Alliance for Healthy Housing working for affordable healthy housing for all.

September 29, 2010

Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality

Proper ventilation helps improve indoor air quality. Ventilation can control indoor humidity and airborne contaminants, both of which either contribute to or act as health hazards. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and several states (Minnesota, Washington, and Vermont) have ventilation standards designed to ensure acceptable indoor air quality.
High indoor humidity can spur mold growth. High humidity may result from poor construction/rehabilitation, site design that does not properly manage water, and/or inadequate air exchange. A reasonable target for relative humidity is 30-60 percent. A low cost hygrometer, available at hardware stores, can be used to measure relative humidity. In cool climates, inadequate ventilation in the winter can contribute to excessive moisture and humidity because normal activities create moisture (cooking, bathing, breathing), and there is insufficient natural ventilation (opening windows) or mechanical ventilation (fans, exhaust systems) to remove the moisture. In warmer climates, the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can pull warmer, humid air inside. In this case, the ventilation system may help create indoor humidity problems unless the system also dehumidifies the air.

Common sources of airborne contaminants include:

Indoor contaminants. These include chemicals used in the construction or renovation of buildings (e.g., glues, off-gassing from carpets, emissions from particle board, cleaning compounds). In addition, appliances that burn gas can produce particulates and carbon monoxide. Incomplete combustion and poor ventilation of these appliances (cook stoves, gas furnaces, gas boilers, and gas water heaters) can contribute to indoor contaminants. Gas cook tops should be used with fans that send exhaust outside. Gas-fired heating appliances should be sealed and power-vented systems installed to remove products of incomplete combustion. Wood-burning stoves can also create particulates and must be vented outside.

Outdoor contaminants. Outdoor particulates can be drawn inside when the heating or cooling system draws air into a home. Particulates and allergens found in outdoor air can be asthma triggers. Filtering incoming air for HVAC systems effectively filters particulates. Experts recommend using filters with a MERV 6-8, but higher MERV levels trap smaller particles and generally are more appropriate for those with allergies or where the indoor environment has a high concentration of mold spores, dust particles, or other allergens.

Two types of ventilation can help control harmful air contaminants and humidity: spot ventilation and dilution ventilation. Spot ventilation draws air from a particular location (e.g., bathroom, kitchen) and exhausts it to the outside. Dilution ventilation address low-level contamination throughout the home.

Spot Ventilation. Exterior exhaust fans should be installed in all bathrooms and kitchens. These fans remove humidity and carbon monoxide. The most effective fans are quiet and durable. Use fans that operate at one sone or less and exhaust to the outdoors. Fans equipped with timers or de-humidistat controls are useful to ensure the fans run for a sufficient period of time. A good rule of thumb is to run a bathroom fan for about 45 minutes after a shower.

Dilution Ventilation. Dilution ventilation addresses the entire living space. Air changes (exchanging indoor air with outdoor air) and air cleaning help determine the effectiveness of dilution. Air changes result from a combination of natural ventilation (infiltration; leakage; windows) and mechanical (controlled) ventilation. Air cleaning occurs when particulates are filtered and when air is dehumidified to remove moisture. The goal is to provide sufficient changes to ensure a healthy environment. There are several types of heating and cooling systems with filtration that can be installed to accomplish this. A common element necessary in all systems is duct sealing, particularly on the return side (side drawing in the air). The Air Conditioning Contractors Association (ACCA) provides guidance on duct sealing in its Manual D: Duct Design.

Sizing HVAC Systems

It is important not to oversize a system. Oversizing can contribute to poor air distribution and insufficient dehumidification, creating an environment that promotes mold growth. Oversized heating systems can “short cycle,” meaning that the system does not run long enough to turn the fan on for a sufficient period to distribute new air. Systems that short cycle during air conditioning will deliver cold air in short bursts but not necessarily dehumidify the air. The resulting cold, clammy environment can encourage mold growth. Some contractors oversize HVAC systems to compensate for duct leakage and to minimize complaints about heating or cooling delivery. The ACCA provides guidance on system sizing in its Manual J.

HVAC Systems Can Contribute to Air Quality Problems

HVAC systems can also exacerbate indoor air quality problems. The HVAC system may be contaminated (because of mold in duct lining or bacteria on coil or filters, for example), and the system may spread these pollutants throughout the home. Second, the HVAC duct distribution system can spread pollutants from one portion of the home to another. Regular maintenance and duct sealing can help minimize these problems.

