Is My Home Healthy? Is My Indoor Air Safe?

Are you aware that indoor air pollution is a major health concern? Indoor air quality problems cause a major share of all illness. There are critical factors, critical steps involved in solving indoor air issues. If you skip a step, it you head off in the wrong direction, you can be wasting resources and time, and putting faith in bogus solutions.

We want to deal with fundamentals here.

These are the key steps.

First, we need to deal with the source of the actual contaminants.  We need to identify these contaminants and then figure out how to eliminate or at least control them as to not cause allergy and asthma triggers.

We discuss it on this website because so many healthy house issues relate to how your home handles moisture and humidity. But healthy homes are a broader issue than just structural and mechanical issues, and so we want to create a more comprehensive yet understandable and useful outline.  Will you let us know how it goes?

We want you to have a rudimentary understanding of the building science to help you get a feel for the propensity of your home to perpetuate indoor air pollution. We want you to have a useful perspective related to healthy indoor air so that you can evaluate solutions to problems effectively and avoid a marketplace full of faux solutions.

We discuss the connection of home structure & mechanical issues to health here
Does a member of your family have allergies or asthma,  or an illness that seems to reoccur and persist? Have you considered whether your home might be contributing to these health problems? This document examines  the link between home structures, mechanical air handling equipment and moisture and the links to healthy air here.

People’s widespread concerns about healthy indoor air and indoor air pollution have brought out a lot of wolves ready to prey on people by offering non-solutions. Many companies are marketing products and services intended to improve the quality of your indoor air. You have probably seen an advertisement, received a coupon in the mail, or been approached directly by a company offering solutions. Maybe duct cleaning- maybe air cleaners- maybe dehumidifiers…
We want to arm you with facts and perspective before you face the marketplace. You need to be able to separate fundamental issues from ths superfluous treatment of symptoms.

Separating Fundamental Solutions from the Merely Make a Buck Stuff
Many solutions are not so much bogus as they don’t fit the real need in the home- nothing is really analyzed and thought through except to make a sale. They are not well matched to the problem at hand and the fundamental solution needed.

You need to avoid products and services which treat symptoms rather than root causes. Cleaning up mold is not a comprehensive solution until you understand what caused the conditions that allowed the mold to occur and find a solution to the root causes.

We have a page about stuff you might not want to buy, or at least carefully consider within the context of your exact home whether they offer solutions or sales figures..

Let take a few minutes here and take a broad look at indoor air quality- IAQ-  at pollutants in the home… We will do our best here to get at real problems- real causes here in North Texas and focus on substantial solutions.

We have broken up these contaminants into how we encounter them.

 

These are the biological contaminants that we breed and cultivate right inside our homes.

Biological contaminants thrive in moist atmospheres associated with water leaks or with condensed moisture on cool surfaces in high humidity conditions in the home. The first line of defense against any of these is removing the moisture that is allowing biologicals to grow.  Are you getting tired of me harping yet? Have you done something about the fundamental issues yet?

Molds and Mildews

It might not even dawn on you that you have an issue with mold. You may not even see the mold, but you get a hint of a problem with a musty smell. Mold and mildew spores can make you sick in a multitude of ways. It depends on your age, and medical condition and your DNA as to how your personal body reacts to mold and mold spores. We talk about the issue of your home making you sick more extensively, but mold can cause sneezing, itchy, watery and painful eyes, and a stuffed up and runny nose, respiratory irritation, and make you feel congested. Mold spores can make your joints ache, and give you headaches and make you feel sickly and fatigued.

We address all the ramifications of mold here.

Bacteria and Viruses

Not all bacteria is bad but Noxious Bacteria and Viruses are a source of irritation and illness that we can avoid with proper attention . We deal with Bacteria and Viruses and how to keep them under control  here.

Dust Mites

OK, I am not going to get all hyped up over dust mites- no talk about pillows weighted down with mite doodoo…. but mites can cause asthma and so we need to understand them better, and understand what we can do to make the house inhospitable for them and their progeny. We deal with dust mites here.

Cockroaches and Fruit Flies are contaminates that crawl in from the outdoors

Cockroaches are not just obnoxious but end up crapping around the house, dying, and all in all their body parts are part of the particulates that circulate through the house. And fruit flies- they mean we have fruits or veggies that are spoiling and creating more contaminants we do not want to share the house with. More on cockroaches and fruit flies and insects that walk in unwelcomed and how to get them under control at the source. 

