Home Tips & Advice

Five Steps To A Healthier Home

By Lou Manfredini

Products Suggested by Lou for a Healthier Home

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the air inside our homes may be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. What's surprising is that this statistic does not exclude newer homes, which can actually test higher than older residences in terms of poor indoor air quality.

In a rush to conserve energy in the 1970s, builders (like myself), architects and designers began building tighter homes with energy efficient windows and doors and thicker insulation in an effort to seal out potential drafts. While we succeeded in lowering the cost of energy bills, we ended up adding to the problem of trapping volatile organic compounds (VOCs) - harmful fumes caused by leftover building products, furniture, animal dander, and indoor mildew and mold - inside our homes.

Today, Americans spend millions of dollars each year on indoor air filtration systems. We purchase everything from small, tabletop models to whole-house units for our homes. And yet, even with all the information available on the market, there is major debate on which ones truly work the best.

Below are five steps that you can take to improve your home's indoor air quality. By following these steps and coupling them with the right indoor air purifying unit, you'll breathe a lot easier in your own home.

Step One: Test your home for possible contaminants.
Today, there are a number of in-home test kits available to assess everything from lead on walls and in your drinking water, to asbestos and radon gas. And utilizing these inexpensive kits can give you the peace of mind of knowing that you and your family are safe.

Step Two: If you have a forced air heating system, have the air ducts cleaned regularly and upgrade to better furnace air filters.
Homeowners often ask, "Is cleaning my air ducts worth it?" The answer is yes. Even if your home is new, you may have more internal construction debris and dust than a home that is 10 to 15 years old. When getting your air ducts cleaned, make sure the contractor is a member of the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (www.nadca.com), and uses not only high velocity air, but a whip that is fed through the ductwork to loosen any debris stuck to the walls of the sheet-metal. The average cost to clean ductwork in your home is about $300 to $500, but the results are well worth the expense.

In conjunction, for many of us, the furnace filter is a spun glass filter that costs less than a dollar. While this filter will protect the blower motor, it will do next to nothing when it comes to improving your indoor air quality. Upgrade to a pleated filter that captures smaller particles so small that even the naked eye cannot see. The key is to change them regularly - every couple of months should do - to prevent to the restriction of airflow through your heating system.

Step Three: Keep your home as clean as possible.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), an estimated 57 million Americans suffer from severe allergies and asthma and keeping your home as clean as possible can dramatically improve the air you breathe. Dusting window treatments, around window and door trim and those out-of-reach areas can make a huge impact. Use a bagless vacuum cleaner that utilizes a HEPA filter to maximize your cleaning power and avoid the plume of dust that occurs when you'd otherwise change the bag.

Step Four: Consider purchasing an indoor air purifier.
Because they can vary in performance, size and cost, it's important that you find the right purifier to fit your needs. There are a number of Web sites you can turn to for help. One of the industry standards is put forth by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers' (AHAM) Air Cleaner Council (www.aham.org). There, testing helps set certain parameters so that all purification units are measured against the same criteria. If you're thinking of a particular model and in search of its product rating guide, visit www.cadr.org for the unit's "clean air delivery rate." In turn, take advantage of the 30-day free trial offer many manufacturers offer. By the end of 30 days, you'll know if you are breathing easier and if the unit is worth the investment.

HEPA filtration (High Efficiency Particulate Air) is one of the most common approaches to cleaning the air. A good quality HEPA filtering system can be up to 99.97 percent efficient at filtering particulates that are 0.3 microns from the air. This filtering system has been widely used and accepted by organizations promoting indoor air quality standards to clean the indoor air of smoke, dust, pollen, mold spores and pet dander.

Portable units, when sized correctly, can do a good job of cleaning the air in a particular room. But the key is to make sure that unit is sized for the square footage of that room. In addition, the faster the fan runs, the more air is exchanged through the unit. While this does increase the noise, the units will work much better.

HEPA room purifiers can range in price from $30 to $300. The Holmes units that are available at participating Ace Hardware (Ace nos. 6105076 and 6091227) are some of the best performing units on the market. These units use a modular filter system which makes finding and installing the filters much easier.

Step Five: Protect your family by installing a carbon monoxide detector.
It used to be that smoke detectors were enough to protect your family. However, in recent years, homeowners across America have been taking safety a step further by installing carbon monoxide detectors in their homes.

When installing a carbon monoxide detector, remember that the placement of that detector is key. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends it be located near the sleeping area, where it can wake you if you are asleep; however, additional detectors on every level and in every bedroom of a home provides extra protection.

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