Sources and Additional Information:

Air Conditioning Contractors Association (ACCA) –

American Society of Heating and Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, Inc –

Building Science Corporation –

Home Energy Magazine –

Minnesota State Regulations – Ventilation –

Washington State Regulations – Ventilation –

Alliance for Healthy Housing

September 29, 2010

About Health and Housing

A century ago, advances in housing — everything from indoor plumbing to vented combustion appliances — were driven by the need to protect health. Today, the link between good housing and good health is often overlooked or taken for granted. However, housing directly affects everyone’s health, and conditions in our homes can cause or contribute to many diseases and conditions. Many common health hazards in housing are also environmental problems that can place young children, the elderly, and even entire communities at greater risk.

Housing Is a Health Issue

Because most individuals spend so much time inside, our homes typically account for a major share of exposures to toxics, irritants, allergens, and gases that can cause disease and hurt our health. For example:

mold, mildew, and pests (such as cockroaches, rodents, and dust mites) can trigger asthma, the leading cause of absences from elementary school;

carbon monoxide poisoning from combustion appliances, such as stoves, furnaces, and gas heaters, claims several hundred lives each year in the U.S. and causes flu-like symptoms at lower levels;

lead-based paint in older housing is the primary cause of childhood lead poisoning, which reduces children’s intelligence, interferes with learning, and causes behavior problems;

exposures to asbestos particles, radon gas, and second-hand tobacco smoke, all of which can cause cancer, are far higher indoors than outside; and

pesticide residues in our homes can pose significant risks for neurological damage and cancer.

Health care providers, government officials, property owners, and consumers all need to realize the importance of decent housing to good health. A growing body of scientific research has demonstrated that children who live in homes that are well ventilated, dry, and free of pests, poisons, and dangerous gases will be healthier and lead fuller lives. In particular, the current preoccupation with drug therapies for asthma needs to shift to give greater emphasis to reducing children’s exposure to asthma triggers and sensitizers in the home environment.

Addressing housing-related health hazards can significantly improve occupants’ health and quality of life while saving billions of dollars in health care costs.

Housing Is an Environmental Issue

Everyone knows that pollutants in our environment directly affect our health. Though we usually think of the environment as the outside world, scientists have long known that indoor exposures far exceed outdoor levels for most pollutants. Because toxic substances (such as lead and asbestos) and harmful gases (such as carbon monoxide and radon) build up in confined spaces, indoor levels are at least 10 times higher than outdoors for many pollutants of concern.

While protecting our air, water, and land from environmental pollution has become a top national priority, environmental health risks in our homes have been largely overlooked, despite the fact that most people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors.

Young Children and the Elderly

Infants and toddlers, whose developing systems make them most sensitive to pollutants, spend lots of time at home. Substandard housing is, in fact, the nation’s #1 environmental health threat to young children.

The elderly also tend to stay at home more than members of other age groups, putting them at heightened risk for health hazards in the home environment.

Low-Income Communities of Color

While homes of any age and value can harbor serious environmental hazards, older, low-income properties that are in substandard condition typically present the greatest risks. These homes are more likely to contain toxic substances, such as asbestos and lead-based paint. In addition, deferred maintenance in these properties often results in moisture and water leaks that encourage infestations of mold, mildew, dust mites, cockroaches, rodents, and other pests. Millions of American families live in physically substandard homes or have insufficient income to support basic property maintenance.

The fact that older, substandard housing is often concentrated in low-income communities of color makes housing-related health hazards a pressing environmental justice priority as well.

Help us work for healthy affordable housing for all—make your tax-deductible contribution to the Alliance today!

Alliance for Healthy Homes and National Center for Healthy Housing Announce Merger

September 29, 2010

On January 20, the Alliance for Healthy Homes and the National Center for Healthy Housing announced a merger between the two organizations in order to better serve the shared mission of promoting healthy, affordable housing.

The consolidated organization will continue to operate as the National Center for Healthy Housing, with offices in Columbia, MD and Washington, DC.

From now on, please visit to find information about healthy housing.

How can I control the humidity in my home during the summer?

