Category Archives for "Featured"

What are VOCs?

What are VOCs? (They can’t be seen, but they’re all around us…)

VOCs are Volatile Organic Compounds.  “Volatile” refers to the low boiling point of the compound that causes it to disperse easily into the air.  These are emitted as colorless, sometimes odorless gasses from things like furniture, paints, cleaning products, copy machines, etc.  When released in your home, these gasses can build up to 2 to 10 times higher than concentrations outdoors.  VOCs can irritate your eyes and nose, cause headaches and nausea, damage organs, and some can even cause cancer.  Blast from the past: anyone remember “dittoed” homework sheets with a fragrant purple ink?  VOCs to the max!

In the past we may have needed olfactory proof that the cleaning product was working, but today “VOC-free” has become the smarter way to buy and live.  Although the paint industry provided some of the most visible and better-smelling changes in product, it’s a bit more complicated when it comes to laundry and cleaning products, because “fragrance-free” does not always equal low VOCs.

Although at the top of this post I noted that VOCs are “sometimes odorless”, which means there are some VOCs you can’t detect by smell, most people associate their negative reactions to products with fragrances.  In this study, people in the US, UK, AU, and SE were polled for sensitivity across a wide range of products and situations (like being around others wearing fragrances, smelling dryer vent emissions, exposure to air fresheners, deodorizers, and cleaning products), which showed approximately 32% of the general population has sensitivity to various fragrances.  The study analyzed results of 5 other studies of 249 common consumer products like air fresheners, laundry products, cleaning supplies, personal care products, essential oils and car air fresheners, to identify the top hazardous VOCs.  Ethanol was most prevalent in fragrance-free compounds, while terpenes like limonene, alpha-pinene and beta-pinene were most prevalent in fragranced products.  There were no terpenes in fragrance-free products, so the study went on to focus on terpenes, which can react with other compounds indoors to produce formaldehyde and ultra-fine particles. The most surprising takeaways from this study, is that:

  • “...fewer than 4% of all VOCs, and fewer than 5% of potentially hazardous VOCs, were disclosed on any product label, safety data sheet, or elsewhere”.
  • “...no significant difference was found in the emissions of the most prevalent potentially hazardous VOCs between green (organic, natural) fragranced products and regular fragranced products”.

What does this mean for us when we go shopping for cleaning products or personal-care products?  Fragrance-free is better, because it indicates a lack of terpenes, a major class of VOCs.  And we need to do the research… because the label won’t tell us about VOCs and we don’t own the scientific equipment (beyond our noses) to detect them.   

Fortunately, there is help out there!   GreenSeal is an organization that is dedicated to advocating, testing and certifying products that are non-toxic, low-VOC, carcinogen-free and phthalate-free.  They have a huge database of products that are certified to meet these standards, such as the “general purpose cleaners” page.   Also, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit which has tested thousands of products and grades them on their website, and has a healthy cleaning guide

There are also many great privately owned websites that review cleaning and personal-care products that have few or no VOCs.  Here are a few of them:

  • www.gimmethegoodstuff.org is run by a team of family-oriented professionals with a passion for research and healthy living.  Here is their guide on safe mattresses and it includes several discount codes!
  • www.thefiltery.com is produced on Native American lands.  Here is their list of the 15 best non-toxic laundry detergents. 
  • www.diynatural.com is a great resource for those who like to make their own products.  Here is a page with links for making everything from baby wipes to carpet deodorizers to candles! 

Now you know that not everything labelled “green” is actually healthy.  Cookware is whole ‘nother topic I’m afraid, but you can check it out in our post “Is My Cookware Safe?”

Humidity and an Indoor Moisture Inventory

Humidity and an Indoor Moisture Inventory

It is our core purpose at HypoAir to help you bring what’s best about outdoor air, indoors.  Replicating outdoor air indoors, though, isn’t always easy.  Sometimes outdoor air can be overwhelmingly humid, supporting all kinds of mold and bacterial growth on surfaces.  There are differing opinions on optimal indoor humidity: some sources say 30-50% while newer research indicates 40-60%.  Whichever advice you adopt, if your home humidity floats in the 40-50% range, you are doing well! 

Here’s what’s good about this particular range:

  • Better health: this encompasses so much:
    • better respiratory health due to proper humidity levels
    • less mold growth affects all areas of the body
    • bacterial and viral transmissions are suppressed
    • healthier skin and hair
  • Lower cooling costs
  • Fresher food

To measure humidity, sensors like these are cheap and easy to place around your home (this particular type have built-in batteries, but you should check the battery requirements of others before purchase). 

