Whether you’re reading this from the comfort of your “forever home” or while perusing listings on the hunt for your new or next home, chances are you’re inside. The same place where you cook meals, read books with your kids, watch TV, and sleep for -- ideally -- many hours a night.
Are you thinking about the air you’re breathing? When your real estate agent asks you what you’re looking for in a home, do you mention “good indoor air quality”? Maybe we assume that’s a given because we all want and expect to live in a healthy home.
But the truth is studies have shown that in the U.S. indoor air quality can be worse than outside pollution. If you or your children already struggle with asthma or allergies, you could be suffering just by sitting in your home.
Fortunately, it doesn’t require an act of Congress or even a City ordinance to get the air inside your home to a place that is safe and healthy for your family.
The Environmental Protection Agency has a goodprimer on indoor air quality. In hot and humid climates like Virginia’s, controlling moisture and preventing mold growth that can trigger asthma and allergies is critical. Our partners at LEAP recently shared aguide to preventing mold by controlling moisture in your home.
We’ve outlined here five features of a “healthy home” and steps to get there. Bonus: most of these also make your home more energy efficient so you’ve save money and breathe easier:
1. Air Sealing. We often talk about air sealing as one of the most cost-effective ways to save energy and money, but it’s also an important way to control what kind of air -- and moisture -- moves through your home. The Department of Energy has a goodlist of tips for sealing air leaks.
2. Adequate Ventilation. You’ve decided to take a run at air sealing in your home. Good stuff. Now make sure you do it right. The distribution system needs to be pulling fresh air from a clean space, you need to be getting enough of the clean air in, and the ducts need to be sealed.
3. Encapsulated Crawl Space. Most older homes have vented crawl space, and we live in a hot and humid climate. That means the outside air coming in often has more moisture than the air you’re venting out. That makes it ripe for mold and mildew -- not to mention structural damage. Encapsulation involves covering the area with a vapor barrier, sealing the vents, insulating the walls, and conditioning the air with a dehumidifier or small exhaust fan.
4. High Quality Air Filters. We work our HVAC units -- and thus our air filters -- pretty hard here in Virginia. We know we should change them more often than we do, but changing from an old poor-quality air filter to a new poor-quality air filter isn’t doing justice to the air we breathe in our homes. Be sure to check the MERV or Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, of your filters. Some of the most common filters used in homes only have a MERV rating of 1-4 which don’t stop particles smaller than 10 microns (read: not very effective). MERV 5-8 gets you a step closer, but you really want something with a MERV rating 10 or higher to control the dust in your home.
5. Radon Testing. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. It’s also the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s especially problematic in homes where we spend so much of our time, and Virginia is considered a high radon area. You can’t see or smell it, but it’s cheap and easy to test for it -- and there are ways to fix a radon issue. The EPA has a bevy of radon resources.
In the short term, taking steps like these will make you and your family safer and will help you save energy and money on utility bills. Those health and financial benefits continue in the long term, and if you decide to sell you’ll have a home that you can confidently market as a “healthy home.”