September 28, 2010

Humidity has an important effect on comfort during the summer. Some weather forecasters in the summer talk about the comfort index, which attempts to show how much hotter the air temperature is likely to feel to you because of the humidity. The higher the humidity, the hotter you will feel. One of the ways air conditioners operate is to remove humidity from the air, which makes you feel cooler.

If you live in an area with high humidity, be careful about leaving windows and doors open during the summer. This will allow moisture from the outside air to enter your home. A way to control indoor moisture during humid summer months is to run an air conditioner and/or a dehumidifier. If you use a dehumidifier, clean it often. Also, empty it daily or have it drip directly into a drain.

Warm air can hold more moisture than cold air. Therefore, when your home is warm in the summer, more moisture is likely to stay in the air rather than condensing on the surfaces of walls and windows. In most climates, keeping an indoor humidity level below 60 percent in the summer probably will prevent condensation and mold growth.

Even though your air conditioner removes moisture from the air, the areas around your air conditioning system can be a source of water build-up. Make sure the drip pan on your air conditioner has not overflowed, and check near your air conditioning system for traces of dampness where mold can grow.

How can I determine the level of moisture in my home?

September 28, 2010

Weather forecasters talk about the relative humidity outdoors. Likewise, the inside of your home has a relative humidity, which is a measure of the moisture content in the air. Hardware stores sell instruments to measure the humidity inside your home.

Humidity is an important factor affecting the comfort level in your home. Have you ever awakened in the middle of a winter night to discover that your throat and nose feel very dry? That could mean the humidity in your home is too low. To remedy the problem, some people use humidifiers, which are designed to raise the humidity in a home. Your goal should be to have enough humidity in the air so the members of your household can stay healthy and comfortable.

Too much humidity can cause droplets of water to form on your walls, floors and windows, which can lead to mold growth. This formation of water droplets is called condensation. It occurs when warm moisture comes in contact with a cool surface. If you pour a glass of ice water and leave it on your kitchen table, the glass soon will begin to sweat. The sweating does not come from inside the glass. It is created when moisture from the air condenses when it comes in contact with the cold outer surface of the glass.

A sign of excessive humidity in a home can be condensation on the inside of windows, especially if you have double- or triple-pane windows. If condensation is present for prolonged periods, take steps to reduce the level of moisture or increase ventilation in your home. Condensation also can result from the use of unvented fuel-burning appliances, such as kerosene heaters or wood-burning stoves. If you use such appliances, have them inspected by a professional contractor or a utility company representative.

Another sign of excess moisture could be the warping of floors or difficulty in opening wood windows and doors. In such cases, the moisture from the air is absorbed into the wood, causing it to expand.

5 tips to improving your home’s indoor air quality

September 26, 2010

When you’re stuck inside because it’s too hot to go outside, you’ll be grateful if the air in your home is clean and comfortable.

As long as you’re indoors, why not spend time making sure it is?

A few simple changes and chores can upgrade the quality of your indoor air, make your family feel cooler on the hottest days and spruce up the look of your rooms. Here are five tips:

1. Upgrade your ceiling fans-or add fans if you don’t have any.
Installation is an easy do-it-yourself project. Newer models are far more energy efficient, and it’s easier than ever to choose one that conserves electricity. Here’s how:

• Look for a fan with a label that says it uses few watts per cubic foot of air. Older fans use as much as 60 to 70 watts.

• Buy a fan with five blades. The more blades your fan has, the more efficient it is. Newer fan blades are pitched so they create a vacuum when they spin, which helps them propel with less electrical energy. That increased pitch also makes the movement quieter, so there’s less of that helicopter like chopping sound.

• If you raise your thermostat by 4 degrees and turn on the ceiling fan, you probably won’t feel any difference in comfort, but you could see a difference for the better on your cooling bill.

2. Update your window treatments – but don’t stop with the drapes and blinds.
The sun will fade and ruin them unless you also add sunscreens, especially on the west and south sides of the house. You can mount sunscreens on the inside of the windows under your drapes. Or, invest in honeycomb shades with double cells, which are easy to install, reasonably priced and come in variety of colors.

A tip: Choose a style that allows you to lower the window cover from the top down instead of raising it from the bottom up. You’ll still get a lot of light and have a nice view of the sky without letting direct sunlight into the room or sacrificing your privacy. Other tips:

• If you have a skylight, cover it with a motorized cellular shade or screen to keep the hot sun from beating down on the room in the early afternoon. Just push a button to open and close it.

