Lately there’s been a huge push by many individuals and companies to really improve the quality of the indoor air we breathe. Anything from purifiers to monitors that will help us identify the contaminants seem to be everywhere. While it may feel gimmicky to some, it really is a huge part of our health and wellness. The air we breathe travels directly to our lungs and bloodstream, allowing oxygen and other unwanted particles into our bodies.
We know now that our air at home can be more polluted than the outdoor air, and for this reason, families everywhere are trying to improve their habits and reverse this problem. The great thing is there’s so much information out about ways we can avoid many of problems that have been arising when it comes to air quality.
The idea of adding less chemicals and toxins into our air is wildly popular, and many households are switching their cleaning habits and products. This is a huge step in the right direction, but there are other ways that can help improve the indoor air quality at home. These items are all things you can take care of outside your home before winter rolls in.
Clean Out Dryer Vents
Whether you choose to do it yourself or have a company do it for you, dryer vent cleaning is a quick and easy way to not only reduce your home’s risk of fire, but also improve your indoor air quality. Dryer vents are a place for lint and debris to build up, which can cause a dangerous fire hazard. If your dryer is a gas appliance, the dryer vent also takes combustion gas (CO2 or carbon monoxide) out of your home as well. If this vent is blocked by anything, it will greatly reduce the airflow of these dangerous gasses exiting your home.
First, check your dryer vent from the outside. Make sure there is not lint built up in the dryer vent itself. If there is, you can easily clean this out with a tool or even a gloved hand. Second, if you’re comfortable cleaning the vent from the inside, do this as well. This is where most people like to hire a professional to come and clean the vent on the inside as well.
Either way you choose to do it, removing lint from the exhaust will prevent combustion gas from staying in your home, reduce moisture levels, improve your appliances life expectancy and efficiency and reduce your fire risk.
Check HVAC Venting
Venting for appliances such as furnaces and water heaters are often forgotten about once the appliance itself is installed. However, it’s important to remember these appliances use natural gas, which produces carbon monoxide when being used. This is the precise reason that we have venting bring the carbon monoxide outdoors safely.
Carbon Monoxide is not able to be detected by the human nose or eyes. This gas can cause permanent damage to areas of your body that require high amounts of oxygen. This includes the heart, brain and neurological systems. As you breathe carbon monoxide, your body begins to replace the oxygen in your blood with the carbon monoxide.
In addition to having your actual appliances checked, you will also want to visually inspect your exhaust vents to ensure they are clear. You’ll also want to double check that the exhaust pipe is not near a window or air conditioning unit, which can then bring the gas back into the home.
If you can place a screen that allows air to penetrate, but will prevent animals from storing food inside is a great addition to your exhaust vents.
Clean Out Those Gutters (or add them!)
Gutters are truly your home’s best friend. They not only route water away from your foundation, but also benefit your indoor air quality. This is due to the fact that moisture sitting around your foundation from rain or snow also means your foundation is raising the humidity levels inside your home as well. This is exactly why some basements feel damp and musty. By routing moisture away from the foundation, you can keep the exterior of your home very dry.
Many foundations are made of concrete, either poured or concrete blocks. Concrete can act as a sponge if water comes in contact with it and pull the water through to the other side. This also explains why foundation walls inside can have a lot of moisture on them in some climates.
If your home do has gutters, a few things you can check on regular basis are:
Add Insulation to Foundation Walls
Keeping your foundation (especially if it’s completely below grade) dry can be tricky depending on where you live. Foundations are typically not well insulated in older homes and can allow moisture to permeate the walls, raising the humidity levels in the basement. Foundation walls are also spots where hairline cracks may form, allowing Radon gas to seep in if the levels are high where the home is built.
These are all contributing factors to the indoor air quality and can contribute to poor indoor air quality.
One way that you can both insulate the walls, prevent moisture from either rain or condensation is by adding foam insulation around the perimeter of the building. THis is often a job for a professional as there are quite a few technical details that need to be paid attention to during installation.
Once the insulation is installed, it will improve the energy efficiency of your home as well as reduce moisture levels inside. A win-win in my book.
Grading around your home is the slope of the soil around the foundation. It’s very important that your home has positive grading, which will allow the water that is near your home flow away from your foundation. If a home has negative grading, where the soil drains towards the house, you’ll no doubt begin to see issues with the foundation in terms of cracking and moisture.
