Healthy Home | Healthy Air |

10 Tips for a Mold-Free House

4 minute read

October is the time of the year when most of us start thinking about sealing the hatches in our homes for the season. But before you do that, it’s healthy to check if your home is mold-free. You might be trapping it inside to keep you company all winter long.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mold growth can exist practically anywhere. Whether you are inside or outside, mold spores are there. They can enter your home through openings as large as doors or windows, or as small as the tiniest gap you ever chased with a caulk gun. Once in your home, the spores can grow on clothes, shoes, toys or even pets. Worse yet, mold is almost certain to release clouds of potentially harmful spores that, once airborne, can take the shortest path to your lungs.

Some molds are harmful, others are benign. And, how mold affects you can depend on your own personal sensitivity. Mold expert Jeff May learned this first hand. The Johns Hopkins University Press author of three books (‘My House is Killing Me,’ ‘My Office is Killing Me’ and the ‘Mold Survival Guide’), wasn’t always such an accomplished expert on how mold can make you really sick.

“For years, I had an office air conditioner that was probably too big for the space. As a result, my office was always damp and I’d cough whenever the AC came on. Then one day I opened it up and found that everything inside had turned black — with Cladosporium mold. That was the defining moment when I put two and two together,” he said.

According to May, the first step to making your home mold-free is to understand what makes it tick. Mold needs three things to grow: moisture, air and food, and this combination can be found just about anywhere in your home. “Mold grows where it can find food: the dust on a bathroom ceiling, the starch paste on the back of wallpaper, or the plant fibers that make up the jute pad under a carpet. Add moisture, and mold growth begins,” said May.

Keep your home mold-free:

Mind the Moisture

Keep humidity below 50 percent in basements. Improve outside grading and drainage by keeping gutters clean and soil always sloping away from your home. Cover dirt crawlspace floors with plastic to reduce moisture.

Store Safely

Keep all storage at least several inches up off concrete floors and away from foundations where dampness can easily seep in. This is especially important with organic material like cardboard boxes. Avoid using wooden shelves; metal or plastic shelves are preferable.

Heat Finished Basements

Below grade spaces like finished basements are more likely to become infested and should always be heated to at least 60 degrees, even when not being used. The warmer the space, the less the chance that condensation will form and feed a mold problem.

Build Mold Resistant

When choosing building materials, use materials that don’t feed the mold. Tom Combs took this option when remodeling the bathroom in his family’s 1990 lake house outside of Atlanta, Georgia. “The ceiling was covered with mold and I wanted to take immediate action before the situation worsened.” Combs’ solution was Dens Armor Plus, a wallboard made by Georgia Pacific that is specifically designed to create a mold-free space. Unlike regular drywall that has a paper face, Dens Armor Plus has a fiberglass face that cannot feed a mold problem. For roofing specifically, make sure to consider algae, mold and bacteria resistant shingles when installing a new roof. Metal infused in these shingles will kill off the bacteria that causes algae and mold growth naturally without the need for chemicals.

Ventilate Vigorously

Poor or missing ventilation fans in damp spaces like baths and kitchens can leave enough moisture behind to sustain a mold problem. Make sure all baths and kitchens are vented by properly sized fans that take moisture outside and NOT into attics. Keep the bathroom door open after bathing to speed the drying of surfaces.

Avoid Basement Carpets

More than almost any other material in a house, carpets can be incredibly effective havens for mold. Even non-organic carpets can collect dirt, dust, and moisture that combine to provide mold a fertile ground in which to grow, especially in below-grade spaces where relative humidity tends to be higher. Hard surface products like laminate flooring or engineered hardwoods are always a better choice for basement and other mold-free spaces.

Filter the Air

If your home has a forced-air heating and cooling system, using a top quality air filter is a must. May recommends pleated filters with a MERV rating of at least six to eight, or 11 if the family is prone to allergies. Another option is a whole house electronic air cleaner. Mounted permanently to the home’s HVAC system, a whole house air cleaner uses ionization technology to charge particles making them stick to filters like a magnet. According to Consumer Reports, the most effective unit is the Aprilaire Model 5000, which can trap virus-sized particles as small as one micron (one millionth of a meter) and needs just yearly filter replacement.

Insulate Ducts

Duct systems that carry heated or cooled air throughout your house must be insulated whenever they pass through unheated or uncooled spaces like attics or basements. If not, condensation can form inside the ducts and, when combined with dust in the air, can allow mold to grow in the ducts, and then spores can easily circulate throughout your entire house.

