When we think about air pollution, most of us think about smoke stacks or trucks spewing exhaust. Although these sources are certainly a threat to human health, indoor levels of air pollution are typically two to five times greater than outdoor levels, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, many of our daily activities and possessions can degrade the air quality in our home: Cooking produces particles, while paint, carpets, furniture and cleaning products can off-gas toxins.
With people spending 90 percent of their time inside, indoor air quality ranks as one of the top five environmental risks to human health. As most new homes have tighter building envelopes with less air infiltration, indoor air quality deteriorates without proper ventilation. This is especially true during winter months when less outdoor air typically enters the home through windows and doors, and concentrations of indoor contaminants may rise.
"As homes get tighter, there is certainly a higher risk to indoor air quality, but we do have the tools for reducing exposure to indoor air contaminants, as well as designing proper ventilation systems, including tight ducts and filtration, that can mitigate that risk and improve indoor air quality," says Iain Walker, a scientist for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
One of the primary strategies for ensuring fresh air indoors is through proper ventilation. Let's explore in more depth the two most common forms of ventilation.
One of the main strategies for boosting indoor air quality is to reduce pollution at the source. Exhaust-only systems use exhaust fans to remove moisture, contaminants, odors and stale air, and are commonly found in bathrooms and kitchens. Although exhaust fans cannot effectively mitigate the impact of water leaks on your indoor air quality (from mold and mildew), they can remove excess moisture resulting from activities such as showering and particles from cooking. It’s important that these systems vent to the outside: Exhaust-only ventilation systems rely on air leaks in the building envelope to bring makeup air to replace the air vented from the home.
This is often a lower-cost ventilation option that can be effective in removing contamination at the source, but it has significant drawbacks. Conditioned air is vented out of the home, and unconditioned makeup air leaks into the home, which is not energy efficient and makes your heating or air conditioning system work harder to compensate. In more airtight homes, a negative pressure is created as air is vented out of the house. Makeup air is looking for a path into the home, which can cause air to enter through the flue of a woodstove, furnace, fireplace or gas hot water heater, resulting in unwanted emissions back drafting into your home.
Balanced Ventilation Systems
These systems encompass a variety of systems, including single-point or multiple-point supply; single- or multiple-point exhaust; heat recovery ventilation (HRV) systems; energy recovery ventilation (ERV) systems; and ventilation with a central air handler and partial HRV or ERV systems. Balanced ventilation systems result in more thorough and planned ventilation, especially when you consider your house as a whole, but do typically have a higher upfront cost.
HRV and ERV systems recycle the heat from the outgoing air to the incoming air, ultimately saving money. Zehnder HRV systems are up to 95 percent efficient in transferring heat before the air exits the home. A constant stream of fresh air is often supplied to living spaces, while an equal amount of air exits the home, typically from the bathrooms and kitchen. Such systems boost air quality by removing contaminated air and replacing it with fresh, filtered air.
Most balanced ventilation systems filter intake air, however these filters need to be cleaned or replaced regularly to be effective. Using a filter with a higher MERV rating ensures that finer particles such as dust and pollen are filtered out, boosting indoor air quality.
"If you are building a really great home and want high indoor air quality, a good filter [on the ventilation system] is really important," Walker says. "Instead of using a cheap filter, which doesn't do much for particles and only protects the [ventilation] equipment, use one with a filter with a MERV 13 rating, which removes a lot of what we are concerned about for health."
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental and health journalist with an MBA in sustainable management. She lives in a net-zero house in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.
Let’s admit it: We’ve all tried taking problems like a heavy pest infestation into our own hands at some point, and have failed miserably. That being said, it is very important to understand that not every pest problem can be dealt with without the help of an expert. However, there is nothing wrong with taking matters into your own hands when you have a sound plan and knowledge of what you’re doing.
Photo by Fotolia
There are probably many DIY methods that are more effective and less-toxic when compared to ones which encourage the use of toxic pesticides. It’s totally understandable that the first sight of a creepy-crawly gives you a disgusted feeling and you want to diminish their presence from your property as soon as possible. There are a few mistakes people often make when they go about treating a pest problem, themselves. If it’s just the pests you want to kill without causing any other problems, then avoid the three most common and easily avoidable mistakes to ensure that things actually go according to plan.