Now–what do I do if I’m below 30%?  Typically, low humidity (below 30%) occurs in winter months when we turn on indoor heat, making skin and nasal passages dry and irritated.  Humidifiers help by introducing moisture into the air.  You can place a portable humidifier in the most-used room during the day, and move it into your bedroom at night for more comfortable sleeping.   If you are not sensitive to fragrance, some humidifiers allow you to add a few drops of essential oils for a pleasant scent.  Whole-home humidifiers can also be installed in your HVAC system.  

It’s more common to be over 60% humidity.  Sometimes it is the outside climate coming inside through air leaks, and sometimes it’s a source of water inside the home that can be corrected to bring indoor humidity down.  Here is our Indoor Moisture Inventory which will walk you through the most common ways to reduce indoor humidity. 

Indoor Moisture Inventory

Air leaks:  Insulation and weatherstripping are boring but vital!!  I live in a home that was originally built in 1982.  Since the original build, the outdoor “porch” was closed in with no ducts for air conditioning and heating, a laundry room was added on, and a second story office was added over the porch with –yup–no air conditioning or heating.  Now, the porch-turned-“sunroom” is everyone’s favorite room because it has a long wall of windows showcasing the lake below.  Unfortunately, though, it’s one of the biggest sources of my moisture problems!   Some of the windows were drafty (you can do this candle or smoke test to find air leaks) and during storms, you could literally feel the wind coming around the windows into the wall.  All of the air leaks also cause humidity to come into my home.  What to do?  I had to ruthlessly find the air leaks and seal them. 

Windows: Now, I had recently (3 years ago) renovated the outside siding on the sunroom and made sure to seal it as much as possible with a vapor barrier, window sealing tape and caulk.  But, some of the drafts persisted.  I wanted to find a good indoor caulk that had low VOCs, because I would be doing the caulking during the winter when opening the windows to ventilate was not an option!  I found that a few caulks offer “Greenguard Gold” certification, which warrants that a product “has been tested and scientifically proven to have low chemical emissions”.  

Doors: Checking for drafts around my front and back doors revealed, indeed, they needed work.  Anywhere you can see daylight is number one priority, and even without daylight views, weatherstripping is a must.  

Other air leaks: Outlets and lightswitches on exterior walls are very likely to have air leaks.  You can seal these off with a pack of inexpensive gaskets like this.   Also check attic doors and can lights under attic space. 

Cookstove ventilation:  It’s so important to have a properly-sized, working vent hood for your cooktop and microwave, for several reasons.  Cooking releases a lot of moisture into the air, which increases humidity in your home.  Also, the other gasses released, such as cooking odors and VOCs from burning gas fuel, should be vented outdoors too.  Now, when you are venting from the house, you are actually pulling conditioned air from your home and exhausting it outside, creating a negative pressure (causing unconditioned air to leak into the house).   When it’s super-humid outside, guess what–even more humidity comes in.  With new-build construction and renovation, vent hoods with fresh-air intake can be installed that pull fresh air from the outside and are drawn right back out through the exhaust, mixing the cooking gasses with the fresh air. (Check out this smoke test on a new vent hood!)  No negative pressure inside the house and no increased air leaks around doors and windows.  If you have an existing vent, it’s usually easy to see if vapors are being pulled through the vent, or going right past it onto your cabinets and ceiling.   When I moved into my house, the microwave/hood combo above the stovetop was not being vented outdoors, so I changed that (microwaves typically have 2 vent options: to vent back into the room through the front, or to vent outdoors through the top or back).  Sadly, venting outdoors still did not pull the gasses from the cooktop below because the fan was not powerful enough.  Here is a great article on how to calculate the CFM (cubic feet per minute) needed to properly vent the stove.  For my electric stove with a wall-mount hood, which was 2.5 feet wide, I multiplied that by 100 to get the recommended cfm of 250.  I had to add 25 cfm for every turn of the duct in the exhaust path (plus 50 for mine, for a total of 300), and then compare it to the cfm needed for the size of my kitchen (704 ft3 divided by 4 = 176 cfm minimum ).  Turns out the microwave/hood combo unit I have is only 220 cfm, which confirmed my suspicions (too small for the stovetop!).  Time to upgrade to a dedicated wall vent hood…

Dryer ventilation: Do this test: bring your humidity monitor (yes, you really need one!) into the laundry room before drying a load of laundry, note the humidity, and then note the humidity again towards the end of the cycle or immediately after drying the load.  Did it increase more than 5%?  If so, check the vent hose for excessive lint, kinks or holes in it (sometimes they become disconnected completely!)  Rising humidity in the laundry room eventually equals rising humidity in the house.  If your vent and lint screen are clean and connected, and you still have higher humidity in your laundry room, you can at least mitigate mold growth by plugging in a Mold Guard in the room to run full-time. 

