If you were to use a cotton swab to take samples of various surfaces in your home — pillows, keyboards, windowsills, shelves, and countertops — and send them to a lab for analysis, you’d be shocked at the variety and volume of microbes.
Like it or not, your home is coated in invisible communities of biodiversity, including fungi, insects, and pollen. The microbial makeup of your home ranges from harmless to life-threatening.
Fungi, dust mites, pollen, dander, and other unchecked indoor pollutants are closely associated with allergies, asthma, and other respiratory conditions. Additionally, microbes and pests can lead to property damage, such as warped and broken down paper, wood, stone, and concrete.
Analyzing and resolving poor indoor ecosystems requires a mix of microbial ecology, building science, and indoor air science. While indoor ecology studies are in their infancy, there are many things we know about asthma and allergy triggers and how to create a healthier environment in your own home.
Moving Air and Ventilation
We’re way past the log days of Lincoln lore. While log homes and other shelters in the past posed a challenge for air sealing, they didn’t have as many indoor air quality issues — partly because of a more natural lifestyle, but largely due to the increased ventilation of leaky homes. Today, however, in an effort to reduce energy consumption, homes are more tightly sealed than ever before.
Humans and pets produce microbes from their mouths and skin, but they also disturb dust and other microbial material when they move around the home. If the air is not being refreshed, bacteria and other contaminants won’t be able to escape. In a recent study, Jordan Peccia and his team “calculated that people shed or resuspended about 35 million bacterial cells per person per hour,” which is way more than previous estimates.
Signs of Poor Indoor Air Quality
Here are a few ways you can detect a drop in indoor air quality levels:
Increase in asthma and allergy triggers
If there are people who live in your home who have asthma — even a mild case — then an increase in asthma attacks that comes from no other discernible reason is probably the fault of various triggers suspended in the indoor air. Among the common triggers for asthma that can pollute a home’s air are pollen, pet dander, dust mites, hair, and sawdust from construction. Pay attention to these attacks, since improving air quality can be life-saving for asthma sufferers.
If someone in your home suffers from asthma, allergies, or respiratory problems, the first thing you should do is get rid of whatever is causing the symptoms. Since asthma and allergies can be triggered by different things for different people, it’s important to speak with a doctor about getting an allergy test.
Rise in cold and flu symptoms
While an allergy test can help you determine what’s causing your particular allergies, you don’t need to have asthma or allergies to have a bad reaction to poor indoor air. The teeming toxins and contaminants in your home can lead to respiratory trouble, difficulty sleeping, nausea, eye and skin irritation, fatigue, congestion, and a host of other ailments that resemble the common cold or a mild flu. If there seems to be a rash of these problems among your household, then look into the possibility of getting rid of pollution sources and cleaning the air.
If you are experiencing coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, chest tightening, or congestion and sinuses, you may be reacting to certain allergens in the home. Learn more about the common indoor air pollutants found indoors.
Should you notice any of these IAQ warning signs, contact the air quality specialists at Bell Brothers. We can recommend ventilation improvements, air filters, and purifiers that will restore your air to a healthy level.
How to Prevent Allergies and Asthma Attacks at Home
To help reduce allergens in the home, regularly replace HVAC air filters, schedule bi-annual HVAC maintenance, maintain healthy humidity levels, avoid dust mites, and keep your kitchen and bathroom dry and clean.
Clean the Bedroom
- Cover mattresses and pillows with hypoallergenic dust mite covers.
- Wash all of your bedding in hot water (at least 130°F) once a week.
- If you have pets, keep them off the bed and out of the bedroom if possible.
- Replace carpets with hard floors.
- Make sure you have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in every bedroom, outside of each sleeping area, and one on every level of the home.
- Maintain proper humidity levels (relative humidity should be between 30–50%). Mold can start growing in moist environments in less than a day. Speak with an HVAC professional about installing a whole-home humidification system.
- You can measure the moisture levels in your home with a hygrometer (available at your local home improvement store).
- If you notice a water leak, get it repaired right away. Turn off the individual water shut-off valve to prevent any more moisture damage while you await repairs.
- Make sure you have working exhaust fans in the bathroom and kitchen. Run the exhaust fan or open a window when you cook on the stovetop or take a shower.
- If you find mold, clean it up right away. For large amounts of mold, contact a mold remediation company.
- Take steps to waterproof your home from possible flood damage, such as improving drainage, checking the foundation for cracks, and installing sump pumps, backflow prevention valves, and water sensors.
Learn more about preventing mold and mildew in your HVAC system.
- Keep cockroaches, rodents, and other pests out of your home by using integrated pest management techniques.
- Fix water leaks as soon as you find them.
- Store all food in tight containers.
- Clean up food waste right away.
- Seal up air leaks around the home.
- Put screens in your doors and windows.
- Consider replacing your windows.