Pollen and Spores

Pollen can be an intense challenge for people who have inherited genes which react to allergens. You might not have even discovered your allergy until this you have been through a record setting pollen experience in North Texas. 2014 was and 2017 were very bad for Cedar. As we get older, we become more susceptible to allergens, too.

There are a variety of things you can do to help alleviate the misery of dealing with pollen.  We take on pollen in a separate article because there is a lot to cover. 

Dust

What Causes the Dust in Your House? We deal with dust as an airborne contaminant in the house. But usually dust is uniquely tied to issues with your mechanical system and with your ceiling and air leaks. [under review]

These are contaminants that  came with the house we bought

Radon is a limited  issue here in North Texas  You have to get clear up to Amarillo to maybe have a concern in specific areas. This website is defined as a subset of North Texas as outlined by Climate Zone 3 for North Texas  which excludes Amarillo so we will not talk about radon here, except do not let people talk to you about radon issues unless you actually have a problem.

Is your home contaminated with asbestos? – Th8separate page
Does Your home have an issue with lead? – separate page

These are the chemical contaminants we buy and bring into the home

Chemical Fumes –  we talk about volatile organics in general first and then break out several for special attention.

Smoking and environmental tobacco smoke

Contaminants carried in on the Outside Air

Then there are the kitty and doggy and pet critter contaminants related the creatures we cherish.

Dogs and cats and pet issues

Do you have combustion appliances in the house?

Do you have combustion appliances in your home, or if you do not know, then you probably need to look at this. Combustions issues are discussed in detail here.

In conclusion – this is the end of the document. remaining info below relates to the links above…

 

Radon is not a big problem in the greater portion of North Texas

You have to get clear up to Amarillo to maybe have a concern in specific areas. This website is defined as a subset of North Texas  as outlined by Climate Zone 3 for North Texas

return to contaminants that came with the house

Chemical fumes

Most of the materials in our homes these days are products made from chemicals, protected by chemicals, or a critical ingredient is a chemical. We use few natural products anymore- lots of synthetics. We end up with a lot of volatile organic chemicals in our home. They are not good to breathe for anybocy but they are real hardship on sensitive people.

Health Effects from these volatile chemicals include irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat; headaches; loss of coordination, nausea;

Volatile chemical fumes can damage the liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organic chemicals are are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.
Sources are

  • Building materials and furnishings. Carpeting. Paint and finishes. Pressboard used in cabinets and bookshelves.
  • Household products including: paints, paint strippers, and other solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleansers and disinfectants; moth repellents and air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive products; hobby supplies; dry-cleaned clothing.

Studies find indoor air can concentrate the level of organic chemicals because of fewer air exchanges. As homes get tighter, this issue, unless addressed by active ventilation will require more careful control of these by the homeowner. Indoor air can have many times the concentration of these chemicals that outdoors.

Engaging in activities that emphasize use of organic chemicals, can increase their concentration dramatically. For example, going through an exercise of paint stripping can concentrate these chemical fumes by maybe a 1000 times for several hours, again depending on the level of ventilation.

If you have a hobby where you are working with paints and strippers and refinishing chemicals and finishers, take the time to understand how a professional would protect himself doing this. It is easy to get inured to the fumes, to the dry hands, to the effects of these chemicals. They impact our health, they kill people every year, because there is no immediate unpleasant feedback to warn us.

I have lost friends to such chemicals. You might have too. Protect yourself, protect your family from secondary effects. We have to use our brains, to protect our bodies when the natural system do not give us feedback. These products are a gift and a curse from science. Make sure we reduce the risks to enjoy the benefits.

Here is a partial and simple list of sensible ways to reduce exposure. If you are usin any of these chemicals beyond occasional use, get much more seriouse. Like what we said above, do what the conscientious professional would do…

  • don’t use them at all- find a natural product instead, or a lower volatile product.
  • If you must use them, use household products according to manufacturer’s directions.
  • Never mix household care products unless directed on the label.
  • Make sure you provide plenty of fresh air when using these products.
  • Keep them off your hands. Solvents evaporate and go up your noes or are absorbed into your skin directly.
  • Throw away unused or little-used containers safely. We have free disposal center in North Texas for these, don’t put them in the trash because many of them only pollute the earth for our children.
  • buy in quantities that you will use soon.
  • Keep out of reach of children and pets.

