Uses: Dishes, pottery, coffee & tea mugs

Wood

  • 4 days: The length of time the novel coronavirus has been found on wood after initial contamination. 
  • Uses: Furniture, deck material, patio furniture, external, porches, cutting boards, countertops

In general, viruses, like COVID-19, tend to live longer on smooth surfaces and non-porous material, which may require more frequent cleaning for proper norovirus prevention. (The exception to the smooth surfaces is copper, as this metal contains antimicrobial properties that can kill viruses more quickly). The virus generally doesn’t live long on paper and clothing, as this material is more porous. 

FAST FACT:
According to studies, coronaviruses survive longer on surfaces than viruses that cause a common cold, but not as long as flu viruses. 

While respiratory viruses remain infectious for hours or days on surfaces, viruses that impact the stomach and intestinal tracts remain infectious for months on surfaces.

What can you do to prevent noroviruses?

If you are in the process of renovating or updating your home, consider what material to use. Keep in mind how often each area is touched by people. High-traffic areas with viable alternatives, such as doorknobs and lamp switches, can be selected based on the materials. Other areas that offer little to no option for replacements, such toilet handles and appliances, should be washed frequently to avoid cross-contamination and aid in norovirus prevention. 

Remember to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, especially during transitions, such as coming back from the grocery store or after bringing in packages. 

The best practice is to wash your hands after coming into contact with any material that could have been contaminated. Then wash the surface with soap and water before disinfecting the area with an EPA-registered disinfectant, such as diluted bleach (one part bleach to 9 parts water), or solutions with 70% or more alcohol (such as hand sanitizer). 

Replace home reno features to stop norovirus cross-contamination

Touchless-faucet-to-wash-hands-with-soap-norovirus-prevention

While swapping out building materials is one option, another option to help make your home less-hospitable for potential viruses is to replace certain features that can help prevent cross-contamination. 

Here are some easily-accessible updates for just about any homeowner or renter to help with norovirus prevention: 

Auto or touchless faucets

Either tap or wave your hand underneath your kitchen faucet to turn the water on. 

Touchless Toilet Flusher

You can install an after-market touchless toilet flusher that allows you to convert your existing flapper valve (or canister valve) toilet — that typical toilet in most homes — into a touchless toilet. This allows multiple family members and people to use a toilet, without touching the handle, eliminating possible cross-contamination

Motion-sensor lights

Install smart-plugs, smart light switches or smart lights (that work through apps) that allow you to turn lights on and off and can even change the colour or brightness of a light. Some options allow you to set timers or triggers, allowing you to automate when your lights turn on and off. 

Remote-controlled blinds and ceiling fans

Eliminate the need to touch a wand, cord or switch by installing remote control blinds or lights. 

App-controlled appliances (large and small)

Over the last few years, a variety of small and large appliances brands have come out with app-controlled options. You can find app-controlled ovens, microwaves, air conditioners (window style, not central), washer and dryer combos, sprinkler systems, thermostat controls and even refrigerators (this last one lets you see inside your fridge without opening the door, among other features).  

Robot appliances

The most well-known option in this category is the Roomba, the self-propelled vacuum that quietly cleans your house. 

Other options

You can also check out smart door locks (automatically open and lock doors), as well as automatic pet feeders (typically aimed at dogs). 

Re-evaluate household patterns to prevent norovirus transmission

norovirus prevention Clean-disinfect-home-COVID-19-Zolo

How well an object or surface plays host to a pathogen is only one factor. Another factor in norovirus prevention is how we use and interact with our home, office and communal spaces. To help reduce transmission and infection, we may need to adopt new habits and methods of living and working. 

Based on what researchers have determined about the transmission of bacteria and viruses are some low-cost, simple ways to help you create a home that is inhospitable to virus transmission.  

Clean

Most people don’t realize that because of the size of a virus, these germs can hide in dirt. Seriously! 

Fast Fact:
Viruses are small. Really small, measuring between 20 and 400 nm. To put this in perspective: 1 millimetre is the equivalent of 1,000,000 nanometres (nm). 

So, the best cleaning method, when it comes to removing potential virus contamination is to first clean and then disinfectant. 

Cleaning a surface with soap and water removes dirt and organic material (aka: grime) where germs can hide. Once clean, you can use a disinfectant. The good news is you can rely on visual or tactile clues — if a surface appears or feels dirty, clean first. If not, you may be able to skip this step and go straight to disinfecting. 

For those using “antibacterial cleaner,” the CDC recommends that you still clean first before using this to disinfect. 

To be extra safe, just do the two-step process each time you clean your home for better norovirus prevention. 

Declutter 

In an academic paper, published in 2012 in SciELO Public Health, author Giuseppina La Rosa, a professor at the Institute of Health in Rome, Italy, states that viruses are easily transmitted, “especially in crowded, poorly ventilated environments.” 

Cluttered, disorganized and overcrowded spots in our homes and offices reduce the ability for air to circulate and provide more hiding places for germs. To reduce viral transmission, then, your first step is to declutter. 

Read more for tips on decluttering

Lower the toilet seat

According to recent studies, COVID-19 and other viruses may be transmitted through airborne viral particles, like those created when you flush a toilet. To reduce or stop the aerosolization of fecal matter into the air, lower your toilet seat every time you finish your business and each time before you flush. 

Open the windows

We now know that the rate of survival of a virus on surfaces depends upon temperature, humidity and pH and exposure to ultraviolet light. Since most people spend over 80% of their lifetime indoors, according to researchers, it’s important to maintain or even improve the air quality of our homes. 

One simple way to do this is to open windows — particularly when there is a cross-breeze. 

Sort and fold laundry at home

If you don’t have your own washer and dryer and use a communal laundromat, there are a few behavioural modifications that can significantly reduce your chances of exposure to viruses. 