• For bedrooms and home theaters, consider blackout shades with a sliding track system on the sides to close the gap between the fabric and the window. The plastic track locks out the light and can reduce the loss of your cool, indoor air by up to 65 percent.

3. Switch all light bulbs to compact fluorescent lights or LEDs (light-emitting diodes).
They cost more than incandescent lights, but they last far longer and use a fraction of the energy. Plus, they don’t get hot when they burn, unlike incandescent bulbs, which spend about 90 percent of their energy producing heat rather than light. Consider:

• Trying out a few LEDs in the kitchen to see if you like them. Good places: in a pendulum light over the kitchen island and under cabinets.

• Dimming your lights so they use less energy. Look into dimmer switches if you’re still using incandescent lights, and into whole-house lighting controls that allow you to turn the lights on or off from anywhere inside or outside of the house. Motion sensors also save energy because they switch lights off when nobody’s in the room.

4. Switch to non-toxic cleaners for big and small jobs.
If you’re having your carpet professionally cleaned, hire a contractor who freshens the rugs with eco-friendly cleaners. And try mixing white vinegar with water to clean windows, floors, and kitchen and bathroom surfaces. In most cases, it works as well as chemical cleaners, and it does a great job of removing set-in odors.

5. Have your air-conditioning system checked.
Hire a pro to check your ductwork for blockages and leaks, to inspect your clothes-dryer exhaust duct to make sure it’s working properly and to clean your air-conditioner’s air handler and coils. If you don’t clean the coils, there’s no sense in cleaning the air ducts.

• Toss your cheap, fiberglass air-conditioner filter and upgrade to a pleated filter with a MERV 8 rating (for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, which is a rating system of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers). The higher the MERV rating, the smaller the particles it will remove from the air.

• Change the filters every month, even if the manufacturer says you can go two or three. Arizona is a hot, dusty place, so the filters don’t hold up as long here as in other parts of the country.

• If you have a reusable electrostatic filter, clean it often. The most expensive reusable filter is less efficient than a $5 or $7 disposable filter if you don’t clean it.


September 26, 2010

Teachers have a significant role maintaining good air quality in classrooms. Below are a few tips for teachers that if followed can assist in maintaining or improving the air quality of classrooms.


Classroom air supply systems are critical to the classroom environment. It is important that air systems are not manually turned on or off and are not blocked. Classroom air systems will not work properly when the system is even partially blocked. If there are issues with your air supply system, ask the front office to enter a work request for Building Services to address the issue on your behalf. If you are storing materials like the ones shown below finding alternate storage space will allow the system to better perform.


Cloth furniture, stuffed animals, pillows and other such articles are reservoirs for allergens and asthma triggers. It is important to wash these types of materials out of the classroom or cleaned regularly to keep allergens to a minimum.


Dust can be a serious problem for asthmatics or others with upper respiratory sensitivity. Keeping clutter to a minimum will allow your custodian to take better care of your room. For instance, keeping stored materials in plastic boxes with lids allows them to be dusted. Your custodian takes good care of your room. However, the hygiene of personal items, media carts, computers and stored materials is the responsibility of the teacher(s) using or storing these items.


Furry animals produce dander which can be both an allergen and asthma trigger. It is best not to have furry animals in the classroom. If animals are required for curriculum the cages should be cleaned on a daily basis and more sensitive children should sit on the opposite side of the room from the animals. Animal food should be stored in sealable vessels. You should never be able to smell the presence of the animals in your classroom.


Masking agents introduce substances into the air that may smell nice to some, but may be offensive or upper respiratory irritants to others. It is best not to use masking agents in classrooms. If there is a building related problem causing odors, the masking agent makes it harder to find the problem. There have been a number of response actions conducted by district personnel where simply removing the masking agents out of the building resolved staff and student upper respiratory irritation.


It is important that classroom air systems are allowed to run as designed. Tampering with the air system not only impacts your room, but may start a domino effect that impacts other classrooms too. If your classroom is not within the accepted temperature range contact the front office to request support.


Do not store or prepare food in classrooms unless there is a specific medical or curriculum need to do so. Food spoils, attracts pests and should be prepared in appropriate spaces. Home appliances are not intended for use in school buildings and generally do not have the appropriate ASTM rating.