Bathroom ventilation: Do you have a mold problem in your bathroom?  This is an ideal place to find mold–especially in the shower or bathtub, which can stay perpetually wet depending on the humidity and ventilation.  Full bathrooms (with showers or bathtubs) need adequate ventilation.  You can use your humidity monitor again to check humidity levels before and then 30 minutes after showering and using the exhaust fan.  They should be nearly the same: if not, let’s check some common issues: 

  • It turns out that we should use the bathroom fan way longer than most of us do: not only during bathing, but also for 20-30 minutes afterwards!  On a cold day, I really don’t want to use the bathroom fan during a shower.  It sucks out all that wonderful moist heat….but, it really should be switched on if you want to mitigate mold in your home.  You can make a compromise–just don’t let that moist air into the rest of your house.  After bathing and drying off, keep the door closed, turn the fan on and open the bathroom window for 30 minutes.  The fan will have fresh air to draw in and also exhaust all the moist air. 
  • Sizing: the general rule is that bathroom vents should be minimum 50 cfm (cubic feet per minute), and at least 1 cfm per square foot of bathroom space.  An 8x10’ bathroom, for example, should have an 80 cfm exhaust fan.
  • Where to vent:  Bathroom vents must terminate on the outside of the house.  They may pass through ceiling or attic space, but you don’t want all that moist air ending up in the attic!  Do check that each vent goes outside and is actually working (lifting the vent flap with air expelled) (and for more tips on where to vent when installing a new fan, check this page). 

Basements: Ahh, that extra storage and living space seems to come at a high cost sometimes.  If your basement is not adequately moisture-proofed from the surrounding soil, or drained, the humidity can rise into the rest of the house and cause mold issues everywhere.  It’s best to leave a humidity sensor in this space and monitor it frequently.  Above 60% definitely needs dehumidification.  This permanent system reverses the "stack effect" in your house and forces air to exhaust from your basement, which is a great way to keep the humidity down.  The built-in humidistat causes the fan to come on automatically whenever humidity goes over a certain level.  The next option is to place a dehumidifier in the space with a moveable drain (such as into a shower or laundry drain) or ask a plumber for permanent drain options.  Use a HypoAir unit like the Air Angel in the area, and a separate HEPA filter will also help to remove mold spores.  Once you smell mustiness in the air, the mold has already started, so don’t delay on this one!  Check furnishings, walls, carpets and ceilings for signs of mold or mildew and try to determine the source of the moisture, whether it’s a specific “hole in the wall” or maybe something like lack of gutters on an upper story that causes water to pour off the roof and build up behind the wall.  If your foundation has an inadequate moisture barrier, it allows water from the soil to permeate the concrete.  There are companies that specialize in moisture-proofing your foundation or crawlspace, but be sure to get several quotes to assess a reasonable cost. 

Drain Vents:  I wasn’t aware of this problem until several years ago, when a friend who is a professional carpenter started to tell me about his problem with mold around sink drains.   For some reason I always thought that black mold under a sink stopper was normal, but no—it shouldn’t be!  Sink, shower and toilet drains must be properly vented for several reasons.  First of all, it helps the drain operate properly because the incoming water does not have to “push” the air bubble on the other side of the p-trap to drain; it simply drains by gravity and air pressure is equalized through the vent.  This venting is accomplished naturally if building codes and/or good design are followed…but sometimes older and new construction homes have neither!  The second reason that drains need proper venting, is to allow the outside vent to relieve nasty sewer gasses in an unobstructive fashion, instead of allowing these gasses to push on the p-trap and go back into the room, causing smells and mold.  If you have sluggish drain(s) that do not resolve despite cleaning, sewer smells and/or mold buildup in the drain, find a good plumber who knows about proper venting, so that he can evaluate your home’s vents and suggest cost-effective improvements.  