1. SPRAYING EVERYTHING: The first thing that comes to our mind whenever we see a four legged creature crawling around our home is…spray it to death. This isn’t always the smartest thing to do, especially when you have kids and pets. Many over-the-counter insect sprays might instantly kill bugs, but they also leave some extremely toxic chemicals behind. These chemicals are not very safe to be around and can also make the problem worse.
For example, the ants you’ve just killed welcome hunting ants from every nook and cranny. You can’t identify where an ant colony is, therefore the ants you kill might only be a small proportion of a massive population living in your home. If you really are going to exterminate ants on your own then the best way to do so is using baits. The poisoned baits can easily be transported from one ant to the entire population, killing the whole colony.
2. BURNING INFESTED MATERIALS: Bedbugs may seem tiny and harmless, but when it comes to debugging your home the problem is not so simple. We’ve all probably stories of people burning their homes or precious belongings while trying to kill the bugs through heat. There’s a lot at stake when it comes to such treatments. The best way to getting rid of bed bugs is to handle the problem when their numbers are fewer and can actually be exterminated. Once you discover a potential bed bug infestation, you should consult a pest control professional immediately. Simply put, you cannot count on DIY techniques when it comes to bed bugs.
3. TRAPPING RODENTS: A commonly used method by many homeowners to catch mice and other rodents is traps and baits, however most place them at all the wrong points. Some people leave their mouse traps out in the open and are disappointed to find the bait and trap untouched. Most rodents move along the edges of walls and will often travel by the same route. The best placement points for traps are along the side of walls with the bait clearly visible in order for the mouse to see what the trap has to offer. Another good rule of thumb to ensure a catch is to place the trap where you see their droppings. Placing your trap or bait in open sight can be dangerous if you have children and pets at home.
There are many ways to control and eliminate common household pests, but it’s very important for you to play safe. If you think the problem is too big for you to handle, let a pest control professional with the proper knowledge help you.
How would you feel after reserving some time to make your household safer and healthier for yourself and your loved ones? Take a few moments: Try a few of these easy ways to clean and be on your way to making tremendous strides regarding cleanliness and family health, then you’ll know!
1. Clean and Replace Filters
Indoor heating and cooling is a luxury, yet dirty filters plague lazy homeowners who expose loved ones to foul air. In addition to regularly cleaning air ducts and vents, change the filters on your air and heating system for optimal health and safety. Regardless of the cleanliness of your home, a dirty filter pumps dirty, foul air into the living space.
2. Rid the Cabinet and Refrigerator
Make it a weekly habit to check the refrigerator for outdated and spoiled foods. Even if milk does not smell sour, discard the carton on or after the expiration date. Moreover, rid the medicine cabinet of dated and old prescriptions. Don’t assume a previously prescribed medicine will effectively treat a new ailment; leave such decisions to your doctors. Also, if you have young children or pets in your home, consider placing controlled substances in a secure cabinet.
3. Survey the Garage
A small home project could spell future disaster for a curious child or pet. Survey the garage for paint thinner, gasoline and other substances that exhaust fumes or present opportunity for accidental ingestion. Blue juice, popular with children and the color of windshield washer fluid, is an inviting and toxic item found in many garages. Furthermore, gadgets, tools and sharp-edged objects need be placed in locked boxes or out of reach for children or pets.
4. Inspect Outdoor Equipment
Wooden chairs, metal jungle gyms and fire pits add entertainment, comfort, and ambiance to a backyard. Yet with time, wood rots, metal rusts and a number of backyard staples suddenly pose a threat. Check the condition of furniture and take notice of rot, infestation or fungus. Moreover, through the seasons and cycles of vegetation, yards grow weeds and flowers that may cause newfound allergic reactions in family members. Inspect outdoor equipment and furniture in addition to the landscape of the yard each season.