Perfumes, aftershave and colognes may be serious upper respiratory irritants. Reduce use to a minimum while at school to avoid triggering asthma attacks or causing upper respiratory system irritation.


Report floods, water leaks, or water spots to the front office promptly. By reporting these issues early the initial problem can be addressed by Building Services before the moisture becomes a more serious event.


Empower yourself to improve the indoor environment by reading up on IAQ at the USEPA Tools for Schools IAQ Website.

Don’t be overwhelmed by indoor air pollution—here’s 9 quick tips that can make a profound difference!

September 26, 2010

The old cliché “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” has been proven true many times, but never so poignantly as it is when applied to state of indoor air quality. The air you breathe is an easily underappreciated commodity—and most of the real health concerns are odorless as well as invisible. So even though airborne hazards are easily overlooked, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), your home is most likely a very toxic environment. Believe it or not, your home is 2 to 5 times more polluted than the air outside.

This is why the EPA rates indoor air quality as one of the top five environmental risks to public health. The truth is that energy-efficient construction techniques save money on utility bills, but make your home into catch all for air contamination. Elements that are found outside easily make their way indoors and become collected and concentrated—but many of the items that we furnish our homes with have potent effect on the air as well.

The good news is that there are ways to make a huge impact on the quality of indoor air—and here’s 9 simple ways to make it happen:

1. Fresh Air

Modern homes are almost comparable to a Tupperware container in the manner in which they collect and store pollution. Older, “drafty” houses are proven to not hold onto contaminants like newer homes do, because those drafts allow air quality offenders to escape back outside. So make a point to “air out” your house. On a certain day each week, flick off the heater and open a few windows. In the winter, you can either time the airing out with a grocery store trip, walk around the neighborhood or while you’re baking or cooking. In the summer, it is advisable to open windows at night and keep them closed during the hottest points of the day

2. Health-Conscious Heating

The American Lung Association has cited that more than 70% of Americans have forced or central heating, but 50% of those heaters never get a regular filter change. Alarmingly, 10% have never had a filter replacement at all. It is important to have your heater inspected annually—and to replace the filter every 3 months. Most filters are very easy to change, and merely need to be slid out and thrown away. For extra protection, many people install HEPA grade furnace filters like those made by Dynamic Air Cleaners. These filters remove more particles in general, but also can catch the tiniest ones that pass right through regular filters. The Dynamic Air Cleaner furnace filters are as easy to install as a regular filter.

3. Hold Off on Household Cleaners

For the most part, household cleaners are as tough on soap scum, stains and grease as they are on your health. The fragrances used in the cleaners are often their only redeeming point when it comes to how they impact the people who use them. There are several natural cleaning agents that you might want to consider, such as baking soda and white vinegar. In addition there are a few brands with specially formulated non-toxic ingredients.

Another source of air pollution that we introduce to our house comes in the form of air fresheners. Whether they plug in or are “spritzed” into the air, it is guaranteed that most all of them have ingredients with toxic qualities. Many of the ingredients used in air fresheners have no been adequately researched to determine whether they are dangerous or not. For some tips to cure the cause of unpleasant smells, see my post on air fresheners.

4. Green Thumbs = Clean Air

The very same elements in the air that are dangerous for people are not a problem for plants, which not only thrive in spite of household air contaminants, but also help to remove them from the air. Airborne formaldehyde (a carcinogen that comes from materials like plywood, adhesives, carpet and paint) and carbon monoxide (produced by heating or cooking equipment) are readily removed by house plants. For more information on what plant types are the most effective at cleaning the air and most easily grown, check out this article on plants and air quality.

5. Fend Off Mold and Mites

Two of the most pervasive allergens and air quality foes are dust mites and mold spores. The primary requirement for both of these pests to thrive is moisture—so the trick to eliminating mod and mites at the same time is to keep indoor humidity under check. In rooms where humidity is usually high, like bathroom, kitchens and unfinished basements, try running a dehumidifier. For those with allergies, you might want to check out more quick tips dealing with mold and dust mites.

6. De-Shoe at the Door

An alarming statistic shows that 90% of a person’s exposure to pesticides occurs in an indoor environment. How do these chemicals make their way into homes? –they hitch a ride on shoes and are tracked throughout the house. Simply removing your shoes at the door is the best way to avoid importing pesticides.