Miscellaneous leaks:  If you don’t have humidity sensors in each space, here is where you can do a walkabout with a single humidity sensor to find more hidden sources of moisture.  Take a reading in your main living space, then leave the sensor in each room outside of it for a few minutes, to acclimate.  Then take a reading in the outside rooms, and do closer inspections if the humidity is appreciably higher in a certain room.  Open cabinets, check under sink drains, pull back curtains, open closet doors, check walls and carpeting behind furniture…so many drains run through the walls of our homes, and are never seen or considered til they leak!   This is where your nose, and the sensor, can tell you to look until you find the source.  Then enlist help to get the problem fixed (check out these tips on replacement and repainting of damaged walls here).  If possible, avoid living in that space until the leak is stopped and any mold is cleaned up.  If it’s necessary to use the room, you can add a portable dehumidifier, HypoAir product like an Air Angel, and a separate HEPA filter to make the air cleaner until the mold source is eliminated.

Why is the Sun in the news so much lately (and what does this mean for me?)

Why is the Sun in the news so much lately (and what does this mean for me?)

Sometimes with natural disasters and “acts of God” I wonder, was this happening before with the same frequency/intensity while I wasn’t paying attention, or are they really becoming worse?  Hurricanes. Winter storms. Earthquakes. and…Corona Mass Ejections (CMEs).   

This “corona” event refers to explosions that  originate in magnetically disturbed regions of the corona, the Sun's upper atmosphere (UCAR Center for Science Education).  In addition, CMEs tend to originate in or near sunspots–those darkened spots on the sun's surface which are have a high magnetic disturbance and much lower temperature than the surrounding gasses. CMEs and solar flares are similar, however CMEs may or may not occur with solar flares.  Here’s the difference between them, as explained by NASA:  “The flare is like the muzzle flash, which can be seen anywhere in the vicinity. The CME is like the cannonball, propelled forward in a single, preferential direction, this mass ejected from the barrel only affecting a targeted area. This is the CME—an immense cloud of magnetized particles hurled into space. Traveling over a million miles per hour, the hot material called plasma takes up to three days to reach Earth.“ 

We are seeing more news headlines about CMEs because we are nearing the peak of a solar cycle, which happens approximately every 11 years.  The peak this time will be the mid-2020’s.  Already CMEs are causing greater areas of northern lights, when the radiation hits gasses in the earth’s upper atmosphere, as well as satellite damage.  We’re warned that it can cause power outages and communications blackouts on earth, and there are many famous stories of solar storms that wreaked havoc on earth, including the one in 1967 that nearly caused a nuclear war when it jammed anti-missile radars. 

CMEs obviously can do a lot of damage to our technologies on earth.  Yet, most of the news headlines say that CMEs pose no threat to humans on the earth’s surface.  Why is that?

Like many other dangers we face everyday (mold, toxic chemicals from the products we use, EMF radiation), this is a case that the majority of people will not feel differently because of a peak in the solar cycle.  Those who have heart-sensitive conditions, however, may notice it. Several studies over the last few decades show that geomagnetic activity (GMA) and geomagnetic storms (GMS) do affect our physiology.  Most interestingly, a meta-study published in 2021  shows the following:

  • According to a Bulgarian study, mean arterial systolic and diastolic pressure (key blood pressure measurements) increased statistically significantly during increased GMA and decreases in CRI (cosmic ray intensity).  The same research concluded that stress and the ability to concentrate and work can be affected by GMA.

  • Cardiovascular disease is affected by space weather.  The most important and statistically significant results for myocardial infractions (heart attacks) and strokes are observed on days of geomagnetic disturbances accompanied by FDs (Forbush Decreases, which occur right after CMEs reach earth and sweep cosmic rays away from the earth). 

  • In Sofia, Bulgaria and Baku, Azerbaijan, the frequency of acute myocardial infarction increased from one day before to one day after the occurrence of geomagnetic storms of different intensities.

  • In Lithuania, the total monthly number of deaths (total, stroke, suicide, and deaths due to non-cardiovascular causes) was significantly correlated with solar and geomagnetic activity and is significantly correlated with cosmic rays.

  • An increased risk of different subtypes of stroke may be related to geomagnetic storms, very low GMA, and stronger solar flares and solar proton events.

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus disease activity may be influenced by geomagnetic disturbances, including the level of geomagnetic activity, sunspot numbers, and high proton flux events.

  • For the studies that included both sexes, women were more sensitive/impacted by GMA than men.

