Author Archives: Mike

Everything You Need to Know about Radon in the Home

Everything You Need to Know about Radon in the Home

Radon belongs to the family of noble gases, which includes other odourless, colourless chemicals like helium. Unlike the others, though, radon is radioactive, making it a health hazard in high concentrations.

Radon is naturally occurring and traces of it can be found everywhere. When the uranium in soil, rock and water decays, radon is created. Homes constructed over bedrock and soil are exposed to radon as it seeps through cracks in the foundation walls and floors or spaces around the pipes and cables.

Radon does have a short lifetime but, in enclosed areas like basements, it accumulates. Thus, ventilation is extremely important in homes and buildings; modern builders make spaces too air-tight for this chemical to escape.

The Health Risks of Radon

In high concentrations and over long periods, studies have correlated radon with lung cancer. In fact, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, second only to smoking.

Because radon is a common indoor pollutant, it’s important to test for it regularly. Radon will always be present—the bigger question is how much of it. To measure radon’s concentration in your home, you have two options:

  1. Hire a radon measurement professional;
  2. Buy a DIY test kit.

If you choose to do it yourself, the test will take appropriately three months (not including lab analysis delays). Although the cheaper option, it might be faster just to bring in a professional with the proper equipment to immediately notify you of a problem.

Your Kitchen Contributes to Indoor Air Pollution… Here’s How You Can Prevent It

Your Kitchen Contributes to Indoor Air Pollution… Here’s How You Can Prevent It

Many people don’t realize it, but the kitchen is a major source of indoor air pollution. It can come from various sources throughout the kitchen as well as from cooking stoves. Exposure to indoor air pollution from kitchens can contribute to asthma, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Here are some things you can do to prevent and reduce indoor air pollution:

Ventilation

Cooking releases a number of volatile, toxic compounds that can contribute to serious health and respiratory problems. Using ventilation such as exhaust fans on top of a stove as well as fans in the kitchen is an effective means of reducing exposure to harmful compounds. Ventilation together with fans will also work well in reducing humidity, which can lead to the growth of mold and mildew.

The absence of any ventilation will allow pollutants to remain in the air, which are then ingested by people who are around.

  • Turn on the ventilation hood every time you cook. Set the vent fan to the highest setting possible, which will make the sound more tolerable.
  • The vent should release the air outdoors. Otherwise, it will recirculate the air into your kitchen.
  • When buying a new hood, make sure that it covers the front burners. The setting should also enable it to move at least 200 cubic feet of air each minute.
  • If it isn’t possible to have a range hood, cooking by a window and keeping it open should be just as effective.

Get Rid of Odors

Instead of buying sprays to mask the odor, the goal should be to eliminate them completely. Find the source of bad odors and clean it thoroughly. Whether the source is from rotting food or a pet accident, eliminate it by using baking soda. Conventional air fresheners contain harmful chemicals and phthalates that can cause health problems later on.

Cleaning

Dust around the kitchen can result in the growth of pollen, mites, mold, mildew and other harmful bacteria, which are inhaled.  Chronic exposure to these contaminants can lead to respiratory illnesses and allergies. Use an electrostatically charged duster or a damp rag to thoroughly clean your kitchen. Make sure that you clean even hard-to-reach areas, which can harbour the growth of bacteria if it’s left untreated.

What You Need to Know about Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

CO

Known as the silent killer, carbon monoxide (CO) is a common odourless, colourless gas found inside our homes. Furnaces, stoves, cigarettes and vehicles are among the most common sources of CO, a reason why it’s important to regularly service household appliances and properly ventilate the home.

Interestingly, Ontario law mandates that homes need CO detectors because this gas is impossible to detect otherwise. So make sure that your home has a detector and that its batteries are still energized.

The Dangers of CO

According to Statistics Canada, 380 Canadians died from carbon monoxide poisoning between 2000 and 2009. Fatality is the result of high CO concentrations; low to medium concentrations often produce milder symptoms like:

  • Fatigue,
  • Chest pain,
  • Angina,
  • Blurry vision,
  • Headaches,
  • Dizziness,
  • Nausea,
  • Confusion,
  • And short-term memory loss.

CO produces the aforesaid effects once it enters the blood stream. There, it binds with hemoglobin, a protein responsible for carrying oxygen to cells. Once bound, hemoglobin cannot effectively transfer oxygen.

CO Levels in Your Home

Carbon monoxide is the by-product of incomplete fuel burning, which happens in malfunctioning appliances. Because homes today are so airtight—described as “energy efficient”—any CO in the home gets trapped. Over time, the concentration can grow from harmless to lethal. For this reason, installing an air exchanger is a necessary preventive measure, as such a system expels stale, polluted indoor air. Exchangers also reduce heating and cooling costs, helping offset the upfront investment.

To learn more about the dangerous gases found inside your home, read our previous article, “Common Pollutants You Might Find Inside Your Home.”

