Sunday, November 25, 2007

Keeping a Healthy Home This Winter

In the fall and winter most people spend a lot more time indoors as the temperatures drop and the days get shorter. Unfortunately the environment in our homes may not be as healthy as it should and may in some instances be deadly. EPA studies of human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor air levels of many pollutants may be 2-5 times, and occasionally, more than 100 times higher than outdoor levels.

Fortunately there are several simple things that can be done that will help to prevent illness and injury from an unsafe home environment.

Carbon Monoxide
Accidental carbon monoxide poisoning kills hundreds of people every year in their homes. Sources of carbon monoxide are unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces; gas stoves; automobile exhaust from attached garages; environmental tobacco smoke.

To help prevent carbon monoxide from leaking into your home you should have all gas appliances checked by a professional before use in the fall. Also remember to make sure the flue is open when using the fireplace, use exhaust fans that are vented to the outdoors over gas stoves, used only vented space heaters, use the proper fuel in kerosene space heaters and don't idle your car in the garage.

Asbestos is a very fine mineral fiber that is used mostly in insulation materials. Its danger is that these fibers are so fine they can be inhaled into the lungs where they can accumulate. This accumulation of fibers can cause lung cancer or asbestosis (scaring of the lungs). Although used less widely in building materials there is still a considerable amount to be found in older homes and buildings. The EPA suggests that usually it is best to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone and to the extent possible, prevent them from being damaged, disturbed, or touched. Periodically inspect for damage or deterioration. Discard damaged or worn asbestos gloves, stovetop pads, or ironing board covers. If there is a need to remove or disturb asbestos materials, be sure to have a professionally trained contractor do the work.

Formaldehyde is a colorless, pungent-smelling gas, which can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty in breathing in some humans exposed at elevated levels. High concentrations may trigger attacks in people with asthma. There is evidence that some people can develop a sensitivity to formaldehyde.

Sources of formaldehyde in the home include building materials, smoking, household products, and the use of un-vented, fuel-burning appliances, like gas stoves or kerosene space heaters. Formaldehyde is also used in a number of manufactured products. For example, it is used to add permanent-press qualities to clothing and draperies. In the home it is most often found in building materials such as pressed fiberboard (it is found in the adhesives). Formaldehyde emissions will generally decrease as products age. When the products are new, high indoor temperatures or humidity can cause increased release of formaldehyde from these products.

To reduce exposure to formaldehyde emissions you should avoid use of pressed wood products or use exterior grade products, which emit less formaldehyde. You should also maintain a moderate indoor temperature, decrease humidity and have adequate ventilation.

Allergic Reactions
Allergies can cause everything from a runny nose and itchy eyes to an asthma attack. Dust, mold and animal dander are among the biggest causes of allergies. Fortunately these problems are can be easily corrected.

1. Use window coverings and flooring that are easily cleaned and dusted. If you have carpet, vacuum frequently. Damp dust washable surfaces frequently.

2. Remove any water damaged carpeting or wallboard. These damp materials are breeding places for mold and mildew. Re-pot house plants frequently as mold may grow in the soil.

3. Have your heating and air-conditioning ducts cleaned yearly to remove mold that may be growing there.

4. Change your furnace filters every 2-3 months, or consider using a high efficiency air filter system in your heating and air conditioning system.

5. Reduce humidity levels in your home by using a dehumidifier or your air conditioner. Empty the water from dehumidifiers frequently to prevent mold growth.

6. Consider buying an artificial tree as live or recently cut evergreen trees provide a source for outdoor pollutants inclduing molds and pollens to enter the home.