  • There is a point at the peak of the solar cycle when the sun’s magnetic field reverses polarity.  This event was correlated to the sign and the value of the relation of the patients’ number with the types of arrhythmias and the solar, cosmic ray, and geomagnetic parameters. 

These types of trends can only be seen when analyzing large groups of people and correcting for seasonal, demographic, diet differences, and so forth.  However, it’s not “in our heads” that cosmic rays affect us here on the earth’s surface.  They do, unfortunately for the most sensitive, have an effect.

Amazingly, almost all recorded influenza/possible pandemics have occurred in time frames corresponding to sunspot extremes, or +/- 1 year within such extremes. These periods were identified as important risk factors in both possible and confirmed influenza pandemics (2016 study).  The inference is that maximum and minimum sunspot activity (and thus geomagnetic field activity on earth) actually causes viruses to mutate and cause epidemics or pandemics.  This is a very interesting topic on its own!

Figure source: Revealing the relationship between solar activity and COVID-19 and forecasting of possible future viruses using multi-step autoregression (MSAR)

How then do we prevent negative effects of geomagnetic storms on us?  By examining the ways in which these storms can disrupt our lives, we can prepare for them, and subsequently be less stressed emotionally and physically.  Here are some points that lead to how GMS are hypothesized to affect us. 

  • Cryptochromes are …blue-light photoreceptor flavoproteins, first identified in plants in 1993 and since found in bacteria, insects, and animals. It is known that animals navigate primarily via 2 systems: permanent ferromagnetic crystals found in vertebrates’ sinuses, and/or a cryptochrome-mediated radical-pair based paramagnetic detection located in the eye (2012 study).   Similarly, humans have been found to have a weaker magnetosense involving both ferromagnetic crystals and cryptochrome genes, and experiments investigating humans’ magnetosense have been replicated.

  • The 2012 study acknowledges the two functions of cryptochrome (one is to act as a geomagnetic compass, the other is to act as a circadian oscillator), and further proposes that GMS interfere with our circadian rhythm through the cryptochrome genes, which control the hormone melatonin.  

  • Besides regulating our circadian rhythm, melatonin has an even more important function: as an antioxidant protecting cells from oxidative damage (2015 study).

  • According to this 2019 study, “cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death worldwide with several conditions being affected by oxidative stress. Increased reactive oxygen species lead to decreased nitric oxide availability and vasoconstriction, promoting arterial hypertension.”

The takeaway from this reasoning is that the most likely method geomagnetic storms cause adverse health is that they disrupt our melatonin levels, leaving our bodies more stressed not only from disruptive sleep, but also from increased oxidative stress.  Contrary to covering your home or head in aluminum foil, there are practical ways to protect your body from the effects of GMS.    Novel methods have been attempted with positive results, such as supplementing melatonin for at-risk cardiovascular patients (2007 study).  Without drugs, we can practice all the good ways of maintaining healthy melatonin levels and adequate sleep, to “beat the odds” (see our post on Maximizing your sleep).   Also, we can increase our bodies’ resistance to mold and viruses naturally (read our post here).  

The “other” stress factor of GMS: if you are reading this, chances are high that the internet and electricity play a big role in your life.  Large solar storms can knock power grids, cellular communications and internet services out, so even if you haven’t experienced a prolonged power outage in your life, it’s smart to plan for one by having essentials prepared.  Weather.gov has some good tips about preparedness, but also be sure to visit their link at ready.gov to build your emergency kit.  (Maybe you’ll want to add some melatonin and sleep masks in there!)

Obviously, solar storms and the solar cycle are not within our control, but the way we respond to them can be!

Maximizing Your Sleep

Maximizing Your Sleep

For many of us, sleep is the “margin” in our day; everyone and everything that needs more time usually sucks it out of our sleep time.  It’s not supposed to be that way, but until you can put a lock on your sleep time, there are ways to maximize the hours you do get.

There are several critical and some helpful factors in maximizing sleep: air, light and noise.