- If you notice pests in the home, contact a reputable pest control company.
Avoid Smoke and Carbon Monoxide
Stick to a no-smoking rule in your home. Secondhand smoke causes a variety of health problems, including more frequent and severe allergy and asthma attacks. Smoke is particularly harmful to those with asthma or other respiratory difficulties. Learn more about the effects of secondhand smoke from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If there are wildfires nearby, check local air quality forecasts so you can avoid the outdoors when pollution levels are high.
Smoke from wood can also aggravate asthma and allergies. If you can, avoid burning wood in your home. In addition to smoke, wood stoves and fireplaces also produce carbon monoxide, a toxic and potentially deadly gas.
Sources of carbon monoxide include:
- tobacco smoke
- wood stoves, gas stoves, and fireplaces
- kerosene and gas space heaters
- chimneys and furnaces
- furnaces and gas water heaters
- generators and other gasoline-powered equipment
- automobile exhaust
The main cause of carbon monoxide poisoning is poorly maintained combustion devices, such as furnaces, boilers, and fireplaces. This is why it’s so important to have working smoke/CO detectors and schedule heater and furnace maintenance every year.
Reduce Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Many foods and other products can trigger an allergy or asthma attack. Make it a habit to research the foods, building materials, and household products you bring into your home. Look for “no VOC” or “low VOC” labels on products such as paint, furniture, cleaners, caulks, and air fresheners.
If you must use a product that off-gasses volatile organic compounds, follow the manufacturer instructions and make sure there is proper ventilation or use them outdoors.
Speak with your doctor about developing your own allergy and asthma management plan so you can tailor your strategy based on your own symptoms.
Professional Indoor Air Quality Solutions
An unfortunate side effect of the excellent insulation and air sealing on modern homes is that little fresh air circulates through the rooms, and this results in a build-up of dust, dirt, and other particles.
Microbes from a sneeze or cough can stick around for days. The products in our homes could be off-gassing chemicals into the air. Even cockroaches and other pests can compromise your indoor air quality. This is why nearly all modern buildings should have a mechanical ventilation system.
Mechanical ventilation exhausts stale indoor air while bringing in fresh outdoor air to replace it. Unfortunately, most homes have an exhaust-only system, which means that air is sent outdoors but no air gets sent back in. As a result, negative air pressure will build up inside the home and outdoor air will get sucked inside via any openings and air leaks in the home. This can be a major source of indoor air pollutants since the air could be entering through garages, crawl spaces, attics, basements, and other contaminated areas of the home.
You want to be able to filter and control the air you bring inside. Otherwise, you have no idea where it’s coming from. Exhaust-only ventilation systems may help get rid of excess moisture and stale air, but they’re also compromising your indoor air quality and costing you a lot in air leaks and energy loss.
For the best solution to this problem, use a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV), also known as air-to-air heat exchangers. The incoming and outgoing air streams get filtered and pass through a heat exchanger in an HRV and a heat and moisture exchanger in an ERV. While the two air streams do not meet, by exchanging heat (and humidity with an ERV), you get hospital-quality ventilation without any associated energy losses.
The ventilation and duct system is also a major gathering place for contaminants, and cleaning it out will take a major source of air pollution away. Speak with an HVAC professional about ventilation and duct cleaning, and how to prevent contamination of your HVAC system.
There are many different air cleaners and purifiers to choose from. It’s important find an air cleaner that addresses the particular pollutants in your home. For most indoor air quality problems, however, source control is your best option.
Speak with the experts at Bell Brothers to identify the sources of your indoor air pollutants and how to eliminate them. After a custom indoor air quality diagnosis, we can help you choose the right air cleaner for your home.
These systems are installed in your air handler and/or ductwork to remove allergens and pollutants like bacteria, mold, smoke, and gas. Which system you need will depend on the level of contaminants in your home, so make sure you check with a contractor before choosing anything.
Every HVAC system comes with some form of air filtration, but is it enough? Standard filters are effective, but they are not always comprehensive. A higher quality filter for your air handler and duct system will severely reduce the number of contaminants floating around and triggering allergies and asthma. Learn about minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) ratings and how to choose the best air filter for your HVAC system.
Indoor Air Quality Solutions from Bell Bros
Once allergens have invaded the house, it’s not too long before you and your family will start to feel the effects, especially those with asthma, allergies, or other respiratory problems.
As the air continues to move through a home’s HVAC system, the accumulation of contaminants increases, and this will lead to a reduction in indoor air quality. The U.S. EPA consistently ranks poor indoor air quality among the top five environmental risks to public health.
Whether you suffer from allergies or not, healthy indoor air quality is essential for preventing sickness, disease, and property damage. Take the first step to improving the comfort and safety of your home by speaking with a professional HVAC technician.
Contact Bell Brothers today for your free indoor air quality consultation.