Green Living: Enjoy Fresh Air Indoors this Winter

Sealing up a home tightly for the cold Chicago winters may save on energy bills, but what will it do to a home's indoor air quality?

Don’t trade one problem for another by locking in stale, unhealthy air. Instead, spend this winter in a home that’s both comfortable and healthy.

First, manage the moisture. According to the EPA, a home’s ideal humidity level is between 35 - 50%.  Anything higher than this can breed harmful bacteria growth, mold and mildew, causing health issues for your family.  Bathrooms, laundry rooms, and exercise rooms tend to be the first rooms in the house to get too steamy. So, while a nice, hot shower might make us feel better this time of year, it’s not the healthiest idea for your home.

Here are 4 tips to fight humidity:

  • Use exhaust fans with a minimum pull of 60 cfm (cubic feet/minute) for at least 20 minutes.  Put fans on timers so they won’t run needlessly once you’ve left the house.
  • Install a humidistat. They’re inexpensive and hang on your wall like a thermometer. If high readings are indicated, run exhaust fans longer.
  • Decorate with only non-paper backed wallpapers in these spaces. The paper acts like a wicking agent, pulling in and trapping moisture.
  • Skip the humidifiers in these rooms.

Second, release the pollutants. In addition to keeping out the cold, airtight winterized homes can also trap in harmful toxins. Kitchens and attached garages are the worst culprits. In these spaces, lingering odors are more than unpleasant, they indicate polluted air. You should:

  • Always use the cooktop vents.
  • Vacuum refrigerator vents monthly.
  • Place a carbon monoxide detector in the room closest to the garage to ensure the earliest warning possible.
  • Seal lawn pesticides and fertilizers in airtight containers.
  • Check garage ductwork for leaks and broken seals to prevent toxins and odors from being swept into the whole house heating system.
  • Change furnace filters monthly. Local contractors agree that because of the heavy use during our cold winter, the minimal cost to do this is well worth it.

Finally, take the “green” in “green home” literally and use live plants to help with moisture levels, AND filter the air. Ferns, ivy and spider plants are the most air quality friendly, and easiest to maintain.

For more information, visit the American Lung Association website.

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