Winterizing Your House: Is It Too Tightly Shut Up?

When Is a House Too Tight?

When winter winds send a chill through the air, homeowners begin to look for ways to conserve energy and reduce drafts in their homes. If the house is too airtight, however, it can cause indoor air quality problems. There are lots of different factors to consider when examining indoor air problems, including the sources of pollutants, how the air enters the house, and the health issues that can affect your family. In this issue, we have provided some indicators of these factors and precautions you can take to reduce indoor air problems in your home this winter.

What Causes Indoor Air Problems?

Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air are the primary cause of indoor air quality problems in homes. Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels first by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources, and second, by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the home. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants.

Pollutant Sources

There are many sources of indoor air pollution in any home including:

  • Combustion sources such as oil, gas, kerosene, coal, wood and tobacco products
  • Building materials and furnishings such as deteriorated, asbestos-containing insulation, wet or damp carpet and cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products
  • Products for household cleaning and maintenance, personal care or hobbies
  • Central heating and cooling systems and humidifying devices
  • Outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides and outdoor air pollution.

How Does Outdoor Air Enter a House?

Outdoor air enters and leaves a house by infiltration, natural ventilation and mechanical ventilation.

  • Infiltration means that outdoor air comes into the house through openings around windows and doors, cracks and joints.
  • Natural ventilation occurs when air comes through open windows and doors.
  • Mechanical ventilation includes devices such as outdoor-vented fans that remove air from a single room, and systems that use fans and ductwork to continuously remove indoor air and distribute filtered and conditioned outdoor air throughout the house.
  • Air exchange rate is the rate at which outdoor air replaces indoor air. When the air exchange rate is low, pollutant levels increase.

Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollutants

Health effects from indoor air pollutants may occur immediately after exposure or even years later.

  • Immediate effects include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, dizziness and fatigue. These are usually short-term and treatable by removing the person from exposure to the pollutant.
  • Symptoms of long-term health problems such as asthma, hypersensitivity to allergens and humidifier fever may also show up soon after exposure to some indoor air pollutants.
  • Long-term health effects that may show up years after exposure include respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer.

If you have allergy-sensitive residents in your household or people who are considered more "at-risk" such as the elderly, pregnant women, those with pre-existing medical conditions or small children, it is especially important to ensure that your home has proper ventilation, particularly during the winter months.

Precautions You Can Take to Reduce Indoor Air Problems

  • Have the radon level in your house measured by a professional.
  • Identify all possible sources of indoor pollution and eliminate as many sources as possible.
  • Have all combustion sources checked by a professional.
  • Limit smoking in your home.
  • Consult your healthcare professional if you or a family member experience symptoms. Offer as much information as possible to that professional so they can help identify the source of the symptoms.
  • Improve ventilation in your home by opening windows and doors, operating window or attic fans or making certain the vent control is open on window-unit air conditioners often enough to recycle the air in your home. Exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom also improve ventilation.
  • Pay special attention to ventilation when involved in projects such as painting, paint-stripping, heating with kerosene heaters, cooking or working on hobbies that involve welding, soldering or sanding. Try to schedule hobby activities during a season when you can do some of the work outdoors.
  • Consider the purchase of an air-cleaning device for your home.

Keeping Up Appearances: Maintaining the Look of Your Home

Thorough cleaning

When purchasing living room carpet or a new couch, people are purchasing more than just an item for their home-they are buying an appearance. While carpet and furniture eventually wear and fade from regular use, they do not often need to be replaced, given regular cleaning and deep cleaning.

The best way to keep the look of your d├ęcor is very simple: keep up with the cleaning. Do not wait until your carpet or couch looks dirty or dingy to clean it; by then the deterioration has begun. Many people do not realize that regular cleaning is one of the easiest and most effective ways to keep furniture and floors looking new. While professional cleaning and care are important, there are a few things that homeowners can do that dramatically extend the life of their floors and furnishings. Most experts recommend performing the following tasks consistently to enhance and maintain your home.

Rid upholstery of oils that soil

Upholstered furniture that is used often should be cleaned once a year because body and hair oils left on the surface attract more dirt. Deep cleaning products available to consumers can shrink, discolor and damage the upholstery fibers. Professional cleaners have the products and equipment to avoid shrinkage and discoloration, and leave furniture drier. Periodic deep cleaning helps maintain the appearance of floors and furnishings. Since deep cleaning is difficult and technical process, you should consider hiring a professional service for these jobs.