Clean Carefully

Use mold-inhibiting cleaners in bathrooms and kitchens. Portable air conditioning units should be taken apart and cleaned at the start of every season. When painting damp spaces like kitchens and bathrooms, use paint with a mold inhibitor EPA-approved for indoor use.

Fix Floods Fast

If you do have a major leak or flood, quick action can stop mold before it starts. Thoroughly dry soaked carpets and padding, and remove any wet upholstery. Then wash and disinfect all surfaces before the carpet and pad are replaced.

Mold may be a part of Mother Nature’s plans, but following these tips will make sure recovering from the sickness it can cause doesn’t ever have to become part of your plans. For more information, visit the Web site for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or review the Mold Resource Guide on the Web site for the national radio show, ‘The Money Pit.’

Healthy Humidity | Healthy Air |

Having a Bad Air Day? Here’s Some Help to Clear the Air

2 minute read

During the winter months as we’re sealed up in our homes trying to keep warm, a by-product occurs. The air inside our homes gets dry, and the overall quality of the air can suffer resulting in bad air.

The EPA estimates that our indoor air can in some instances be 10 times more polluted than the air outside. With a small investment, you can improve the air quality in your home to help you breathe easier and also feel more comfortable.

Adding humidity to the air

The first step is to add some humidity to the air. By raising the relative humidity to 25-35 percent you will no longer feel like your skin is as dry as a desert. And that dry cough and static you can sometimes get will be a thing of the past.

With a small humidistat or hygrometer, you can test the humidity in your home. If the reading is under 20 percent, then purchasing and using a room humidifier might be the right course. There are many different units on the market.

Whole-house humidity can be added with a unit that connects to your forced-air furnace like the AprilAire 600 series. This professionally installed unit will deliver even humidity throughout your home. Select the previous link to learn more specifically about the Aprilaire 600. Or you can go to our Humidifier Buying Guide to read more about whole-home humidifiers.

Filtering your air

Bad air can be improved dramatically with the use of high-efficiency air filters. By capturing more of the dust and allergens that flow through your heating and cooling system, you will be able to breathe easier and even cut down on the dust in your home.

Using an indoor air purifier can really help with the air quality in your home as well. While there are many different whole-house units on the market that work very well, they can be cost-prohibitive for many homeowners, and not available to renters. Room purifiers, when used correctly and maintained, can really help. By allowing the bad air to pass through the filter, what’s lurking in the air can be trapped, resulting in cleaner air in the room.

Environment | Healthy Air |

Air Quality & Education – How Asthma Affects School Attendance in Southern California

3 minute read

The correlation between poor eyesight and bad grades has been known for some time.  Students who struggle in school often don’t do so because of a lack of intelligence or ability, but because they’re not able to see and comprehend what’s on the whiteboard, the computer screen, or the papers in front of them. This pattern of biological factors impacting education goes beyond eyesight. Recent studies have shown that air quality and asthma can also have an impact on school performance and attendance.

Asthma in Southern California Schools

Asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism in the urban counties of Southern California. It’s also the number one reason children are in the emergency room.

In the County of San Bernardino, alone, approximately 16.7 percent of children between the ages of 0-14 were hospitalized as a result of asthma-related symptoms in 2017.

Additionally, living in urban areas with traffic congestion and consequential air pollution has a disproportionate impact on children and teenagers.

One study found that “traffic pollution causes asthma attacks in children, and may cause a wide range of other effects including the onset of childhood asthma, impaired lung function, premature death and death from cardiovascular diseases and cardiovascular morbidity.”

The areas that are most affected were within 0.2 to 0.3 miles of a major highway, which would include many school districts and residential areas in Southern California.

So there are two main issues here:

  1. Improving air quality in areas where children live and go to school
  2. Giving children with asthma access to better care

The Road To Improved Air Quality and Health

Breathmobile

The Breathmobile Asthma Clinic has been utilized in Los Angeles County, Orange County, and the County of San Bernardino. It’s a mobile clinic that provides free care to students suffering from asthma, helping them get back to school faster. Here are some of the services they provide:

  • Coordinated case identification
  • Structured mobile office visits
  • Diagnostic testing
  • Physical exams
  • Pharmacological therapy
  • Patient/family education in asthma management

Thanks to the efforts of the Breathmobile, studies have shown a decrease in school absenteeism, fewer emergency room visits, pulmonary function improvement, higher exercise tolerance, and improved quality of life for the children who are participating in the program. This could serve as a model for improving asthma care in other areas of Southern California and beyond.

Improving Air Quality

While improved treatment for asthma sufferers is important, air quality control is another huge factor in this health crisis.

This Southern California Children’s Health Study proved that prevention is possible and recorded a 20 percent decrease in new asthma cases where there was improved air quality over a 20-year period.

