How to Prevent Having a “Sick Home” This Winter
With winter in full swing, we tend to focus on conserving heat in our homes and tightly latch storm windows, secure the doors from drafts, and check the attic insulation. But we should be thinking about keeping our homes healthy as well. Unfortunately, many homes, especially newer ones, are built so airtight that they cannot breathe – literally! So, a warm and cozy house becomes a “sick home”.
Top Causes of Sick Home Syndrome
Inadequate ventilation is a top cause of sick home syndrome. The newer “air-tight” homes are sealed so well that hardly any fresh air enters. Moisture builds up but can’t escape and that makes a perfect breeding ground for mold. Without fresh air circulating through your rooms, indoor pollutants including chemicals from paint or rugs, mold, radon, and other airborne particles, have nowhere to escape.
This can cause an array of health problems, from breathing issues to allergies to headaches. Besides airing your home from time to time, you can take other preventative measures to reduce indoor pollutants:
Mold grows on water-damaged materials and can cause allergies. To prevent it:
- Clean humidifier, HVAC and air conditioning drain pans
- Run your bathroom vent fan when showering and for 30 minutes following
- Repair cracks in basement walls and floor
- Keep your (outdoor) gutters clean, so ice does not build up.
Radon is an odorless, invisible gas that can over time increase the risk of lung cancer. It seeps into houses from the earth below. Get your house tested this fall before winter sets in. Testing for radon is recommended once every 5 years, as your foundation can settle and crack, possibly releasing a new source of radon into your home.
Lead paint was used in homes built before 1978, after which it was banned. But many people merely covered the old paint with new. So, when sanding during renovation work or opening or closing windows, the dust may contain lead. Lead dust and paint chips can cause lead poisoning, which is especially dangerous for children. Lead poisoning has been linked to a host of issues, including autism-like symptoms and ADHD. If you have an older house, get it tested for lead before you close up your house this winter.
VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are toxic vapors that are off-gassed from man-made materials and everyday household items. When homes are closed and air-tight during the winter, VOCs tend to build up in the air, causing poor indoor air quality. This can cause headaches, dizziness, coughing, and other issues. Try to limit use of and exposure to cleaning and disinfecting chemicals, candles, new furniture, carpeting or flooring, non-VOC paint, air fresheners, and other items that contain VOCs.
Your health and safety are paramount. If suspect you may have a “sick home”, have an environmental inspector come in to test your indoor air quality. It can make all the difference between a sick home and a healthy family!