7. Smoke Removal 101

Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 different chemicals, and lighting up indoors is one of the worst things that you can do for your living environment. If you or your friends smoke, try to keep smoking limited to the outdoors. Stepping outside to smoke can save your home and your health.

8. Test for Radon

Radon is the second most common cause of lung cancer and is right behind tobacco smoke, which is the number one cause of lung cancers. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is found in high levels in every corner of America. It leaches out of the ground and permeates homes through basements and building foundations. It is estimated that one out of 15 in the United States has radon levels that are considered unhealthy by the EPA.

Test kits for radon and cheap and easy to use and can be purchased at hardware stores. So test your air and make sure your home isn’t that one out of the 15.

9. Hazardous Home Improvements

Most all of the surfaces and substances that are found inside are home have been treated, coated or glued. This means that most carpeting, upholstery, furniture will introduce formaldehyde into the air. Beyond the risk of cancer, formaldehyde also causes mild to severe eye, nose, skin and throat irritation.

Look for furniture and other home goods that are made with “green” materials—or air out new furniture in the garage or backyard for a few days before bringing them inside.

How can I prevent mold from growing in my home?

September 26, 2010

While mold spores are all around us, mold growth can be prevented. As mentioned earlier, mold growing in your home requires MOISTURE, WARMTH, and FOOD. Depriving mold of any of these three items will stop it from growing, but it will not kill the mold that is already there. Mold spores will remain dormant, and if the moisture, warmth and food all reappear, mold will begin to grow again.

The most important steps in controlling mold growth are to clean any existing mold and to eliminate excessive moisture. You can take numerous precautionary steps:

Vacuum and clean regularly to remove possible sources of mold growth. Pay special attention to bathrooms and other areas of your home that are likely to generate a lot of moisture.

In portions of your home that are susceptible to moisture, use area rugs or washable floor surfaces rather than wall-to-wall carpeting. If you use area rugs, launder them periodically.

Do not store materials such as paper, books, clothes, or other possible sources of food for mold in humid parts of your home.

Repair water leaks in your roof, windows, or any other part of the home as soon as possible.

Clean refrigerator drip pans regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If your refrigerator and freezer doors do not seal properly, moisture can build up and mold can grow there. Remove any mold on the door gaskets and replace faulty gaskets.

If you live in a house, make sure that your gutters and downspouts are clear of debris that may block the flow of water from your roof. Make sure the area under your downspouts is properly graded so that rainwater from the roof flows away from your foundation. Splash blocks can help rainwater to flow in the proper direction. If necessary, extend your downspouts.

Make sure other areas around your foundation are graded so that rainwater does not flow toward the house. Do not put gardens or plants too close to your foundation so that watering them could cause water to flow toward your house. If you water your lawn with a sprinkler, make sure the water does not hit your house or the area next to the foundation.

In the kitchen and bathroom, open windows or use exhaust fans when engaging in activities that produce moisture. Exhaust fans should be vented to the outdoors and not to an attic or crawl space.

If you have a clothes dryer, make sure it is vented to the outdoors.

If you use a humidifier, make sure it does not produce an excessive amount of humidity. During the summer, 60 percent relative humidity or lower probably will prevent condensation and mold growth in most parts of the country, but that is too moist for the middle of winter, when 40 percent relative humidity or lower will prevent condensation on windows.

If you live in a house with a basement, consider using a dehumidifier there. The cool basement floor and walls can be a source of moisture build-up.

If your home has an attic, make sure it is properly insulated and ventilated.

If you have a crawl space under your house, cover the soil in the crawl space with waterproof polyethylene plastic. If your crawl space is ventilated, close the vents in the summer and keep them open in the winter.

If you have water problems in your basement or crawl space, clean up affected areas as quickly as possible and take immediate steps to resolve the source of the problem.

How to reduce household allergens

September 22, 2010

Reducing indoor allergens is simpler and cheaper than you think!

Sneeze, cough, blow your noise, sneeze, cough, and blow your nose… Does this sound familiar? Is this a seemingly never ending cycle for you while you are trying to relax in your own home? You’re not alone. Millions of Americans suffer from all sorts of allergies which affect daily living at home. In fact, as many as one in four Americans suffer from indoor allergies.

