Housekeeping . . . tips good for you and nature, part 2

At the end of previous article I gave you a hint at what Tip 2 would be as you go about one of your least favorite tasks, housecleaning. Tip 2 is “Open your windows to routinely air out house and clean all filters.

We all know there are indoor as well as outdoor pollutants. The question is “How do I keep a balance inside my home that is healthy for my family and good for the outdoors too?” According to Denise Mann, Having a Bad Air Day? Improve Your Indoor Air Quality (WebMD Feature article), “’Indoor air quality can be worse than outdoor air quality in almost every case,’ says William J. Calhoun, MD, professor of medicine and vice chair of the department of medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.”

Mann continues to quote Calhoun with a question. “What could be polluting the air in your home? The pollutants that lurk outdoors can be found indoors as well, where they can and do join forces with other irritants. Those can include fumes from combustion devices and gas-fired appliances, not to mention allergens such as pet dander, house dust mites, and mold, Calhoun says.”

Calhoun includes space heaters, ranges, ovens, stoves, furnaces, fireplaces, and water heaters that emit gases and particulates in the air. Then add your pets, house dust mites, and more. When you have chronically poor air quality inside your home, a variety of symptoms can surface, such as coughing, chest tightness, sore throat, watery or itchy eyes, shortness of breath, headaches, longer lasting colds, bronchitis, possibly a full-blown asthma attack, says E. Neil Schachter, MD, the medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

Schachter offers three steps to better indoor air quality. First, Increase ventilation in your house. He adds that we either keep our windows tightly shut or swing them all open. Neither is a solution by itself. Only a very few of us living in a pristine air environment. He adds that “Outdoor air contains by-products of gas emissions from cars and trucks, industrial pollution, as well as dirt and mold.” He advices a “trickle ventilation” solution by using “. . . 10-inch high screen with extra filters . . . It adjusts to most windows and allows fresh air in, helps escort indoor pollutants out.”

Although I open our windows on a regular basis, this trickle ventilation solution seems to be a good compromise for wherever we may live. And for those who live in the Texas Hill Country and have trouble with cedar and other pollens, this solution may make all the difference, particularly if you definitely do not want to move someplace else. There is always a risk that the someplace else will introduce you to other pollutant problems you never had before. So, trying to make the most of where you live seems to be the easier way.

Step 2 is to Turn on the AC. Use an air conditioner in the summer, Schachter says “Many pollutants are water-soluble, and as air conditioners remove water from the atmosphere, they remove these pollutants, . . . Air conditioners also remove pollen and particulate matter.” Step 3 is Install a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. The air conditioner can be even more effective with a disposable HEPA filter.

For many homeowners and builders, having what is called “tight construction” is preferred. Healthy House Institute, Tight Houses: A Healthy Idea (http://www.healthyhouseinstitute.com), provides some perspective on having a tightly constructed home. They consider that “Most new houses today are too tight to give you the amount of fresh air you really need, but too loose to keep pollutants out effectively.” HHI offer three categories for tight construction: things inside the living space, things outside the living space, and the people in the house.
HHI continues, “To minimize the impact of air pollutants, you have three choices . . . Eliminate, Separate, Ventilate: These are the three basic principles of a healthy house.”

To eliminate means to assess anything your family may have problems with and eliminate them from the indoor environment. When deciding to build a home, consider all the materials being used. Are they ok for your family’s health, such as paint, flooring, insulation, cabinet finishing, furniture, cleaning products?

To separate means, according to HHI, building a tight house can eliminate some of the problems, such as radon from the soil, mold in the crawl space, automobile exhaust, pesticides from your neighbor's fruit trees.

To ventilate means you are dealing with “. . . metabolic pollutants released by the people or animals in the house. [Ventilation can also dilute the concentration of pollutants released by materials found indoors that can't easily be eliminated, such as cooking odors, tobacco smoke on your guest's clothing, or fragrances clinging to your mail.]”

HHI discusses two types of mechanical ventilation for healthy houses. Most houses have what is called “Local Ventilation.” This type of ventilation happens with kitchen range hoods and bathroom exhaust fans. Moisture or odors are removed rapidly to avoid them from moving through the rest of the house. General Ventilation is the second type, which is missing in most homes. Fresh air is needed in all rooms on a continuous basis. HHI explains this type of system. “A general ventilation system slowly brings in fresh air, and simultaneously exhausts an equal volume of stale air, so the air in the entire house is kept fresh. [General ventilation systems can be simple or complex, but basically they involve using one or two fans to bring fresh air into the house and, at the same time, expel stale air..”

So, if you are thinking about building your dream home, you may want to consider general ventilation and other possibilities for creating a healthy home, along with the cost. But, by all means, always feel free to open your windows to air out the house on those beautiful Hill Country days. In the next article, Tip 3 will be covered. Here’s the hint: Breathe In, Breathe Out.