5. Clean Green
A number of parents and homemakers have gone ‘green’ in the last decade, swapping traditional cleaners associated with harmful ingredients for others made of natural, organic components. Take things a step further: rather than buy mass-produced cleaners from manufacturers, clean and disinfect the home with common grocery staples. For example, vinegar can be used to clean the outside of the toilet bowl and counter surfaces. Adding a little baking soda and water will give the mixture the added power to address the shower, inside of the oven, and other surfaces in need of a deeper clean.
6. Dust with Alcohol
Alcohol works great on cuts and wounds, and it also pairs well with a dusting cloth to disinfect surfaces and rid your home of germs and bacteria. Easy-to-forget places, such as doorknobs and faucets, transfer germs to family members and pets. A meticulous and alcohol-supplemented rub down ensures surfaces remain clean and germs have nowhere to survive.
7. Put a Sock on the Mop
Mopping, which should be done regularly, is not needed as often as a good sweep. While Swiffer and other leading products are available for a fee, you could transform any common mop into something that achieves a similar effect. Place an old sock over your mop head. Spray the sock with your leading disinfectant for an added cleaning punch.
8. Invest in Quality
A quality vacuum will extract dirt from the floor and address multiple surfaces better than a lesser product—saving time despite the added initial investment. You should research leading manufacturers, good prices and learn about investing in quality home care products. When shopping consider the value of time saved and your family’s health in addition to price tags.
9. Line the Fridge
When it comes to the inner portion of the fridge, health takes precedence over aesthetics. Maintain a clean and polished fridge on the outside with leading products and line the inside drawers and cabinets with clear saran wrap. The wrap serves as the outer surface, so you can easily change it out rather than invest time and energy in scrubbing the refrigerator surfaces.
10. Make the Can Mobile
Make your trash mobile. Use a simple plastic bag hanging off of the stove while cooking or one that’s readily available to bring into the living room or other areas of the home for easy pickup and disposal. Whether using a series of small to large bags or cans of various sizes, keep trash on-the-go for optimal cleanliness, disposal and health.
That’s it. In the time it took to learn new methods of easy and healthy living, you could have been done with your first endeavor. Continue learning about healthy cleaning and invest time and money in quality methods and products.
Helen Turner is a retired home economics teacher who is always looking for fast and easy ways to keep her home clean. An avid writer, she then posts what she finds online. Look for her articles on many websites and blogs. For more information on cleaning your home and choosing the best vacuum visit Best Vacuum Info for product reviews.
Everyone has different reasons for the way they decorate their home. Many people follow the latest trends or shop for the most affordable solutions to fill the space, but what if more people took their health into account when designing the look of their home? Here are four key aspects to consider when decorating your home to promote the health and well-being of you and your family.
Choosing colors that are considered mood boosters can have a significant impact on your mood and by extension your overall health. Cool colors, such as blues and purples, have a calming effect and are an excellent choice for bedrooms where your main focus is on sleep and relaxation. For areas of the home where you don’t want to feel sleepy, consider reds or greens: Green promotes concentration making it an excellent choice for a home office and red gets your heart rate up which might be just what you need in a workout room. Whites are great for kitchens and bathrooms as it provides a sense of purity and cleanliness.
Although following these general guidelines are a great place to start, it’s also a good idea to keep in mind the colors that flatter you most. If you look terrible in purple, then painting your bedroom or bathroom purple is a terrible idea. Choosing colors that don’t complement you, will likely affect how you view yourself as you’re surrounded by a color that just isn’t working for you.
The Chinese have been abiding by the principles of feng shui for centuries. More recently, westerners have started paying attention to this idea of promoting healthy energy within your space by making simple adjustments to your home. Feng shui can be daunting at first, as no one wants to hear that their house is doomed due to things they can’t change. For example, having a front door that aligns with a back door is considered bad because all of the energy that comes in the front goes straight out the back. Luckily there are simple decorating solutions to remedy problems like this.
For instance, in the case of the aligned doors, feng shui experts recommend putting a round table with a fresh plant on it in order to capture and circulate the good energy that comes through the front door. Do your research and make small changes where you can and you will create a feng shui-friendly space in no time.
