This article was published in Southlake Style Magazine on July 12, 2013, and Sponsored by Berkeys Air Conditioning and Plumbing
What’s in your home?
Our homes contain all kinds of chemicals and natural materials that do more than just give off a temporary smell. Modern houses are built air-tight to be more energy efficient using modern building materials, sealants and insulation. However, this increased energy efficiency also increases the chemicals in our homes. Synthetic materials, plastic, glues, sealants, personal products such as colognes, deodorants, aromatic candles and air fresheners and just about anything else that produces a scent can contribute to diminishing air quality in your house. Let’s not forget cleaning products that contain ammonia, bleach and other chemicals that will add to the mix. Aside from these, there are other pollutants that can be present in your home. These usually occur in homes that are older or have pets and include mold and mildew, pet dander, airborne bacteria, dust and mites and combustion pollutants caused by faulty heating and air-conditioning equipment.
This “chemical soup” can make our indoor air far more polluted that our outdoor air — even in a big, smoggy city. Pollutant levels can be as high as five times greater indoors than outdoors, which can pose significant health risks, not just a few sniffles. Some pollutants, like radon, are naturally-occurring gases released from the ground. But as they collect in homes, we breathe in this gas, which can cause long-term health issues such as lung cancer. Other pollutants leach from the building materials we used in construction, such as formaldehyde.
Let’s Clean Up!
The most effective way to improve indoor air is to eliminate sources of pollutants or reduce their emissions. This can be achieved through proper ventilation, changing your A/C filters regularly and maintaining a clean home.
Some pollutants are created by our daily living habits. Spot ventilation is far more effective to exhaust these directly at the source than trying to remove them after they are distributed throughout the household air. The most common areas are kitchens and bathrooms — both produce large amounts of water vapor, which is not a pollutant in itself but a contributor to other problems such as mold and mildew. Moisture in the air can significantly increase formaldehyde emissions from building materials and can lead to mold and mildew growth. An effective range hood also removes atomized grease. Spot ventilation is also important for hobby areas that can produce high concentrations of chemical fumes. Home offices with high-capacity laser printers or photocopiers can also generate a high level of pollutants.
Whole-house ventilation is designed to circulate fresh air to all habitable spaces, particularly bedrooms and main living areas, and to flush out low levels of pollutants. Occupants and pets produce moisture, carbon dioxide and odors. Whole-house ventilation is not meant to take the place of spot ventilation, but it can effectively remove allergens like pollen and dust.
To ensure your ventilation systems are clean, a licensed HVAC technician can perform a complete duct cleaning and also install a UV filter in your HVAC system to eliminate pollutants that a filter otherwise will not catch.
Dust mites, mold and mildew love moisture. Keeping the humidity in your home around 30–50 percent helps keep them and other allergens under control. Here are some tips on how to keep the humidity in your home under control:
- A dehumidifier (and air conditioner during summer months) helps reduce moisture in indoor air and effectively controls allergens.
- To increase the benefit of a dehumidifier, use an exhaust fan when cooking, running the dishwasher or bathing.
- Don’t overwater houseplants — neither you nor your plants want to waste the water.
- Vent the clothes dryer to the outside, not the garage.
- Find and repair leaky plumbing to prevent moisture-loving mold and creepy crawlies in your house.
- Empty drip pans in your air conditioner and dehumidifier to prevent mold, overflows and leaks.
Synthetic fragrances in laundry products and air fresheners emit dozens of different chemicals into the air. You won’t find their names on the product labels, and the spring fresh scent doesn’t mean your laundry is any cleaner. A plug-in air freshener was found to emit 20 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including seven regulated as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal laws. But these chemicals were not included on the label. Only the word “fragrance” is required to be listed because the actual composition of the fragrance is considered a “trade secret.”
Most fragrances are derived from petroleum products. Safety tests usually focus on whether a fragrance causes skin irritation, not problems they might cause when inhaled. Improve air quality by looking for fragrance-free or naturally-scented laundry products, using mild cleaners that don’t include artificial fragrances and refraining from using aerosol sprays found in deodorants, hair sprays, carpet cleaners, furniture polish and air fresheners.
Let in the great outdoors! Open windows so toxic chemicals don’t build up in your home. Or if outdoor allergens are a problem, use your air conditioner and change the filters regularly. Use sliced lemons and baking soda to clean the kitchen and leave a fresh scent. Also, bring in green and leafy plants, which are living air purifiers. The foliage and roots absorb chemical pollutants, and they are inexpensive decorations. If you have kids or pets, make sure the plants aren’t poisonous if ingested and don’t produce pollen that might trigger allergies.
For additional tips, ask your certified air-conditioning technician, or see the Department of Energy, Energy.Gov, or visit or call Berkeys to get an expert opinion on how to keep your air quality at its best.
Berkeys is an award-winning home-service company, providing quality plumbing, air conditioning and heating services to homeowners in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for more than 35 years.
All of our technicians, are background-checked, drug-tested, have passed rigorous state examinations and are licensed by the State of Texas. They understand the complexity of state codes all the way down to local requirements.
Berkeys maintains an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and has led the field in area newspapers’ readers’ favorite polls.
For more information about Berkeys, visit www.berkeys.com or call 877-BERKEYS.