Is Your Home Healthy
Is Your Home Healthy?
Dust Mites Could Be Blowing in the Wind
Sick of another chilly Friday night bundled in an afghan, watching reruns of Seinfeld? Perhaps the problem is not mental. It could be a serious, hidden health risk. Sometimes, instead of being sick of staying home, it is your home that is making you sick. Pollutants such as pet dander, dust mites and mold could be in the air in your home and, especially in these winter months, making you ill.
“Our homes are tightly sealed. Pollutants and allergens get trapped inside,” said Angie Lien, director of Health House in St. Paul, Minn., a project created by the American Lung Association of Minnesota to raise the standards for better indoor environments. Many home changes are simple and cheap, she explained. Making healthy changes in any home is especially important because most Americans spend 90 percent of their day indoors, 60 percent of that time at home.
In addition, close quarters with other ill people creates more problems. It increases, “the risk of colds, influenza and pneumonia,” said Gina Menz, BS, RRT, representative of the American Lung Association of Pennsylvania: Western region: Erie Outreach. While being a bit too close to others might be unsolvable, other problems are not.
First on the list of easy things to better your home air quality is to vacuum carpeted areas once a week, according to Lien. Vacuums act as a cheap air filter, and most people already have one in their home.
Furthermore, it pays big health dividends not to put off house cleaning until spring. Window coverings, when possible, should be made of plastic, wood or other washable materials. If not, pay special attention to this problem area to reduce the amount of airborne dust mites. “Check them often,” according to Lien.
Inspect festive indoor plants for mold which often can be found in the plant’s soil. If you spot mold, repot the plant or move it outdoors.
AN OLD MESSAGE
Another element of Health House’s recommendations should be repeated–always. It is a litany which appears in most issues of ADVANCE. Do not allow smoking in homes. For non-smokers and smokers alike, a smoke-free environment keeps damaging pollutants out of the closed environment.
“Keeping your home well-ventilated is also very important,” said Lien. In order to steer clear of sick building syndrome, try to bring in fresh outdoor air whenever possible. However, avoid days when the pollen count is high or when the lawn is being sprayed with fertilizer or pesticides.
For the estimated 17 million Americans living with asthma and 40 million with allergies, limiting exposure to allergens will go a long way, said Lien. Pets should be bathed and groomed often. At a minimum, try to keep pets off furniture, such as beds, easy chairs and couches.
Consider taking control of your home’s humidity levels. The first step is to buy a humidistat and make sure the measured relative humidity is between 45 and 55 percent. If it is drier, buy a humidifier to add humidity to the air. If it is too humid, purchase a dehumidifier to reduce the amount of moisture. Not only will this reduce mold growth, attributed to high humidity, according to Health House’s Internet site, it will reduce the instance of dust mites and other known allergens.
In addition, it will combat the problems of low moisture which will help the spread of virus and bacteria and increase the incidences of respiratory infections, rhinitis and asthma.
In instances where residents of the home are engaged in humidity-generating activities, such as cooking, Lien advises, “use exhaust fans that vent outdoors to control the moisture in your home.
One last angle home owners can exploit to reach air quality nirvana is air filtration. If the home uses a forced-air system, replace the furnace filter every three months, advises Lien. High efficiency air filters are increasingly available at department stores and will make a big impact on overall air quality by removing airborne particles.
If all of those steps seem as distant as living on Mars with automated robot housekeepers and hover cars, don’t despair. It’s nearly 2001 and, although humans will probably still perform cleaning chores, a healthy home is attainable now.
According to Lien: “Ventilation, filtration and moisture control are our approaches to home health. It may sound like a lot, but any of these steps will help to improve indoor air quality.”
For more information about creating healthy indoor environments or Health House, visit the organization’s Internet site at www.healthhouse.org or call (877) 521-1791, outside Minn., or (800) 642-5864, within the state. For more information about the American Lung Association, call 1-800-LUNG-USA.
Shawn M. Proctor is an ADVANCE editorial assistant.