Next we will look at some of these products as individual villains or you can return to the list

return to contaminates we buy and use

Smoking and environmental tobacco smoke

will kill you and members of your family in myriad ways. Tobacco smoke is the number#1 health hazard in America. You probably do not smoke or cognitive dissonance would not allow you to search for such information as you have found on this page, but you might have a family member who smokes, best of luck in trying to  get them to stop Here is a link to help a family member stop .

return to contaminates we buy and use

 Household products for enhanced aural sensations

hmm… Commercial air fresheners are pollutants. They might cover an odor up and give you an obnoxious designer scent but the designer scent is a pollutant and probably covering up an odor that is a sysmptom of a moisture problem. Moisture problems are really serious and need to be tracked down and a solution found. Make sure you see notes on moisture problems- LINK – A perspective on potential moisture.issues

Don’t use scented candles or fragrances to hide odors. Figure out what is causing the odor, then clean that up and ventilate to add fresh air.

Perfume can make some people allergic.

OK, we are not going to call perfume a contaminant but in the right nose, perfumes can cause watery and itchy eyes, runny nose, headaches, muscle/joint pain, asthma attack, wheezing. If you wear the perfume and you have these symptoms- you need a solution. If someone you care about has these symptoms you need a solution. If someone you would like to go away has these allergies….  well,…

return to contaminates we buy and use

Pesticides – Herbicides – Fungicides

We don’t use all of these in the house, but we have them around the house, under the sink, in the garage and hot garages help the give off a nice pungent  odor that Americans have become inured to. Pesticides are a huge problem in America and in any homes. Some mght say use pesticides wisely. I say be wise and do not use pesticides unless you are using organics and then use them wisely and as little as possible.

OK, I am not veering off into nature talk here- as I veer off, but we use too many chemical control products that have been sold to us on TV and magazines. History is full of hideous stories of chemical uses which at the time they make billions of dollars and make life easier- they turn into life destroying monsters.

Go read the history of ethyl gasoline- leaded gas. go read the story of Herbert Needleman  So pesticides are still considered safe to use because the naysayers do not have the money or the political power to overcome just the science and facts. So your personal safety depends on your personal actions and not the actions of our grid locked federal government or our special interest beholden state legislator… end nature talk.

Who is using them? Who is using them when you are gone? What might small children do with funny spray cans under the sink? What do pets do? Crawl into places where you might not want them.

There are many better solutions than using pesticides inside the house or out. There are all kinds of altermatives to using herbicides. You just need to look around. Exploring that subject is well beyond the scope of this website. A great resource here in North Texas is Howard Garrett – the Dirt Doctor -www.dirtdoctor.com. He has a great newsletter to subscribe to. There are several organic gardening organizations around…. 

We talked about dealing with Cockroaches and fruit flies when we discussed them elsewhere on this page. There are natural ways to deal with pests. Each of the pests that get in the house, are there because you have created an attraction for them.. or your vertical neighbor has… there are many ways to deal with them without pesticides.

There are many resources online talking about alternative to pesticides and herbicides. Find them, and use them. All the memers of your family will be healthier and your indoor air will be much cleaner and healthier.

return to contaminates we buy and use

Formaldehyde

Urea formaldehyde is used in the glue to bond wood particles together when making engineered wood. You reached formaldehyde by both two different anchors because it can already be in the house when you bought it, or the house you are planning to buy or you can go to the mall and carry it home in your shopping cart.

Formaldehyde shows up in newer homes more often as it is a part of the engineered wood trend using pressed wood products that are glued together. Hardwood, plywood. OSB, wall paneling, particleboard, fiberboard) and furniture made with these pressed wood products. All kinds of little nooks, and desks and shelves that you buy and put together are glued. and these glues contain formaldehyde.

Solid wood product such as old cabinets, older houses have much less formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. Formaldehyde can cause wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; severe allergic reactions. Formaldehyde ca cause cancer. This  is by no means a definitive list.

ou can reduce your exposure to formaldehyde by selecting wood products that do not contain formaldehyde. Exterior grades of wood products contain phenols vs. containing urea – which is short for urea formaldehyde.
Steps to Reducing exposure to Urea formaldehyde.
  • Controlling humidity and increasing ventilation of the indoor air can help. Humidity levels out of optimum increase the impact of chemical fumes on people  and pets.
  • Active ventilation of the indoor air is an option you might want to explore.
  • Avoiding  urea formaldehyde also makes a huge difference. You will have to become a sleuth if you determine a family member has a sensitivity to formaldehyde.
    return to contaminants we buy

return to contaminants we bought with the house.
return to contaminates we buy and use

Living at ease with our contaminated Dogs and Cats

Oh, I am picking on fluffy! We all love our house pets but they are sources of allergens and transporters of contaminants but we love our dogs and cats – so we have to figure out accommodations. Don’t get rid of any pet members of the family for hypoallergenic replacements- that is hype- we address that below…

Our pets transport pollution and allergens.