Air: Of course, you can’t sleep well when you can’t breathe well.  Spending 7+ hours in one room of your house with the intention of “recharging” your body, deserves a hard look at your sleep environment and what you are breathing in.  Here’s the facts, some of which are from the The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA):

  • Keep pets out of the bedroom
  • Wash bedding once a week in water that is at least 130 deg. F
  • Use bedding that is hypoallergenic, such as organic cotton and silk for sheets, and synthetics such as memory foam, latex and polyester fiber for durables like pillows, mattress toppers and mattresses.  See our related posts on The Matrix of Mattresses and Bedding for Better Sleep.
  • Encase the mattress and pillows in hypoallergenic casings to protect from dust mites and allergens infestation. Vacuum the bedroom floor and mattress weekly with a HEPA vacuum cleaner (see our recommendations on Vacuums)
  • Shower and put on clean nightclothes every night if possible, to remove pollen.  If you don’t shower every night, you can do a quick wash with a wet washcloth.   Cover or wash your hair at night.  (Using shampoo every day is not good either, but you can try a quick “rinse” with or without conditioner, to remove most of the pollen.)  
  • Remove wet or damp clothing to another room (but don’t let it pile up anywhere!)
  • Replace your mattress every 10 years, and pillows every 2 years, to reduce allergens in bedding and air
  • Off-gas (air out) new furniture in another room (see our FAQ about Off-gassing)
  • Remove scented candles and potpourri
  • Use a certified air cleaner (HypoAir has not been certified by the AAFA, but our units definitely reduce allergens and VOCs, as proven in numerous studies).
  • If you have a connected bathroom: 
    • Run a bathroom fan at least 15-20 minutes after showering
    • Fix leaks
    • Clean the shower, sink and tub often to prevent mold (see our related post on non-toxic cleaners)

Darkness:  No matter what the sun is doing outside, our bodies need darkness to enter into the “sleep mode” of our circadian rhythm.  Darkness also cues our pineal gland to produce melatonin, an important sleep-inducing chemical.

The sun’s light during the day is a very powerful, intense light (estimated at up to 10,000 lux, which is a measure of light intensity).  This is way more intense than office lighting (around 500 lux), or artificial lighting at home.  However, even just a little light can disrupt our circadian rhythm, so it’s best to sleep with as little light as possible.  Try to leave electronic devices that emit light (phones, tablets, televisions) out of the bedroom so that these don’t delay dim light melatonin onset (DLMO), the time when your body starts to produce melatonin.

There are many products that help us avoid light in the few hours before and during sleep:

  • Use blue light filtering glasses in the hours before sleep: https://www.swanwicksleep.com/
  • Replace white light bulbs with red or amber ones in the lights you may use at night, such as in the bathroom or hall nightlights, because red and amber light does not cause disruption in the sleep cycle.
  • Using a sleep mask that’s comfortable will eliminate residual light because just closing your eyes is not enough, unless your room is pitch dark.  This study showed that light transmitted through the eyelids reduces melatonin production significantly, and also delays the timing of DLMO.  Sleep masks used to be a one-size fits all, flimsy device that ended up on the floor or around your neck; I know because I have used them for a long time!  However, there are some great ones out there now that:
    • Are weighted to provide gentle pressure around the eyes
    • Have contoured eye cups to allow eyes to move during sleep
    • Are large and stay on better than other masks

Noise:  It’s tempting to listen to music at night to “wind down”, but it actually has the opposite effect, and surprisingly, instrumental music (without lyrics) interrupts sleep the most!  "Almost everyone thought music improves their sleep, but we found those who listened to more music slept worse," Scullin said. "What was really surprising was that instrumental music led to worse sleep quality -- instrumental music leads to about twice as many earworms." (Michael Scullin, Ph. D, in his study on how earworms, those songs that replay in your head even when the music stops, affect sleep).  

Being a “light sleeper”, college dormitory rooms were crushing my ability as a late teen to sleep deeply.  That’s when I discovered ear plugs.  The right ear plugs do not block out fire alarms or even loud cell phone rings, but dampen noise just enough to allow your body to get that sleep it so desperately needs.  Many people claim they cannot stand something in their ears while sleeping, but like sleep masks, earplugs have evolved too!  Here are some choices beyond the usual foam inserts:

  • Happy Ears, designed in Sweden, come in different sizes so you can find the right size for you.
  • This mask/ear muff combo is good for those who don’t want anything in their ears during sleep.
  • Taking the combo a step further, this comfy mask offers 3 levels of white noise in the ear section to cancel outside noise.

So, we've got the basics: air, light and noise.  Check out our posts on The Matrix of Mattresses and Bedding for Better Sleep to keep maximizing your sleep.

Plants as Air Purifiers?

Plants as Air Purifiers?