But how do we improve air quality?

A Positive Change In Air Quality

While it’s difficult for us as individuals to have a large impact on overall, outdoor air quality, there are plenty of ways to take control of the air quality in our own homes today.

The home is most likely where children are exposed to the highest levels of allergens and asthma triggers, primarily because the home is where they spend the majority of their time.

Here are some strategies for improving the air quality in your home:

  • Remove/reduce asthma triggers such as dust, pets, mold, and VOCs
  • Make your home non-smoking
  • Maintain a healthy humidity level using a humidifier in dry areas and a dehumidifier in moist/damp areas
  • Prevent mold growth by using exhaust fans in kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms
  • Avoid scented candles or heavy scented cleaning products
  • Install and check carbon monoxide alarms and radon alarms
  • Install an asthma and allergy-friendly air purifier

Ask An Air Quality Expert

Still have questions about creating a healthy environment for you and your family? Check out Aprilaire’s Find A Pro resources to talk with someone who can address the specific needs of your home or work environments.

If you’re already using air purification and filtration in your home, it never hurts to look at the last time you changed your filters, especially if you live in an area exposed to wildfire smoke. A properly functioning filter is essential to the air purification process and can help prolong the life of your equipment. Look through the Air Filter Buying Guide for more information.

Image of Aprilaire air filter types

Healthy Clean Air | Healthy Air |

Best air cleaners for the best indoor air quality

2 minute read

Air Cleaners To Catch Just About Anything

Dear Jim:

I want the best quality air at home for my family. I am trying to decide which type of central air cleaner is best. Will installing a central air cleaner make my heating and cooling more efficient? — Steve D.

Dear Steve:

Installing a high-quality central air cleaner in the furnace/air conditioner duct system does not technically improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system. What it will do is keep the heating and cooling units running at their highest original efficiency levels.

With a lower-quality air cleaner, such as the standard 1-inch-thick fiberglass filter, dust and dirt can build up on the heat exchanger and cooling coil surfaces. This dust creates a layer of insulation so heat is not exchanged as effectively as it should be. This reduces efficiency.

Types of Air Cleaners

Within the past year or two, several air cleaner and heating equipment manufacturers have come out with new super-efficient central air cleaners. They can even catch flu viruses and bacteria as they pass through the duct system.

Until this technology was developed, electronic air cleaners used wires of one charge and a collection cell of the opposite charge to catch the air particles. When the collection cell was dirty, it was washed off in the dishwasher, bathtub or outdoors and slipped back into the unit. The new super-efficient ones use collection media that is replaced, not washed.

For many people, the older technology is adequate. I use this kind of air cleaner in my own home. For people with allergies to some of the smallest particles in the indoor air, the new electronic air cleaners are more effective. The electricity cost to operate either type is not significant.

Another option is a pleated media air cleaner. This type of unit is less expensive and relies on many square feet of folded filter material to catch particles as the air passes through it. There are various levels of media quality and price. The cleaning effectiveness of various models can be compared by their MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating.

If you do not want to have the ducts modified to install a new air cleaner, consider a self-charging electrostatic model. This slips into the existing furnace filter slot and is many times more effective than a fiberglass filter. Another option is a bypass HEPA air cleaner that has its own air circulation motor.

Environment | Wellness |

Coronavirus – Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Protection

2 minute read

Coronavirus or COVID-19 is a part of a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to MERS and SARS.

Symptoms and diagnosis of coronavirus

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. If you experience these symptoms, there are several steps to follow:

  1. Stay home unless it is to get medical care.
  2. Restrict access to other people and your animals.
  3. Wear a facemask.
  4. Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  5. Call your healthcare provider.

When you call your healthcare provider, let them know if you have been in areas with persons known to have the virus and of any recent travel especially to areas with confirmed cases. The World Health Organization (WHO) has a map of countries with a confirmed case of coronavirus.

There is currently not a known vaccine for COVID-19, but there are several everyday preventative actions you can take to avoid the spread of disease.

Protect yourself

Follow the 6 tips below from the WHO to protect yourself from COVID-19.

  1. Maintain a distance of at least three feet between people
  2. Avoid touching your face.
  3. Use a flexed elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing. Dispose of tissue in the trash afterward.
  4. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; especially after going to the bathroom, eating, blowing your nose, sneezing, or coughing.
  5. If a handwashing station isn’t readily available use an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  6. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces by using a household cleaning spray or wipe.

The disease is thought to spread from person-to-person contact. Touching surfaces that have been used by those with the disease is not considered to be the main way the virus spreads, but health experts are still investigating this disease and how it spreads.