  • Use sanitizing wipes or hand sanitizer to wipe down machines handles and buttons before using them. 
  • Avoid using communal carts, whenever possible. While there is a really slim chance your clothes will become contaminated, you could touch the virus with your hands when using the cart. 
  • Wash hands with soap and water (or use hand sanitizer) everytime you load and unload your clothing from a machine. 
  • Don’t hang out at the laundromat. Go back home or wait in your car or outside.
  • Sort laundry before you go and fold clean laundry at home. 
  • Don’t touch your face. Period. Wash your hands as soon as you get home. 

Keep up to date with home maintenance

Respiratory illnesses and problems are consistently higher in homes that reported mold or dampness. To prevent or reduce this mold and bacteria growth you need to make sure your home exterior envelope is water-tight. This requires fixing problems and preventing problems from occurring through regular home maintenance. 

Move-out during major home renos

According to a 2013 study, living through a home renovation prompted significantly higher rates of cough, phlegm, wheezing, doctor-diagnosed asthma, and the onset of asthma symptoms among residents. To reduce the negative impacts of a home renovation on your family’s respiratory health, consider moving out of the home while the renovation takes place. 

Choose new furniture, wisely

To reduce respiratory symptoms and the onset of asthma, researchers investigated the materials used in new furniture and how this impacted family members. Turns out installing solid wood, laminated flooring or new wallpaper could trigger asthma symptoms. Also, completing a household renovation or buying new furniture, particularly furniture made of particleboard, during pregnancy increased the chance of lifetime asthma in family members. 

Will homeowners continue to upgrade homes?

upgrade-lightning-in-home- materials that hinder flu virus spread prevention

While the pandemic certainly hit hard, some areas of the economy actually thrived. For instance, the home renovation industry, along with hardware and big box supply stores, saw an increase in traffic and sales as more and more people were forced to stay inside or at least closer to their home-base. 

According to a recent survey by Houzz, a popular home renovation and design platform, more than half (52%) of American homeowners who were already in the process of their renovation continued with the job despite COVID-19 shutdowns. Of those that did press pause, many were homeowners who were forced to stop the work due to state and local restrictions. 

On the retail side, business boomed. Most stores remained open, as home improvement was deemed an essential business. This prompted a surge in retail as well as online sales. For example, Lowe’s stores experienced an 11.2% increase in growth in same-store sales — significantly larger than the 3.3% growth analysts had predicted for this year. In-store sales weren’t the only source of profit. Lowe’s and other home improvement stores, such as Home Depot, Rona, Canadian Tire and Home Hardware also rolled out curbside pickup to accommodate digital orders. 

Lowe’s Canada, which also owns Rona, and Home Depot did not do quite as well in retail store sales during the same time frame; however, financial data released by Home Depot shows that online sales surged from approximately 30% growth in early March to triple-digit growth in early April, explained Ted Decker, vice president of merchandising, during an investor meeting. As he described it, the last three weeks of Q1 “traffic to HomeDepot.com was consistently above Black Friday levels.”

Lowe’s CEO, Marvin Ellison, predicts that sales “will only get better” throughout the rest of 2020, with no expected downturn in demand. As he explained it, consumers will continue to invest in their houses despite the coronavirus. 

Renovations driven by a variety of reasons

There’s a number of reasons for this upswing in home renos:

No. 1: Need flex-space that works with all family needs. The need to recreate the home space to accommodate the added demands placed on this space was one of the biggest motivators for home improvement projects during the pandemic crisis. 

Gone are the desires for wide-open spaces, with nary a wall in sight between kitchen, family room and dining room. Now, families are looking to create flex-space and quick-shift privacy offices to help provide work-from-home-parents with accessible, usable workspace while giving the kids the freedom and flexibility to work, play and create within the same four walls. 

No. 2: Need to unwind. Another reason for the surge in home renos is the pent-up demand to relax and unwind. Quite often, this desire to recreate would push people to spend on trips or vacations or spending time in other recreational activities. With travel restrictions still in place, particularly with international travel, many people started to dream of recreating their own outdoor space. Anecdotally, many landscape designers saw a surge in requests for outdoor kitchens and backyard ‘oasis’ designs. 

No. 3: Spend money saved. For many younger couples or those juggling a variety of financial demands, taking on the debt of a renovation isn’t too appealing. With many fresh homeowners being forced to put plans on hold  — such as paying for a wedding — they’ve decided to spend this money on previously postponed home improvements. (Another motivation for these young couples is to use the money initially set aside for a wedding to buy their first home, or to move up to a larger home that will accommodate a growing family.)

Final Thoughts

It’s wise to remember that while the COVID-19 virus (and other viruses) can survive on surfaces from several hours to several days, this and most other viruses can be easily inactivated by using simple cleaning solutions, such as store-bought disinfectants, as well as diluted bleach solutions, prepared on a daily basis. But the best defence against all viruses is to wash our hands with soap in warm water for 20 seconds and to not touch our face. By following these guidelines and tips, you’ll be on your way to norovirus prevention in your home. 

Sources: CDC, FDA, The New England Journal of Medicine, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Canada
Romana King
Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance writer and the current director of content for Zolo. King has contributed to business and lifestyle publications including CBC.ca, Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, MoneySense, Globe & Mail Custom Content Team, and Toronto Star. She is a passionate speaker about financial education and engages her audience on a variety of personal finance topics from kids and money, home buying and selling tips, and estate and investment planning. King won the 2015 SABEW Business Journalism award and is currently nominated for a COPA 2019 award, Best Service Article, for her annual project Best Deals in Real Estate. As editor of CI Top Broker, King guided her magazine to obtain its first KRW Business Journalism nomination, and she was part of the small team in 2011 that helped MoneySense win Magazine of the Year at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards.

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