The most common indoor allergens are dust and mold. Your quality of life at home can greatly improve by taking steps to reduce household allergens. It’s not such a simple task, because at first it involves spending a bit of money and taking the time to clean more intensely. The good news is that it really helps and you’ll see an instant improvement in the way you feel. You may even notice a money savings as you’ll find yourself spending less on tissues for blowing your nose!

The severity of your allergy symptoms will determine how many steps you’ll want to take to reduce the allergens in your home. For some, an increase in dusting, vacuuming, and general cleaning can make a huge improvement. But for most, other steps must be taken as well. Here are practical ways to help reduce household allergens:

Carpeting is the #1 household dust collecting problem. Carpets trap in dust mites and dust mites love carpets; not a good combination for those allergic to dust mites. The best idea is to remove all carpet and go for linoleum, wood, or ceramic floors. If that is not possible, make sure to vacuum daily with a HEPA filtered vacuum. Get your carpets professionally cleaned every few months.

Windows often trap in moisture which quickly turns into mold. Clean mold and condensation from window frames and sills. Replace weather stripping as necessary — it will help keep the moisture out. Caulk and repair around the window as needed, paying close attention to any cracks. Windows should be kept closed during high pollen times — usually in the early spring through the summer, but this depends on where you live. The best way to reduce household allergens is to not let them in! So keep your windows closed (and the AC on) and you’ll notice an improvement.

Furniture and window treatments
Avoid upholstered furniture. Leather, wood, and even plastic furniture is best for reducing household allergens. The best window treatments are washable roller type shades or washable curtains. Keep in mind that curtains collect dust — washing them frequently, even as often as every few weeks, will help to limit the dust.

Ventilation, humidification and filtration
Furnace and AC filters should be checked and changed frequently. It’s best to use a HEPA air filter which does not require monthly replacement. If your HVAC system does not have a whole house ventilation system, consider having one installed. You should also: Keep humidity levels at no more than 50 percent, make sure your dryer is properly vented to the outside, use a dehumidifier to reduce household dampness and clean it at least once a week, and have your air ducts cleaned every few years. Using a vented exhaust fan for the kitchen is ideal as it will reduce fumes and moisture and be sure it is properly vented to the outside. A bathroom exhaust fan is just as important in order to reduce moisture while bathing or showering.

Cleaning habits
Reducing clutter significantly reduces dust. Keep toys in bins and avoid or limit stuffed animals in your home. Magazines, cardboard boxes, and more are all magnets for dust — and pests. In fact, cockroaches, which happen to be a common allergen, can hide behind boxes. Other cleaning habits include: emptying the trash daily and using a trash bin with a lid. Start a cleaning routine which entails thoroughly dusting the entire house. The less clutter and items you have on counters and tables will decrease the dust and decrease the time needed for dusting.

Bathroom and kitchen
Check under all sinks in the bathrooms and kitchens for plumbing leaks. Use washable bathroom rugs. Consider using a floor towel instead of a rug/mat as it can be easily and more frequently washed. Remove bathroom wallpaper and use tile or mold-resistant enamel paint. Pay close attention to mold growth on the shower curtain and clean the mold off as necessary. Towel-dry the shower or tub after use as it will help limit mold growth. Regularly empty and clean the dripping pan of the fridge. Clean or replace moldy rubber seals around the fridge doors.

Other tips•Linens and mattresses are unfortunately yet another dust trap. Therefore, pillows, mattresses, and box springs should be encased in dust-proof covers which will significantly reduce the amount of dust that you breathe. Linens should be washed once a week in water above 54 degrees Fahrenheit.

•Limit or remove all plants. Spread aquarium type gravel over the dirt to contain mold growth.
•Consider a natural gas fireplace instead of a wood burning fireplace, which causes smoke.

Try one, or try all, you’ll surely notice a difference either way. These tips for reducing home allergens will also help to improve the general air quality in your home. Even if you do not have allergies, following these tips will make for a healthier home.

You may want to have your indoor environment assessed by a CIEC Council Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant to help identify any elevations of allergens in your home and identify the cause and origin so you can take the appropriate corrective action. If you need to have your home inspected for mold make sure your mold inspector is a Florida State Licensed Mold Assessor. To be licensed as a Mold Assessor the State of Florida ensures that your mold assessor is properly, insured, and trained.

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