Cats and Dogs  bring in allergens from the outside. They crawl around in dirt, walk through grassy fields, play around bushes and trees ladened with pollen, roll around in all kinds of stuff- and then come into the house, to relax on the rug, the bed, the… now only you know how much time your favorite critters spend outside and you have no idea what they get into, but they bring stuff in on their coats and paws… who knows where they go, if they have space to roam, you might have a better idea if they are on the end of a leash but life cannot be always at the end of a leash.

And there are those parts of the house not so often visited where stuff settles, dust and pollen, not every contaminate that enters the house gets sucked into the cold air return to be filtered. Not every contaminate reaches the cold air return before it reaches our eyes, our skin, our nose.

Perspective is needed here, each of use brings into the house pollen and dust. We wear clothes that stuff loves to clinge to… and then  proceed to toss them about in our houses…  Cleaning up after being outdoors- figuring out where you want to be out doors and when to avoid blooms of certain brands of pollen is a increasingly complex and involved process as the vulnerability to pollens and contaminants out side the house that ride in on the wind or squat on our pets and pants. We take this increasing complex struggle to its own page.

Cats and dogs create problems and no, there are no hypoallergenic dogs and cats.

Cats are a problem.

Reactions to cats include swollen, red, itchy, and watery eyes; nasal congestion, itchy nose, sneezing, chronic sore throat or itchy throat, coughing, wheezing, asthma, hay fever, hives or rash on the face or chest, or itchy skin.

Cat scratches can cause… you know it was your fault-  she doesn’t like to be tickled there…. a scratch deposits the contaminants into the body rather than the surface of our protective skin layer…
Dogs are a problem…

dogs can cause Rashes, sneezing, congestion, and wheezing. Sometimes itchy welts. dander from the dog, and saliva and urine are all sources of allergens. How many people are allergic to dogs. Studies show as much as 10 percent of the population that are around dogs.

OK, talk briefly about hypoallergenic pets.

The idea of  hypoallergenic animals does not make sense. You do not have to worry about getting rid of the barker for an hypoallergenic model- it does not help. Here is a great bit by a doctor who calls BS on the idea. -LINK- [ http://www.livescience.com/14987-hypoallergenic-dogs-allergy-safe.html ] So people go off and start trying to breed hypoallergenic cats- and people will buy them- but don’t worry about it. There are other things to do that actually help to mitigate- and you can put up with pets without worry.

What can you do to live with a loveable pet that you or a family member are allergic too.

The fur in not the problem. The problem is the dander- skin cells on animals that slough off and float around. Older pets have more of a problem than younger animals, and there is no problem at all unless someone is allergic.

People can also be allergic to bits of protein found in their skin, saliva and urine. Pet bathing- pet washing- must become a big deal- you have to separate pets from sleeping zones- and filtration systems can help- LINK filtration with hepa filters can help… I make a great case for getting rid of carpeting LINK – and keep the dog and cat beds segregated… keep the pets lock away all day so they cannot sleep all over the house- not slink all over the house…

Advice is easy to give- isn’t it. Best of luck living with adorable pets. I think the dog whisperer might have a show or a tape on training animals to learn to live in a small part of the house- after having the run of  it…  I just made that up. I hope it is true….

Dogs and cats also carry stuff indoors like pollen and mold. So you might have to go to a regimen of having someone brush dogs and kitties when they come in and out- maybe just those times of the year when pollen- if pollen is drying a faminly member crazy…

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Ozone  –

Ozone is an emerging health issue for indoor air. Ozone shows serious impacts on humans and is considered a product to reduce as much as feasibly possible in the home – the phase is ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) levels. The level of structural change and technology additions to reduce ozone gets progressively more complex and expensive. Ozone is a bigger threat to individuals and populations at high-risk for adverse consequences, such as infants, the elderly and those with chronic respiratory illnesses.

