Indoor Air Quality As Winter Approaches
Why Indoor Air Quality Is A Concern Americans generally spend more than 90% of their day indoors; thus, we are exposed to indoor pollutants that can have a considerable negative health impact. As winter approaches and you hunker down even further into sealed-off, non-ventilated homes and offices, don't forget about treating yourself to some fresh air.
Indoor air pollutants may be 2 to 5 times - and occasionally more than 100 times - higher than outdoor levels according to Environmental Protection Agency studies of human exposure to air pollutants. In fact, scientists and the medical community are so convinced that poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is making us sick that they've named related conditions. Building Related Illness (BRI) and Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) are terms used when health symptoms are experienced while in a particular building (including the home) and relief from these symptoms only occurs after leaving the site.
Poor IAQ can be caused by many different factors such as:
It can be overwhelming to think about avoiding all of these pollutants, but we can start by focusing on a few dangers that you can control in your home. So roll up your sleeves, and let's tackle some chilly-season allergens!
- Inadequate or contaminated ventilation systems
- Humidity problems
- High particle (house dust) levels
- High allergen levels (dust mite or cockroach detritus, pollen, animal dander)
- Chemical exposure to building materials or cleaning agents
- Pesticide use
- Environmental tobacco smoke
- Exposure to the byproducts of combustion (carbon monoxide)
- Exposure to indoor molds and bacteria
Preventing Particulate Pile-Up There are three main components to unhealthy indoor air: microorganisms, volatile organic compounds (VOC's) and particulate matter. Particulate matter includes well-known allergy triggers like dust mite allergen and pet dander. As I discussed last month, bedding encasings are the #1 way to reduce your exposure to dust mite allergen. Here are a few other recommended steps you can take to limit your exposure to common indoor particulates this fall and winter.
1. Change your furnace filter. Before the crawlspace or attic gets too chilly, act now to install a good furnace filter that will capture both nuisance particles and allergens. Standard 1-inch disposable filters should be replaced about every 3 months. We highly recommend Filtrete Allergen Reduction Filters, which are included in our special offer this newsletter, for their industry-leading removal of allergens. For HVAC systems that require a thicker filter, we have 3M Filtrete 4" Filters. If you have a permanent electrostatic filter, this is a good time to clean it so that airflow is not restricted as you head toward cooler months.
2. Use a room air cleaner. When asked by an interviewer if there is any solution to the problem of indoor pollution, Timothy J. Buckley, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, replied:
"One real solution is the type of air purifier that uses the so-called HEPA filters - high-efficiency particulate air filters. I have had particular experience with this type of air filter and they do work. " * 3. Maintain your room air cleaner. We know high-efficiency air filters work, but they must be maintained. Replacement filters are so named for a reason.you're supposed to replace them at manufacturer-recommended intervals. When pre-filters and main filters are not changed regularly, you will not benefit from the cleanest air you could be breathing. In addition, you could be endangering your air purifier's motor.
The "main" filter, most often made of HEPA material, is the most important part of your machine. When this pleated, high-efficiency filter is properly maintained, it captures over 99.9% of particles down to .3 microns - that's just about EVERY allergen that gets sucked in. Most air purifiers, depending on the brand, recommend changing the main filter every 1 to 3 years. Some brands, such as Honeywell Purifiers come with permanent filters that need to be vacuumed every 3 to 4 months to retain filtration capability.
Many air purifiers also include pre-filters that trap larger particles, dust bunnies and some odors. A clogged pre-filter can really restrict the airflow of your purifier. Most are to be changed every 3 to 4 months, depending on usage.
|Recommended Tools for Preventing Particle Pile-Up |
|All of our Filtrete Furnace Filters are high performance filters that capture at least 90% of large airborne particles from the air passing through the filter. They also meet the American Lung Association indoor air quality guidelines. Regular prices start at $11.99, but be sure to see the special below. |
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|Whirlpool Whispure Air Purifiers offer highly efficient, easy-to-maintain HEPA air purification. These units are so quiet that Whirlpool guarantees you won't be able to find a comparable air cleaner as quiet as their Whispure. Prices start at $169.99.|
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| ||Dustmite And Flea Control by The Ecology Works kills dust mites and fleas in carpets and furniture and keeps them away. Dustmite & Flea Control is an all-natural boron compound and harmless to your family and pets - it does NOT contain harsh chemicals or dangerous poisons. |
Prices start at $9.99.