The best known preventive action is to not be in contact with someone who has the disease.

Stay up-to-date

To stay up-to-date on this disease, continue to monitor the CDC website and the WHO websites. These sites will have updated information on travel, what to do if you get the coronavirus and best practices for prevention.

You should also check with your company’s Human Resources department to see if they have any updated guidelines or procedures in dealing with the coronavirus especially if you plan on traveling out of the country.

 

Wellness |

Wellness Journey – Eating Clean for National Nutrition Month®

2 minute read

March is National Nutrition Month®. So as you get ready to do a little spring cleaning around the house, let’s do the same thing for your diet.

Of course there’s no “one-size-fits-all” diet, and the changes you want/need to make should be specific to your body and what makes you feel your best. So whether it’s going vegan, keto, or low carb, this month-long “eating clean” initiative has one aim:

[…to educate on] the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits,” according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

National Nutrition Month® Tips

Eat Right, Bite by Bite

The theme for 2020 is Eat Right, Bite by Bite.

That slogan is a good reminder that you don’t have to make huge changes overnight, or become consumed with restrictive eating plans that fill you with shame or regret over any misstep or misbite. Making small changes and setting attainable goals can lead you down a healthier path, bite by bite.

Simple Diet Changes = Long-Lasting Results

Add variety to your diet

  • Eat a diverse menu of nutritious foods every day
  • Include selections from all the food groups, focusing on natural, unprocessed foods
  • Try one new food every week
  • Drink plenty of water – anywhere from half a gallon to a gallon depending on your individual needs

Plan your meals

  • Prepare healthy meals/snacks for home, work, school, etc.
  • Make a calendar or schedule for your meals
  • Use a grocery list while shopping to stay on track and minimize temptations
  • Make healthy choices when dining out

Cook and Prep

  • Learn a new style of cooking/take a cooking class
  • Incorporate different flavors and foods than you’re used to
  • Keep your fridge and pantry stocked with healthful choices
  • Don’t keep unhealthy foods or treats on hand

Visit a Registered Dietitian

  • Schedule a consult with an RDN (registered dietitian nutritionist) for personalized nutrition advice to help you meet all your goals
  • Get tested for any food allergies/sensitivities

Further Exploration

Check out the National Nutrition Month® Toolkit for planning materials, games, and activities.

Wellness |

Breathing Exercises to Ease Stress

2 minute read

How do you beat stress?

There are lots of stress-management tools out there, some of them complicated or ineffective. It’s easy to forget that one of the best ways to ease stress and anxiety is through something that’s available to us every single day – breathing.

Left untreated, stress can lead to overwhelming feelings in the moment, and result in health consequences down the road.

So let’s talk about breathing exercises.

Benefits of Breathing Exercises

Here’s why breathing exercises are one of the best short-term strategies for stress relief:

  • You can perform them by yourself, anywhere, anytime. And, if it matters, it’s likely no one will even know you’re doing it.
  • They are free and don’t require any tools or equipment.
  • There are a variety of exercises to choose from and they take very little practice to perfect.
  • Got a few minutes? That’s all the breathing you need for almost immediate relief.

Breathing Exercises to Try Today

While there are many forms of controlled breathing, here are a few of the simplest ones to get you started:

  1. Equal Breaths
    The saying, “what goes in must come out” is quite literal when it comes to this technique. Breathing through your nose, you are going to inhale for four seconds and then exhale for four. You can then increase to a 6- or 8-second count once you’ve gotten the basic rhythm down.
  2. Relaxing Breath
    This exercise is also known as the 4-7-8 technique and focuses on the following breathing pattern that you can repeat up to four times:

    1. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your teeth
    2. Empty your lungs of any air
    3. Inhale for four seconds through your nose
    4. Hold the breath for seven seconds
    5. Forcefully exhale through the mouth for eight seconds

(Note: While the 4-7-8 ratio is very important to the exercise, you can count as quickly or as slowly as you need to during the cycle.)

  1. Visualization Breath
    This one takes a bit of imagination. You can use whatever mental picture you want, but the idea is that as you breathe in through your nose, you will imagine that you’re inhaling peaceful, calming air. Visualize the air filling your entire body, and pushing out all the stress and tension as you exhale. Slowly repeat that cycle until you feel your stress subside.

Breathing Quality Air

With all of this deep breathing, Aprilaire wants to make sure you’re taking in healthy air. That’s our job, after all!

Check out the Healthy Home blueprint. It includes tips and easy changes that can improve the air quality of your home, making it even simpler to deal with stress in a clean, healthy environment.