Vacuum regularly

Vacuum carpets at least once a week, since 80% of dirt in carpets is loose dirt that should be removed quickly before it becomes absorbed by the fibers. You should vacuum high traffic areas more often, if needed.

Dust your floor

Use a treated dust mop once a week to remove fine dirt and sand from wood floors and marble. These small particles get ground into hard surfaces and can cause irreparable damage.

Deep clean carpets once a year

Carpets should be professionally cleaned at least once a year to maintain their appearance. Consumers using rented equipment often leave the carpet too wet, causing mold and fungal build-up, or they do not fully remove the detergent, which attracts more dirt. A professional cleaner has the equipment and expertise to fully remove dirt and detergent, and leaves the carpet drier.

Deep clean and treat hard surface floors

Hard surface flooring-such as wood and marble-should be cleaned and treated once a year by a professional to remove ground-in dirt and sand particles that can damage floors. Many consumer cleaning products leave a film that attracts more dirt.

Respond to spots immediately

Spot clean smudges and spills on upholstery as soon as they occur, using a soft cloth with a small amount of mild detergent. Once a spill dries, it can be extremely difficult or impossible to remove.

Are You Guest-Ready? The Cleaning Checklist For Hosting Houseguests

Unexpected guests have called to surprise you with an impromptu visit. They have asked to stay at your home for the weekend and are sticklers for a tidy house. You have only one day to prepare for their arrival. What do you clean and what do you leave? First of all, don't panic. Preparing for surprise guests can be a breeze if you organize your tasks. Here's a "guest-ready" checklist of what you should clean before the guests arrive:

The kitchen

  • Throw away expired food in the refrigerator and wipe down its interior walls.
  • Clean the stove (be sure to get those food splatters on walls, cabinets, and appliances).
  • Clean the sink.

The bathroom(s)

  • Clean the toilet.
  • Clean the sink.
  • Clean the mirrors.
  • Clean the tub, shower and shower curtain.
  • Provide clean towels.
  • Remove personal items from towel racks, hooks, and cabinets.
  • Hide those items you always leave out, like toothpaste and razors

The guest room

  • Clean out the closet (make room for your guests' clothes).
  • Clean under the bed.
  • Clean windows and sills.
  • Clean out a dresser drawer for guests' clothes.
  • Put fresh sheets on the bed.
  • Wash the bedspread.
  • Wash the curtains (or use your vacuum extension hose to get the dust that has settled)

The whole house

  • Vacuum.
  • Dust (furniture, televisions, mirrors, lamps).
  • Mop.
  • Remove dust bunnies and cobwebs.
  • Replace burnt-out light bulbs.
  • Empty garbage cans

Quick clean-up when you have drop in guests

Kids, spouses and pets can foil our best efforts to tidy up before guests arrive, and there are few things less inviting than a cluttered home. To beat the mess, keep a small laundry basket near your kitchen.

Fifteen minutes before your guests are scheduled to arrive, pass the basket to your spouse or a child who is old enough to help, and have him or her go through each room picking up the clutter and putting it in the basket. This includes toys, shoes, clothes, newspapers, magazines etc. Put the basket in a closed room or closet, to sort after your guests leave. This serves both to clean up the mess, and keep one of your main culprits too busy to create more clutter!

Emergency gift supply

If you have ever been caught without a gift, you will know the importance of having an emergency gift supply on hand. During the year, we sometimes forget a birthday or receive unexpected holiday gifts and need a quick present. For times such as these, it is good to have an emergency supply of gifts on hand.

Keep in mind that the gifts should be something that can be given to either a male or female and that they should be in an average price range-not too expensive, not too cheap! A good amount for an emergency gift is anywhere from $15 to $20, though you can get more expensive items if you find them on sale. Also include gifts that are specifically for children, so pick up a few toys, hats or mittens.

Some handy emergency gifts include address books, picture frames, wine, candy, stationery, pen sets, candles, or scarves. Do not buy anything you would not mind owning yourself because you might end up never giving it away. Be sure to have different sizes of decorative bags, tissue and cards in your supply so you have something to wrap your present in when the time arises. Wrapping paper is an option, however, you generally would need a box, tape and scissors-with a decorative bag and tissue it will save you from the inevitable time crunch