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|Dyson Vacuums with patented Root Cyclone technology never lose suction, give cleaner expelled air due to HEPA filtration, and have no extra costs because there are no bags to buy and the filter lasts for the life of the machine. All models carry the British Allergy Foundation Seal of Approval. Prices start at $399.99.|
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Managing Household Mold When asked if mold is a contributing factor to indoor air quality in the winter, Professor Buckley responded:
"Yes, molds and fungi are a big concern. We could classify these as biological contaminants of the home, along with other allergens such as pet dander, dust, mouse-urine proteins and dust mites. Obviously, these too become more of a problem when windows and doors are shut tight during the winter - although winter's low humidity is protective against this class of pollutants." * Although moisture may diminish in the dry seasons of fall and winter, mold spore from warm, damp summers may remain. Here are 2 key action points for fending off fungi:
1. Prevent condensation and moisture build-up. In winter, you may notice condensation on the glass panes of windows and doors that can lead to mildew. This moisture build-up is caused by warm air coming in contact with a cold surface. It's just like a glass of ice water in the summer. When the warm summer air hits the cold surface of the glass holding the water, the moisture in the warm air condenses on the outside of the glass. Unfortunately, in your home during the winter, the warm air is on the inside so the moisture in the warm air condenses on the inside of your windows. In summer, air conditioning removes moisture from the air, but in humid climates, extra help may be needed in the form of a dehumidifier. In winter, your heating system is drying the air and the relative humidity is usually low anyway, so most people do not require additional dehumidification. However, even though the relative humidity is low in winter, surfaces such as your window glass can become so cold that condensation will still occur.
Although winter is the prime time for condensation, the high moisture in the air in fall and spring can accelerate mold growth on surfaces such as showers, tubs, basements, and anywhere you may have a leak. As you are getting your house ready for winter, if you have a problem with humidity, covering your glass windows and doors with plastic can help keep the warm inside air from coming in contact with the cold glass and causing moisture build-up. Plastic window insulator kits are usually available at home improvement centers and hardware stores - be sure to wrap the plastic all the way around the frame of the window or door to seal it for the season. Remember to check the aluminum tracks of windows and sliding doors for moisture and resulting mildew.
2. Maintain proper relative humidity in your home. Using a humidity gauge can take the guesswork out of figuring your relative humidity. In summer, the relative humidity in your home should not exceed 45 to 50%. In winter, the relative humidity in your home should not be below 25 to 30%. If your air is very dry during cold weather, adding moisture with a humidifier can make you more comfortable and ease some respiratory problems.
Winter is just around the corner, and now is a good time to make sure pipes are protected from freezing. While you are doing this, also inspect for any leaks under sinks, behind the fridge, and around the hot water heater. Anywhere there is a source of moisture, you are likely to have mold and the potential for allergic irritation.
