Posts Tagged ‘indoor air’

Asthma? Indoors is not Always a Safe Haven!

June 11, 2013

June is upon us and in some parts of the country we are opening windows in others, closing them up.  Asthma awareness month, the month of May, is over but I feel it’s a subject always worth talking about.

asthma triggers from

We forget how important our indoor air is.  The EPA graphic above, points out a number of triggers for those that suffer from Asthma, so many of them trapped in our indoor environments we consider safe.

Outdoor air pollution is the problem that comes to mind, but inside we can build up excessive dust from a lack of air sealing in a home, unhealthy by-products from unvented combustion appliances, mold from crawlspaces and basements as well as chemical triggers from the stuff under the sink.

Allergens and irritants build up in a home when we don’t have the right kind of airflow, we need fresh air and we need to know where it comes from.  Breathing easy comes from taking care of the fundamentals we consider when we assess a home:  IAQ, combustion safety, and controlling the airways.



image from

Cleaning up those basements after the flood

April 28, 2011

Something we may have to get used to:  Heavy rains in the Northeast are causing flooding like we saw in California earlier in the year.

And many people whose basements never flood are taking on water.

This might be a good time to touch on flood cleanup.  Water from flooding can create real problems.  When things get wet for more than a couple of days they usually get moldy. Add that to bugs and other microbes that come in during flooding or that thrive on moist conditions, and you’ve got a problem.

So if you’ve had flooding in the house, it’s important to clean and dry your house and everything in it as quickly as possible.  First, get the water out.  Throw away anything that was wet with flood water and can’t be rapidly dried and cleaned.  This includes not only belongings, but things like insulation and drywall, too.  And use fans (if the air is dry) or a dehumidifier to speed drying.

Clean and dry hard surfaces such as floors, walls, furnishings, etc.  Use a detergent or use a cleaner that kills germs.  Do not mix cleaning products together or add bleach to other cleaning products—this may generate and release toxic chemicals that can hurt or even kill you.

If you’ve got mold, you can clean it up—however if there is more than 10 square feet (about a 3 foot by 3 foot area), you may want to hire a professional to clean up the mold.  [See EPA’s mold cleanup recommendations.]

After you’ve solved the immediate cleanup, you’ll want to think about long-term prevention—keeping the water out—so you don’t have to do this again.  We’ll touch on that in another post later.

Idling your car- it’s not ideal

January 28, 2011

It is cold outside. And dark. And you really don’t want to go to work.

I know how you feel.

How do you get over the winter morning blues? For most Americans the antidote involves a large cup of coffee and a toasty-warm pre-heated car.

But how much is that pre-heating costing you, not to mention the environment?

Every two minutes an idling car uses about the same amount of fuel to travel a mile. So for every two minutes you spend waiting for your car to warm up before you get in you are effectively adding an extra mile of gas onto your daily bill.  And worse, it puts a lot of additional wear and tear on your engine, beyond what the odometer says.

But don’t engines need that time to warm up in the morning?

Maybe in Grandma’s day, but modern engines need no longer than about 30 seconds to warm up in most climates. If you live somewhere really cold, it makes more sense to invest in an engine bloc heater than to leave your car idling in the mornings.

So what is a cold, disheartened, winter-morning-hater to do? Suck it up. Leave your hat, scarf and gloves on for the first few miles. It’s not so bad and it makes the coffee taste better.

While we’re on the topic of vehicles I’ll add this warning: Never idle a vehicle in your garage, even if the door to the outside is open. The exhaust fumes can leak into your home and cause a significant risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning to you and your family.

Service agreements – a smart way to save.

January 25, 2011

Expensive things, like cars, come with a warranty, which is the manufacturer’s guarantee that your purchase will keep on working the way it should for the life of the warranty… IF you uphold your end of the bargain. When you buy a new HVAC system, read the fine print of your warranty, and you will find that in order to keep it valid you must have the unit serviced annually.

Is this just a scam for these companies to get more money out of you?

Actually, no. There are two very good reasons to make sure you have your heating and cooling system checked and tuned annually.

First, if there is a problem with your HVAC system it can become a serious health risk to you and your family. A licensed contractor can ensure that carbon monoxide is not leaking into your home.

Second, the cost of annual maintenance has been shown to pay for itself in operating cost savings during the peak season alone.

Together, these are reasons that the EPA and DOE recommend annual maintenance on your system—you should do it whether under warranty or not.