The ozone we are talking about is ground level ozone created by  sunlight reacts with volatile organic compounds present in hydrocarbon vehicle emissions. They have ozone maps and high alert days but these are pretty imprecise because conditions can create buildups and then disappear quickly. .

If you are concerned about azone in your home, you need to monitor ozone levels in the house.

Usually ozone levels in the house pretty much match the levels outside because homes leak and get their air through these leaks. We talk about where your air comes from here. You can greatly reduce the pollutants coming into your house by sealing up the air leaks, and moving to mechanical ventilation.

However, the ozone is a small molecule O3 and requires special filtering media. This is literally hospital operating room levels of filtering.

There are also sources of ozone right in the home. Electrical sparks can create ozone so be aware of equipment producing high voltage or ultraviolet light. Electronic air cleaners arcing would be here. Make sure they are properly installed and operating correctly. If you hear snapping, you have an issue. Laser printers can also be an issue here. Electric motors with sparking commutators can also produce ozone.

Ozone cal also create other chemical reactants in the house such as carbonyls, secondary organic aerosols (SOA), and ultrafine particles (UFP) These are also filtered out with the proper filtration system.

Adverse effects of Ozone are

At low concentrations, ozone can trigger irritation of the eyes, respiratory tract, nose and throat, and trachea. Low concentrations of ozone can cause heavy coughing and tightness in the chest.

Ozone, at a higher concentration may seriously hamper lung function. Long term exposure can increase the rate of occurrence of bacterial infections. Ozone can also cause the possible thickening of lung tissue or impact the central nervous system.

Understanding the effects of ozone and what to do about it and the standards to set are in flux. If you think you have a problem with ozone, or fear ozone- go and talk to a respiratory doctor first. Do not get your information about the dangers of ozone and the solutions to the problem from a huckster. evaluate everything you think you want to do with a trained professional with a reputation to uphold.

The most authoritative article I have seen is through the ASHRAE Environmental Health Committee (EHC).  The Ozone and Indoor Chemistry Emerging Issue Report  approved by EHC in January 2011 is available as a pdf download. You can search for it under its title – EHC_Emerging_Issue-OzoneandIndoorAirChemistry.pdf.

return to contaminants from the outside air

Particulates from smoke and lawn mowers and cars and Fracking Dust

Respirable particles can be generated inside the home, from smoking, fireplaces and candles and they can waft in from the out of doors- through open window and screen doors. Do you like on a busy street. Do you live near industry or the producers of other aromatic compounds.
Maybe you live next to a fracking well in North Texas. People have serious complains about these, but the Texas council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) covers it eyes because human health is a  lower priority than energy production. So I am not trying to start a fight here- except for a couple references.

Blue Daz Blog

You need to hear the terrifying tale of Mayor Tillman and city of Dish, Texas

but the air in North Texas, has a variety of dusts from streets, from cars, from fracking wells, and this stuff riding in the air in near suspension as long as the air is moving a little comes into your home and settles out.
This stuff comes in when we have the doors and window open during the many months when we have lovely weather in north Texas during that brief period of the heating season and the longer cooling season. There is even the doors opening in the early and late stages of the cooling season- when in the early morning we open doors and windows to let in fresh cool air. We also fan doors a bit when we go in and  out but that is only intermittently unless you have kids, and all bets are off. Pet doors on houses can do a certain amount of fanning. These are also poorly sealed for air leakage too. We deal with the issues of pet doors here.Depending on the level of concern you have in your home about airborne contaminants coming in, you might want to explore ative ventilation. This is a serious issue if you are concerned where your indoor air comes in, and you have inhabitants sensitive to airborne contamination. We discuss active ventilation here.

The Health Effects are impact on your eyes, nose, and throat. Respiratory infections and bronchitis; And you can even get lung cancer from particulates.

What can you do? We talk about how do deal with airborne particulates here

return to contaminants from outside air

In conclusion,

We talk about where your indoor air comes from here. It should not be a shock where it comes from.

We talk about the concept of mechanical ventilation- bringing in fresh filtered air rather than depending on air leaking in and out- here.

Proper maintenance of your mechanical equipment and proper attention to filtration media is essential. The more vulnerability you or your family have to unhealthy air, the more steady and regular attention is needed to mechanical effectiveness and the proper filtration of pollutants.

We talk about whether a regular maintentance plan makes sense for you family here. LINK

We talk about filtration and filter media here. LINK

There are other issues relating to home health, but we have worked hard to create these. Let us know what is missing or any other ideas you might have. Makes your comments below.

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