Sunshine promotes happiness and health by providing vitamin D and contributing to your circadian rhythm, but not all areas of your home benefit from a lot of light, especially artificial light. Before electricity everyone simply went to bed when the sun went down or stayed awake by the dim light of a fire. Today we are overwhelmed with sources of artificial light which can actually be harmful to your health. It is a good idea to remove all electronic devices and harsh lighting from your bedroom and install light dimmers in all rooms of your house. Light dimmers are useful not only for winding down in the evening, but are also great for when you wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. By avoiding full light you will find it much easier to get back to sleep.
Creating a Happy Place
Many of us associate certain places we’ve lived or visited with happy memories of childhood, travel or adventure. If you have a lot of happy memories growing up in a home with a red door then consider painting your door red. Each day when you walk through that door you will get a boost of serotonin as you remember a time in your life that brings you joy. Decorating with photos or artwork that brings up happy memories is another way to accomplish this mood-boosting effect. If one of the happiest times in your life was your honeymoon trip to Europe then don’t be shy about decorating an entire room with photos of you and your spouse from that trip, along with any special souvenirs you brought home.
The most important thing to keep in mind when trying to create your “happy place” is not to stress about it! To get started, pick one or two of the suggestions above, start slow, and hopefully you will notice a difference in your health and happiness in no time!
Most of us try to keep our kitchens as tidy and organized as possible, but sometimes that can be challenge. Living in a small apartment, that doesn’t have the amenities you long for, can not only make it hard to stay organized, but may make you feel limited in your décor options or abilities. Fear not! You can infuse your personality, style and organization into even the smallest, least-functional of kitchen spaces with these five simple and smart storage ideas.
Hit the thrift stores, flea markets or antique malls to find crocks, tins or other containers to hold your essential kitchen items. They’re perfect for storing flatware, basic cooking utensils or knives conveniently and attractively on countertops. Consider choosing heavier options like marble or sturdy stoneware, for frequently used or larger items—spatulas, wooden spoons and tongs. Less trusty containers, such as tins, can also be used to store spices, napkins and other dining essentials.
Many small kitchens are seriously lacking on adequate cabinet space. Luckily, plenty of kitchen supplies can be hung up—everything from pots and pans to utensils. Channel your inner Julia Child to create your own unique pegboard is a quick weekend project, and you can find a great tutorial over at A Beautiful Mess. Add a fresh coat of paint to the pegboard to add color, interest and style to an otherwise lackluster material.
Hanging racks are another, even simpler, option to utilize vertical space in your kitchen. These are easy to find at most home goods store. If you’re a cyclist, or just want to add a bit of whimsy to the space, suspend an old bicycle wheel to hang your cookware from.
Think Inside the Box
Cabinets aren’t just for shelving. The inside of your cabinet doors can quickly be turned into storage for any number of things. Mount hooks or magnetic strips to the inside of your doors to hold measuring spoons and cups, knives and other small gadgets. Keep coupons, recipe cards or your grocery list handy by mounting a small memo board. If you’ve been looking for an excuse to use chalkboard paint in your kitchen, the backside of cabinet doors might be the perfect place to try it out—add notes, weekly menus or measuring equivalents.
Stick With It
Magnet boards can be handy in any room. Add magnetic strips to the back of store-bought spice jars to keep them organized and easy to find. Or you can purchase small magnetic tins to store homemade dried herbs. These could also be placed on an empty side of the refrigerator near the stove, along with other odds and ends that might otherwise get forgotten at the bottom of a junk drawer. In the kitchen you can leave magnet boards bare for a clean, minimal look or cover them with a fabric that matches your other décor.
Use Out of Reach Spaces
Almost every apartment I’ve ever lived in, and some homes, had a lot of unused space above the cabinets. It’s not the most convenient place to store items, I’ll admit, but it is great for lesser-used items such as stock pots, blenders and large equipment that won’t fit inside cabinets. You can also use this area to display decorative items, such as collector’s plates or tea pots.