So it makes sense to have your HVAC system maintained each year, and if you’re looking to save some money it makes sense to enter into a service agreement.  This ensures your  heating and cooling system operates safely and efficiently and your protect your warranty.  Even better, service agreements allow for planned visits during regular hours, and thus we can plan for and control costs and offer special services and priority treatment to customers who sign up for these plans.  Check out the extra perks we offer to service agreement customers here at GreenHomes.

It’s Cold, But Don’t Use Your Stove to Heat Your Home or Apartment

January 17, 2011

With temperatures sinking to single digits—and even well below zero in many locations around the Northeast—the potential for house fires shoots up as some attempt to use their kitchen stove or other forms of open flame sources to heat their homes or apartments for warmth.  Don’t!

  • NEVER USE YOUR OVEN FOR HEATING. Kitchen ovens were never designed for heating homes only for cooking food.  There is a risk from both carbon monoxide (CO) and fire.
  • Never Leave High Stove Heat Unattended. Stay close when using high heat on the stovetop. If you must leave to answer the door or the phone, keep a spoon or a potholder in your hand so you have a visual reminder to get back to the kitchen ASAP.
  • Review portable heater safety tips.  Kathryn had a nice post about space heater safety this fall.  Reread it!

Stay warm, but be safe.  If your home or furnace isn’t up to the task, call is.  If it’s a question of affording the utilities, check out your local community agencies or your state’s LIHEAP program for emergency assistance. 


Smoke Alarms – New Features Make Them More Tolerable

December 3, 2010

This is the last thing I’m going to say about fire alarms for the foreseeable future…

The leading cause of smoke alarm failure is inadequate power supply, and many times this is due to the unit being disabled by the owner. Smoke alarms can be annoying because if they are installed too close to the kitchen they can be triggered when there isn’t really a fire to worry about. This is what experts call a ‘nuisance’ alarm. Unfortunately nuisance alarms can be so much of a nuisance that the owner disconnects them, rendering them unable to assist in detecting a fire.

Then again, it is incredibly annoying to have to deal with a fire alarm whenever you want to use your kitchen, so what should you do?

If possible, move the unit a few feet further away from the cooking area, in many cases this will solve the problem. If this isn’t possible, or you are still getting nuisance alarms, try replacing the unit with a new alarm that has a ‘hush’ feature – a handy little button that mutes the alarm for 10 seconds, which is usually long enough to clear the air of the smoke that triggered the alarm in the first place.

Remember that you should never disable the alarm by removing the batteries as you might forget to replace them again.

Vent those bath fans to the outside–NOT into the attic

July 25, 2010

One of the things we look at in homes is the ventilation.  I’ll write more about that in the coming months.  The short version is that good ventilation is necessary to protect your health and your home.

Wait! You say.  Aren’t you making my home tighter with all that air-sealing?  But I need ventilation to bring air in? 

Yes, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.  In my view, the perfect home would be perfectly tight, with no “natural” exchange of air—but allow you to determine both the rate of air-exchange, and where an how it comes from.  But we’ll save that for another day.  Right now, I’m going to focus on the bathroom—in part because GreenHomes Advisor John Scipione just found another doozy, this one in Fresno, CA.

Bathroom ventilation is particularly important to remove excess moisture (and heat in the summer).  Pulling out this moisture at its source helps prevent the mold and mildew from growing, and that a good thing.

Most of the bathrooms we see have poor ventilation, either no fans or cheap rattle traps which make a lot of noise but don’t move much air.  Adding a well-functioning exhaust is something I highly recommend.

I’ve talked before (maybe putting the cart before the horse?) about the Panasonic and Renewaire bath fans that I like.  Excellent choices.   And keep making good choices by exhausting the air directly to the outside via ducts, and not just into an attic or some other space in the house.  If your contractor says it’s OK to vent into the attic, the best solution may be to find a new contractor.   Dumping moist bathroom air into the attic can help rot your roof.  And remember those ice dams we’ve talked about?  In snow country, exhausting your bath fan into the attic—with all that warm air—is a recipe for ice dams (and more on ice dams).  Don’t do it!

Three bathroom fans exhausting into an attic

Please don't exhaust your bathroom fans into the attic!

Which brings me back to what John found in Fresno.  Exhausting one bath fan into the attic is bad enough.  How about three?  And if you’re going to do three, why not tie them together to concentrate the problem?  At least the installed helped with a well-organized bad practice.  Don’t do it!  Vent to the outside.


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