Again, the lower the humidity levels are inside, the better the air quality is as well. You want to keep the humidity levels close to 35% - 40% for optimal indoor air quality. When water is routed away from the home, the foundation isn’t burdened with large amounts of moisture and water that eventually raise the humidity levels inside.
If you live in an area where there is a deep freeze or very cold winter, the water along the foundation ends up freezing and thawing, pushing the foundation wall and puting strain on it. Eventually, you may see cracking in the foundation wall, which allows any Radon gas in the soil to quickly and easily enter your home without a way to escape.
You can easily build up soil around your foundation and level off high areas so the water flows freely downhill, away from your home.
Take Care of Exterior Siding
Any holes, cracks or areas where siding or flashing are missing can be a spot where moisture and water can freely flow in. It’s also a way that homes become less energy efficient, causing appliances to work harder. Holes also allow bugs, insects and rodents to make their way underneath your siding and possibly into your home. This obviously could bring in bacteria and unwanted health concerns to your home.
Small holes and cracks can be repaired with an exterior silicone or epoxy to keep water away from the underlayment. If your home has a brick exterior, you’ll want to fill it in with mortar to prevent the bricks from becoming too strained. This can compromise the integrity of the bricks, causing more than just moisture issues.
By keeping your home air tight and sealed properly, you can prevent a plethora of problems that arise with poor indoor air quality. It should be noted, however, that if you’re home is very sealed and energy efficient, with no way for air to escape, you can also run into problems with poor indoor air quality. To combat this, you’ll want to make sure fresh air is getting into your home on a regular basis. You can do this through opening windows and running your HVAC fan or through installing an air to air exchange system.
Take Care of Window Wells
It’s also a good idea to keep vegetation away from the exterior of your home. If you have garden beds directly touching the exterior, you’ll want to make sure there’s a barrier of some kind between them. The moisture from vegetation like plants and trees and shrubs can really add to the moisture inside your home as well. Plants hold on to and release most of the moisture they absorb, which in turn affects the foundation of your home.
If your basement is below grade and you have window wells, you’ll also want to make sure those are clear from leaves and other yard debris. The moisture from these items can not only damage the window and window frame, but it can cause moisture on the inside of the house as well.
If you live in an area where there’s snow in the winter, you may want to consider getting a cover for the windows to prevent snow from sitting in the window well and melting in the spring.
Make Sure Your Garage is Airtight
The garage is home to many toxins and toxic gasses that can affect our indoor air quality and our health. Even car fumes can leak into our home through cracks in our garage and living spaces. The garage should be completely airtight. It should also have a proper firewall to lengthen the time it would take for a fire to spread.
If the firewall is not properly sealed between boards, there can be fumes from the car exhaust, chemicals and paints that travel in to the home. This is especially true if there is a bedroom above the garage.
You can visually inspect your garage to ensure there are no breaks in the firewall. This would be any holes that are not sealed around them, areas that have been damaged and areas that have not been properly taped with joint compound.
These are easy fixes and can usually be repaired by either the homeowner or a handyman.
Vacuum Window Screens
With the idea of letting fresh air into the home, you also want to make sure your air is traveling through a clean window screen. Hopefully you’re in a habit of opening the windows frequently and letting fresh air inside.
If anyone in your home suffers from allergies, you know that those spring and fall times can be the worst. These are also great times to vacuum off your window screens and clear away any debris, dust and dander that has accumulated. Make sure your vacuum is equipped with a HEPA filter. This will help keep allergens and other irritants out of your home.
Once these problematic particles enter your home, you’ll have to battle them in your HVAC ducts and systems, carpets and furniture. By keeping your screens cleaned, you can also help prevent these additional issues. This will in turn keep your home’s indoor air quality top notch.
Shake Out Your Welcome Mat (Or get one!)
A welcome mat is more than just a cute article to make people feel invited into your home. A welcome mat is great for removing dirt and bacteria from our shoes before they enter the interior.
If you think about the amount of places your shoes have traveled, you’ll also think about disgusting and germ-ridden floors and places. Wiping them off won’t take everything off your shoe, but it sure does help. Inside the door have a designated spot for shoes where guests can leave them before walking around the inside of your home. And then make sure to shake out your mat every now and then to get rid of dirt and grime.
Once inside your home, the bacteria, allergens and even pesticides can travel throughout your home from room to room. They can become airborne and travel through your HVAC system and land on furniture or pets. If you have small children who crawl around, you understand how tummy-turning this thought is. Babies and children have hand to mouth habits that mean just about everything ends up ingested.