As with any attempt at organization, your number one rule and first step should always be to eliminate the items that aren’t necessary. Once you’ve cleared the clutter and junk from your kitchen cabinets and drawers, you may find that you actually have a lot more space than you thought. If not, try out one of these ideas to start reorganizing.
Ashley Houk is the web editor for Mother Earth Living. When she’s not producing online content, she’s probably reading or writing blog posts of her own. Find her on WordPress.
Made from natural fiber sourced from sustainably grown trees, these biodegradable, durable, machine-washable dish scrubs make an ideal replacement for plastic scrub brushes.
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This renewable bamboo Suds Up dish brush with 100 percent recycled, plant-based bristles helps you use less soap with its suds-loving design, and stores neatly in its ceramic dish.
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If the Glove Fits
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The 2-in-1 Full Circle Mighty Mop is a combination wet mop and dry duster made of sustainable bamboo, recycled plastic and washable, reusable microfiber cloth covers.
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Make your own natural cleaners with The Very Best Homemade Cleaning Recipes.
Just over a year ago, my family moved to a high-performance house in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine. It has triple-pane windows and door, lots of insulation, large south-facing windows and a metal roof. It’s heated largely by appliances and occupants, but has a heating system when needed. Our heating bills are 90 percent lower than a code-built home in the same climate.
It’s rare to have a home that uses so many energy-efficient design elements under the same roof. Many of our friends and family members were curious about our home and bombarded us with questions. Here are some of the top questions we’ve received.
Question 1: Since Maine has a cold climate, how long is your heating season?
When viewing our electric bills, I was struck by how low our energy usage was from April through October. Although we certainly experience below-freezing temperatures during April and October, our home was staying in the upper 60s and low 70s with no supplemental heat. Our heating season began in November and ended in March, trimming a good two months off.
Question 2: I’ve heard of mold and air-quality problems in high-performance homes. Has this been a problem?
I’ve heard some concerning stories about high-efficiency homes without ventilation systems and the mold and air quality issues that ensue. Thankfully, our home has a Zehnder heat recovery ventilation system, which constantly supplies fresh air while removing stale air from the kitchen and bathroom. By incorporating a heat recovery ventilator, intake air is first filtered, removing dust and pollen, then preheated with heat from the exhaust air before it leaves our home. Although we can boost the system with a switch in the bathroom or kitchen, the default mode is sufficient the vast majority of the time and we’ve had no mold issues in our bathroom.
Question 3: What is the lighting like in your home?
Because our south-facing living room windows are 5 feet in height, daylight streams into the home. Naturally, our north-facing bedrooms get less light. Even on cloudy days, we rarely turn on the lights during the day, especially in south-facing rooms. When the angle of the sun is lower during the winter months, sunlight fills the living room and helps keep away the winter doldrums. During the hot summer months, the angle of the sun is higher in the sky and less sunlight enters the home. The only downside to all this south-facing glazing is cleaning all the little fingerprints that appear from my two young children. We also put LED lightbulbs in most of our fixtures to reduce energy use.
Photos by Steve Chiasson
Question 4: If your home is designed to heat itself largely by the sun, doesn’t it overheat in the summer?
It would seem that a house that stays so warm in the winter would overheat in the summer, but this is not the case with our home. Last summer, our house was cooler than the outside temperature on hot days. For additional cooling, we opened our windows at night when the outside temperatures dipped. The heat recovery ventilation system helps maintain these cooler temperatures; when it’s warmer outside in the summer, the ventilation system pre-cools the intake air from the exhaust air.
Question 5: What are the utility bills in your new home?
Our home is all electric, so we don’t use any wood, propane or natural gas, and receive only one energy bill. Before we installed our solar system, our largest electric bill was $120 last January for almost 900 kWh of electricity. Our summer bills were around $50 for nearly 400 kWh because we don’t need air conditioning. Now that we have a solar system that generates all of our energy over the course of the year, we pay only a $9.75 delivery fee each month.
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental and health journalist with an MBA in sustainable management. She lives in a net-zero house in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.