| Recommended Tools for Managing Mold|
| ||The Acu-Rite Digital Humidity Gauge is a quality instrument that has been engineered to provide accurate humidity, temperature & time readings. Knowing your home's humidity is very important because keeping your home's humdidity between 40 and 50% is crucial in controlling mold and dust mites. Price is $24.99 or $21.99 for 2 or more. |
|Soleus Dehumidifiers can help by lowering the humidity, and that can make a big difference in the mite population and allergenic fungus growth, like mold and mildew, inside your entire home. These units are effective just about anywhere because they work down to 40o F. Prices start at $229.99. |
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|EPA-registered Vital Oxide is a broad-spectrum anti-microbial proven to perform against a wide variety of molds, mildews, fungi, spores, and yeasts. Spray it in the air or on any surface to kill mold and prevent its return for several months. Prices start at $9.99. |
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|No More Mildew, is a mild, non-toxic and virtually odorless solution that prevents mold, mildew and bacteria growth for up to two full years. Spray on any surface where mold and mildew grow to form an invisible, micro-thin coating. Prices start at $9.99. |
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Curbing Your Chemical Exposure More than ever, the air in our homes and offices is laden with chemicals, carcinogens and long words we can't pronounce. The pressure mounts in winter when houses are less ventilated. With a healthy home as your goal, you should definitely reduce your family's exposure to these key potentially harmful substances:
1. Cigarette smoke. According to Professor Buckley, "...cigarette smoke contains pollutants across the whole spectrum of harmful compounds: particulate matter, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOC's), nitrogen oxides." * And keep this in mind, there is no true way to filter out or completely clean the air of cigarette smoke apart from eliminating smoking in the house.
2. Candles and air fresheners. Sadly, your favorite pumpkin spice candle may be emitting unhealthy particulates. Candles with paraffin emit carcinogens, as well as fragrances that can be irritating to sensitive individuals. A study (click here for details) on the effects of burning candles in the home states, "Use of scented candles may contribute significant quantities of pollutants to the indoor environment, especially soot, benzene and lead." In addition, the study says that health concerns due to the "use of scented candles may include increased risk of ... acute aggravation of existing respiratory diseases such as asthma." If you love the cozy feel of candles, try soy or bees wax candles, which have been shown to emit significantly less soot.
3. Hidden chemicals in common household products. Additives that make our carpets stain-resistant or our mattresses resistant to fire are also making our indoor air more polluted. It is difficult to assess and eliminate all potential danger, and there are risks to be weighed, and we should be aware that chemical additives are a reality in our world. To read more about the specifics of avoiding harmful chemicals, read our Learning Library article entitled Ways & Benefits Of Living Chemical Free.
| Recommended Tools for Curbing Your Chemical Exposure|
| ||IQAir's MultiGas Air Cleaner utilizes cutting edge technology and natural substances to eliminate harmful odors and gases. While other air cleaners are rated for particles down to 0.3 microns, IQAir systems have been found to remove particles down to 0.01 microns with close to 99% efficiency. Price is $995.00 and includes free ground shipping. |
| ||Austin Air Purifiers offer ozone-free filtration to reduce the level of particles and chemicals in the air and guarantee you hours of clean, pure air. Built with True Medical Grade HEPA filter material plus granular carbon and zeolite, the HealthMate has been designed to remove 99.97% of airborne allergens as well as absorb odors, gases, vapors, and chemicals. Prices start at $299.99 and include free groung shipping. |
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| ||The Sprite Shower Filter initially removes 99% of free chlorine, combined chlorine (sodium hypochlorite) and hydrogen sulfide (odors). Carcinogenic chemicals like chlorine in our water can have long-term health effects and make chemically sensitive individuals react. Prices start at $49.99. |
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| ||EnviroRite products make it possible to clean your home without irritating fumes or harsh chemicals. There are cleaners for tubs, tile, glass, hard floors, dishes, laundry, jewelry, and even a multi-purpose cleaner. Prices start at $5.99. |
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I hope these tips have given you some ideas on how to experience better indoor air quality in your home. I encourage you to use this fall season to prep your home for winter's hidden allergens and irritants!
* Graham.R. (2005) It's Winter: Beware the Indoor Air Pollution.[online]. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University. Click here to view entire article.
The information in this newsletter is for educational purposes only. Always consult with your doctor first about your specific condition, treatment options and other health concerns you may have.
Remember that our customer service representatives have plenty of experience guiding people through the options for allergy, asthma and sinus relief, so feel free to contact us by calling one of our phone experts at 1-800-522-1448 Monday through Friday between the hours of 9:00 am and 5:30 pm Eastern Time. You can also e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.