Healthy Houses can mean Healthy People
Did you know that keeping your home healthy is important to maintaining your health? But there are specific things your house has to have to be able to support your day-to-day health needs.
Among them are the ability to properly vent moisture, to maintain heating and cooling, the ability to keep you clean and safely dispose of your waste and the ability to protect you from anything outside your door.
Where these needs meet yours is where housing meets health. We want to share a series on each of these over the next few weeks.
Let’s start with talking about indoor air quality. Moisture is good for plants along with mold and mildew when it is allowed to be above 50 percent humidity, especially in rooms of your house that are rarely or scantly heated.
Temperatures in the 50 degree and less range support unhealthy molds and mildews, indoors or out. If you can smell mildew in the house, then you may have mold/mildew spore or other air quality issues.
Maybe you are just used to being ill or coughing and sneezing with a constantly drippy nose this time of year. Maybe you have to visit the Emergency Room on occasion due to lack of breath.
Do you get better after you leave the house for a while? Talk to your healthcare provider about this factor.
You can do a few things that will make a difference in air-quality and comfort inside your home besides keeping it clean.
Every house with a crawl space needs to have 6 mil. black plastic sheeting stretched over the soil under the house. This prevents a great deal of moisture from migrating up from the soil through the floor into the living area. Your home’s foundation also needs to be vented to allow air to circulate which removes any additional smells and moisture. One square foot of vent for each 150 square foot area of the foundation floor is a good rule.
The kitchen, baths and laundry room are where most unwanted moisture and pollutants are produced. In each you should have properly sized fans which are vented to the exterior. If you have ever made the mistake of cooking whole crab in the house without a vented rangehood to suck out the smell, you’ll know what we mean about penetration!
The steam you create in the kitchen, bath and laundry may not smell, but can penetrate to every room creating the right conditions for mold and mildew issues.
Fans will do no good if you don’t turn them on. And remember to keep them running for a while after the water has boiled on the stove, after taking a shower, or washing another load of laundry. It takes a while to get the moist air out, so pretend any steam you create is saturated in stinky cooked-crab-air!
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
When the inside air temperature falls below 50 degrees, having a source of reliable heat to maintain 60 degrees, can make a huge difference in your health. Under that is where mold thrives.
Before we talk about the positive and negative aspects of any particular heating system, let’s talk about how and why heating systems can make a positive impact.
For your health and the health of your home, mold and mildew need to be avoided! Inefficient, but expensive heating systems can encourage the growth and release of air-borne mold spore and other antigens, threatening to affect your breathing, especially if one has allergies, asthma or other pre-existing conditions.
When heating systems are inefficient a couple of things happen.
First, the heated air doesn’t always make it to every corner of the house, creating cold spots near the floor, in corners and in closets where moist air precipitates creating the perfect environment for mold and powdery mildew to thrive.
Secondly, if your system is expensive to run you may not be able to afford to turn it on except in the coldest of weather and even choosing not heating certain rooms at all.
Unfortunately, what works for the budget isn’t always good for the home or human health. There may be heating alternatives to consider.
HEATING SYSTEMS CONSIDERATIONS
Fuel burning heating devices – like an oil furnace, natural/LP gas stove, wood or pellet stove/fireplace, can put you at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning and air particulates.
When any of these heating appliances stop working properly or leak from a crack or holes in the system, carbon monoxide gas can fill your house causing death. Carbon detectors are inexpensive and definitely worth the cost to alert you to this invisible threat.
WOOD STOVES AND FIREPLACES
There is just something bone-warming about a properly installed “IC rated’ wood stove or even a crackling fireplace. We get it and know many Harborites need and want to use them with the abundance of wood for fuel.
However, they take a lot of tending and care to keep appliance and chimney clean, to find and cut wood or buy it, store and dry the wood and then there are the bugs and spiders and smoke issues.
When talking health and housing, chopping wood is probably good exercise. While using wood as a backup heat source or for an occasional treat to added ambiance is great, relying on a different heating system for your day-to-day needs is likely healthier.
In addition, both fireplaces and wood stoves can add particulate matter, soot, into your home – and lungs, creating or exacerbating breathing issues.
HEAT PUMP MAY BE YOUR ANSWER
We talked about ductless heat pumps in last week’s column and we know many houses in Grays Harbor are well suited to using them.
Because a heat pump is inexpensive to run, there’s a greater likelihood it would be used. They circulate warm air that literally sucks out the moisture which helps prevent molds and promotes health for the house as well as its occupants.
There is a drawback with heat pumps. When it is very, very cold, they don’t perform as well because there is less heat in the outside air to extract. In addition, if the power is out, they won’t run without electricity. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a secondary, backup source of heat.
For those super cold days we recommend using a secondary source of heat such as your old electrical baseboard heaters, cadet wall heaters, or a furnace-rated gas fireplace, wood stove or fireplace – not the barbecue!
Don’t forget to change your smoke and Carbon Monoxide detector batteries at the time-change coming up.
Stay warm-stay healthy!
Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks® of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director. This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County.
Do you have questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or becoming a homeowner? Call us at 533-7828, write us or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.