Air-sealing & Allergies
Our office is filled with deep, sexy voices of late… emanating from the most miserable creatures, red itchy puffy eyes, hacking coughs, incessant sneezing and wheezing. Ah, allergy season is peaking. Some feel better outdoors, others escape to the filtered indoors, and others remain limited to physician-mandated medication if you want to get through it. If you’re still miserable when stuck inside, you might want to consider addressing some aspects of poor home performance. You should, after all, be comfortable and healthy in your own home. The fixes aren’t difficult, and air-sealing is the least expensive of all home performance upgrades, but it does have to be done with care. This is not a DIY project.
Regarding allergies, air sealing and controlling air leakages: It really works. The basic idea is that with a well-sealed house, any fresh air comes in from the outside through a duct, runs though the filter and is distributed throughout the house by the heating ducts. Pollen and particulates are removed by the filter. In an unsealed house, polluted, moisture-laden and pollen-filled air is sucked in from the outside through many paths unseen. It’s easy to feel drafts and detect the obvious leaks, but that outside air is also being pulled in all along the walls and ceiling, attic, and underfloor picking up dirt, bacteria, and particulate matter along the way. Duct leakage can increase heating and cooling costs over 30% and contribute to comfort, health and safety problems as well, so when air-sealing the envelope, tackle the ducts too.
Your house still must breathe. If you air-seal very tightly and also use fuel-fired appliances while not providing adequate mechanical ventilation, then your risk of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning increases. You really must use a professional for this job. A blower door diagnostic test is conducted to find all those invisible leaks. Check out Energy Upgrade CA and Efficiency First for certified contractors who will ensure proper air-sealing and proper ventilation. A nice bonus, the U.S. Dept. of Energy reports that a typical homeowner can save 20% on heating and cooling costs just by sealing ducts and the home’s envelope.
Other things you can do on your own to reduce indoor irritant exposure and be more comfortable:
- Vacuum carpets (if you must have them at all) & upholstered furniture frequently using a HEPA filter.
- Dust mop hard floors rather than using the vacuum.
- Shoes track in a surprising amount of allergens. Try a no-shoe policy, and keep a shoe rack near the most frequently used entrance to encourage compliance.
- Store noxious cleaning supplies and chemicals in the garage, not under the sink.
- Use an anti-allergen solution to breakdown and encapsulate protein allergens on interior surfaces and boron-based dust mite solutions. Laundry additives help reduce exposure too.
- Get mold and moisture under control. Keep the humidity low with a dehumidifier. Humidity is necessary for dust mites to thrive. Lower it to 40% or less and they will die. Mold will die or go dormant at about 50%. You can pick up a humidity monitor for less than $15 to monitor levels easily.
- Don’t desiccate yourself though. Use a self-regulating humidifier in very dry times to stay comfortable. By the way, if you notice lots of static shocks during those dry periods before you’ve taken any measures to air-seal, that’s a good indicator that your house is leaky. That means is it is also sucking in all kinds of particulate with the outside air. -No, don’t think about fresh air on breezy day; think about the noxious buggers breeding in the dark recesses of your crawlspace being sucked in with it, hanging in the air and eventually settling all over everything inside.
- Air purifiers are small investment. This is definitely a “you get what you pay for” item. If you’re not spending hundreds, then it probably isn’t of a high enough quality to be very effective. Be sure to do your research before buying. Blueair and Austin Air are highly rated.
- Encase your pillows and mattress; otherwise, you’re literally sleeping with your face buried in dust mites all night. The covers help more than you can imagine if you’ve never tried them before. Make sure the pore size is 10 microns or smaller.
- Wash your bedding frequently; laundry additives specially formulated to deactivate allergens can be helpful.
- Keep Sylvester out of the bedroom, unless he’s your beau. Then, it’s entirely up to you when to crate him. Frequent baths are quite effective, whichever species.
- Keep your bedroom simple: no bookcases and piles of dusty papers, no carpet, no fabric window coverings unless easily washable. Put your dust catchers and trinkets in another special space.
- Too austere for a bedroom? Save the bedroom for sleeping and intimacy. You and Sylvester will both be happier. What one really needs is a room of one’s own, thank you Virginia Woolf. Let go of any lingering legacy from the teenage past that leads you to clutter your bedroom unnecessarily. That sanctuary space would do well to be in another area of your home, whether it’s a secret garden, lush conservatory, studio or dedicated mancave. Imagine! (We can help you create that.)
With air and duct sealing, and allergen-reducing lifestyle changes you can easily implement, you will be well on your way to a much healthier and comfortable indoor environment. Keep the deep, sexy voice though, it’s kind of nice.