Why and Where Mould Grows Indoors

Why and Where Mould Grows Indoors

Mould is a naturally occurring fungus found in moist environments. It usually appears spotty and smells musty; however, it can come in various forms—some more dangerous than others. Unfortunately, mould is not always easy to detect without a scent. After all, it commonly sprouts in places you cannot see:

  • Drywall (not the side facing inward);
  • Framing;
  • Carpet underside;
  • Storage (i.e. cardboard boxes);
  • Kitchen and bathroom tiles, cabinets and flooring.

Anywhere in your home exposed to excess moisture is at risk of fungal growth, a reason why proper ventilation and dehumidifiers are essential. Acknowledging as much, consider how the following contributes to moisture in the home:

  • Showering, bathing, cooking and washing;
  • Leaks in the foundation, flooring, walls and roof;
  • Plumbing problems;
  • Interior condensation from poor heat regulation;
  • Weather conditions.

Indoor Mould and Your Health

Mould can cause an array of respiratory problems. The severity of said problems depends on how much mould is present in the home and for how long it’s been there. Your own respiratory health also plays a role—if you already suffer from breathing difficulties, mould will exacerbate the symptoms. Likewise, children and elderly are more susceptible to respiratory damage.

If you detect mould in your home, consult a physician immediately and call a professional to fully remove it.

The Negative Health Effects of Poor Air Quality

Poor-Air-Quality

Living in an environment with poor air quality can produce many long and short-term health complications. However, the symptoms you exhibit largely depend on the type of contaminants you’re around, the amount of them as well as your age and health.

Organic Pollutants

Contaminants like dander and dust mites trigger many allergy-like symptoms:

  • Fatigue,
  • Headaches,
  • Coughing,
  • Sneezing,
  • Congestion,
  • Irritated eyes,
  • Dry skin.

If you suffer from asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), then you might find these symptoms much worse. In fact, over time, they may develop into severer conditions like pneumonia and bronchitis.

Second-hand smoke produces most of the aforesaid symptoms; however, it is also carcinogenic. Likewise, exposure to mold and mildew can bring about acute respiratory problems. Mold, particularly, is dangerous because it can cause ‘sick building syndrome,’ which affects your short-term memory and can transform into different infectious diseases.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

VOCs come from many everyday products and appliances, making them difficult to eradicate. That said, in high concentrations, VOCs can induce:

  • Headaches,
  • Skin and respiratory irritations,
  • Confusion and discoordination,
  • Nausea,
  • Nosebleeds.

Over time, VOCs threaten to damage the heart, liver, kidneys and central nervous system.

Gases

Carbon Monoxide (CO) can be lethal in high doses. That said, most appliances contribute just a bit of CO to the home’s indoor pollution. Even still, you may suffer from headaches, angina and nausea if unfiltered.

For more information on the types of pollutants found in your home and how to get rid of them, read our previous blog, “The Most Common Sources of Indoor Pollution.”

What’s the Difference between a Humidifier and a Dehumidifier?

What’s the Difference between a Humidifier and a Dehumidifier?

Both humidifiers and dehumidifiers control an environment’s moisture level: humidifiers increase it while dehumidifiers decrease it. Typically, you would use a humidifier during the cold, dry winter and a dehumidifier in the warm, muggy summer. More accurately, though, you should humidify when the moisture level falls below 30 percent and dehumidify when it exceeds 50 percent.

Proper humidity levels contribute to good health. A lack of moisture can lead to irritations like dry eyes, itchiness and scratchy throats. Conversely, too much of it can make us uncomfortable and congested. Worse, too much moisture can encourage mold and pollen growth.

Your furniture is also affected by oscillating humidity levels. High and low moisture concentrations cause wood to expand and shrink (respectively), thus warping it season-to-season in unregulated environments. Guitarists know this well when the fretboard starts to buzz. Regular homeowners might notice swelling in doorframes and floorings too.

Types of Humidifiers and Dehumidifiers

There are two types of humidifiers: warm and cold mist models. Warm mist machines boil water and steam the air, while cold mist machines use a fan to evaporate water and cycle it into the air. Consider how you feel about saunas—if you find breathing in them challenging, then favour the cold mist models.

Dehumidifiers come in many more forms:

  • Refrigerative uses a small fan to draw moisture from the air over a cold coil to facilitate condensation;
  • Electronic creates a cool surface with a heat pump to encourage condensation;
  • Dessicant uses absorbent materials to relieve moisture from the air;
  • Ionic removes moisture at a molecular level, best suited for chemical engineering purposes.

Which Rooms Need a Humidifier Most?

Which Rooms Need a Humidifier Most?

In your home, you can determine which rooms need a humidifier based on several environmental and behavioural factors. For instance, the season affects indoor humidity levels as well as the home’s central air exchange and filtration systems (depending on their sophistication). Likewise, you can prioritize which rooms need moisture control based on where you spend most of your time. After all, humidifiers can optimize respiratory and epidermal health as well as air quality.

The Bedroom

Moisture control in the bedroom is essential for a good night sleep. Dry air can lead to congestion and itchiness (dry skin), two things sure to keep you awake until the morning.

Humidity regulates breathing and helps keep the body comfortable. This is especially true for infants, as their systems are much more susceptible to congestion, infection and sickness. In fact, humidifiers in the nursery can even lessen mucus build-up.