IF you lived in a sealed environment like a spaceship or biodome, then plants could be extremely helpful in reducing harmful VOCs (check out NASA’s BioHome).  Since most of us live in a much more dynamic environment with many air leaks, entrances and exits, a new study calculates you would need a virtual forest (like between 1,000 and 10,000 plants per 10 ft2 of floor space) to reap the benefits of higher indoor air quality due to plants alone.  That said, we still want to advocate for plants. Why?

  • According to the creator of NASA's BioHome, Bill Wolverton, the VOC absorption rate of a plant has direct ties to ventilation of the roots.  He worked with a Japanese company to create the EcoPlanter, a Plant Air Purifier, which supposedly allows one plant to do the work of 60 or more plants in terms of eliminating VOCs.  This concept is being updated radically to add newer technology such as a PCO filter and UV light, in startup company Koru, that combines the power of AI with the plant's natural air filtering qualities.  It will self-care for the plant, monitor air quality, never need filter changes and eliminate 99% of air pollutants. Plus, it looks better than an air purifier!  
  • Some plants are great at removing nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is a common air pollutant from vehicle emissions. In a study conducted by the University of Birmingham in the UK, a Peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii), Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans) and fern arum (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) were all tested in separate chambers, and each was able to remove about half of the NO2 in their chamber, within an hour.  The size of the chamber relative to the size of a normal office or apartment, would require about 5 plants to reduce NO2 pollution by about 20%. Way to go, plants!
  • If you have limited floorspace for pots but still want the maximum number of plants, there are a number of companies who can help you install plant wall systems for a dramatic and multiplied air purifying effect.  
    • Respira.ca has easy installation videos for their free-standing or wall systems, and you can purchase their plants or your own (tips are provided for preparing your own plants).
    • Growupgreenwalls.com has pre-built walls and dividers for purchase
    • Livewall.com and Growup.green create custom walls for your home
  • For many years I was fascinated by a friend’s pet fish and plant combo: The peace lily fed off the nutrients (waste) of the betta fish and the plant returned clean water to the fish: a win-win situation especially when you consider the much-reduced need to clean the fish tank!  However, there are disadvantages to the fish in a simple flowervase/tank: its diet, breathing, and temperature are not regulated well.  The ideal environment for these type fish incorporate an air bubbler, filter and heater, in all called an “aquaponics fish tank”.  AquaSprouts is a company that has a few setups that keep the fish in a much better environment than a vase.   It’s a science that kids will want to learn and participate in, too.   
  • Then, there is the psychological effect of plants : they do good things for the ambiance of our environment and our overall well-being!  This one page cites dozens, if not hundreds of benefits of plants and interaction with plants, shown by studies.  Indoor plants and spending time amongst outdoor plants boosts memory retention, increases attention span, and has a calming effect on our brains, enabling us to focus on the task at hand.  Flowers and ornamental plants reduce stress levels, contributing to moods of  relaxation, security and happiness.  In the hospital, plants in patient recovery rooms accelerate healing, even more so with patients who participate in plant care.  Plants increase our empathy and compassion for others, improving relationships.  Increased energy and learning ability are also results of environments beautified by plants.  With all these benefits, who can say no to adding a few plants in their home or office?
  • If your home is naturally on the more humid side (over 50%), then there are plants that can absorb water from the air through pores in their leaves (stomas), helping you to dehumidify.  Xerophytes and Epiphytes are examples of this (plants you would see growing in warm climates).  Air plants (tillandsia), boston ferns and peace lilies also make fine dehumidifying partners (see photos and more plants here)! 
  • If you live in a dry climate, plants that require more water will naturally “humidify” a room.  Evapotranspiration is the method in which plants move water from their roots through the stems and leaves, into the air through their stomas.  This study indicates that “ 25 spider plants in 4-inch-diameter pots or fewer, larger plants, could increase the humidity of an interior bedroom from 20% RH to a more comfortable 30% RH under bright interior light conditions.”  If you don’t have a lot of bright light in your living area, you can switch to jade plants, which do more of their evapotranspiration during dark periods.  Here is a list of other plants with humidifying benefits.  Who knew?
  • Plants are easy additions to decor: from classic ferns to eclectic cacti and orchids, you can use a plant to add style to any room.  There are also species of plant available for every skill level, from beginners to the serious green thumbs, and thankfully some of the best at eliminating indoor toxins are among the hardiest!     Here are some super-easy, common varieties to invite in (trust me these are really plants, not insects):
    • Spider plants 
    • Snake plants
    • Aloe Vera
    • Boston Fern