A lesser known benefit of placing a humidifier in the bedroom is white noise. Its gentle hum can drown out sounds that may otherwise disrupt you or your baby’s sleep.

Other Considerations

While the living room is likely the second most trafficked area in the home, there are other spaces that may benefit more from a humidifier. For example, rooms with wooden furniture, instruments or billiards tables. Wood can warp if temperature and humidity levels fluctuate too much, making humidifiers a necessary investment.

Similarly, you need to consider which rooms have space for a humidifier. The appliance should never be in a dangerous spot like somewhere someone will trip over it, near electrical outlets (where the mist comes out) or blocked by furniture that can catch in the machine (i.e. couches).

Which Features Make a Thermostat Smart?

What Features Make a Thermostat Smart?

An ordinary thermostat provides a central unit for manual temperature adjustment. Older models use switches and scales to increase or decrease the temperature, while modern ones come with touch screens and dial controls. Those with touch screen input typically offer programmability, which allows you to set temperatures based on the time of day or week.

Programmability falls under the scope of a regular thermostat. Only once the unit allows remote connectivity does it become smart because wireless connectivity enables you to download data about your home’s energy consumption.

Smart Tracking and Reporting

All smart thermostats track energy consumption in some form. Cheaper models simply report energy habits, such as average temperatures and energy costs, and deliver this data to your mobile device over Wi-fi. Via an app, you can track, analyze and respond to trends remotely. Likewise, you can control your thermostat from the app, providing greater control flexibility.

High-end units take reporting a step further and automate temperature control to save more energy and keep your home at a consistent, comfortable temperature.

Learning about Your Energy Habits

Smart thermostats can learn your temperature behaviours over time, eliminating the need to program or adjust them. Those that best perform this function use sensors throughout the home to measure multiple locations and identify hot and cold spots. Even without sensors, though, your thermostat can learn about your home’s energy habits and efficiently automate your heating and cooling systems.

The Most Common Sources of Indoor Pollution

The Most Common Sources of Indoor Pollution

The average home traps an array of harmful pollutants inside. Through air exchanger and purification systems, these pollutants can be expelled; however, both systems are reactive solutions. Homeowners should first consider where their pollutants originate and stop them at the source. To help, we’ve identified the most common sources of indoor pollution.

Second-Hand Smoke

Smoking cigarettes, cigars and other substances indoors emits harmful pollutants that linger long after snuffing them out. Second-hand smoke contains thousands of toxins. For example, a burning cigarette releases fumes with benzene, cyanide, ammonia and carbon monoxide, all of which cause health complications with long-term exposure.

Biological Sources

Households with pets have more dander and dust floating around. For those with respiratory sensitivities, not controlling their levels can have serious consequences. Insects, mold and mildew can also pollute the indoors. Unfortunately, such biological sources need an expert’s attention.

Appliances

Gas and wood stoves, furnaces and other heating equipment produce nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. In high concentrations, both chemicals are lethal, but minor symptoms include headaches, fatigue and dizziness. Regular furnace and appliance health checks can avoid aforesaid symptoms. Likewise, installing gas detectors in the home can monitor pollution levels.

Household Cleaners

Cleaning products, especially those in aerosol form, contain harmful chemicals like Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These organic gases can come from a bevy of other sources—paints, pesticides, adhesives and even carpets. Prolonged exposure to VOCs can increase people’s risk of health complications like asthma.

Furniture

Just as carpets can introduce new chemicals into the home, furniture finished with special varnishes or fire-retardants give off a lot of chemicals when first placed into the home. That’s what gives off that “new furniture” smell.

How a Humidifier Can Save Your Furniture

How a Humidifier Can Save Your Furniture

A study conducted in 2013, published in the academic journal Plos One, found that a 43 percent increase in humidity drastically decreases the number of airborne germs and viruses in a given environment. With low humidity, researchers noted 70 to 77 percent of viruses could be transmitted orally; whereas, in high humidity, the transmission rate fell to 14 percent.

Because of such findings, when we think of indoor humidity, we often relate it to our own respiratory and epidermal (dreaded dry skin) health. However, low humidity affects much more than just living things. It can also wreak havoc on the furniture in our homes.

How Low Humidity Hurts Wood

Overly dry air can cause wood floors and furnishings to warp, peel or split. This includes musical instruments, pool tables, fine art and other wooden fixtures. Wood is hygroscopic, meaning it acts like a sponge in that it loses or gains moisture based on its environmental conditions.

As wood loses moisture, it begins to contract. Consequently, it grows more brittle. Adding a humidifier to the home can regulate moisture in the air, protecting all wooden furnishings from undergoing significant compositional changes. The more consistent the moisture levels, the less chance of warping or cracking.

Humidity and Indoor Greenery

Interestingly, humidity also affects houseplants. In low humidity conditions, plants sweat out moisture at a faster rate. Since the soil becomes dryer and less nutritious too, the plants cannot reabsorb moisture fast enough. To protect the remaining moisture, plants shutdown their pours and, as a result, the leaves eventually wither and sag.