Tag Archives for " Air Quality "

Sealing your Attached Garage

Sealing your Attached Garage

For many people an “attached garage” is an asset in a home: the convenience of parking and walking inside under cover is very attractive when there’s extreme weather outside!  However, from an air quality perspective, attached garages are actually a liability, unless the garage has been air-sealed from your house!

In our articles about negative air pressure here and here, we talked about how contaminants can enter your home from the garage.  The garage not only has car exhaust fumes, it can also have paint or chemical fumes from your hobby, VOCs from pesticides and insecticides stored there, and possibly even exhaust gases from your gas water heater, furnace or clothes dryer.  Need we  mention the mold and mildew spores when humidity and cardboard boxes create the perfect environment for mold?  It’s almost like having an unsanitary neighbor in the apartment next to you…now, does an attached garage still seem like an “asset” to your clean, healthy home?

If you are coming around to a healthier way of thinking about your garage, it’s essential to consider installing some boundaries with this unsanitary neighbor!  “Air sealing” is more than just a tight-closing door.  It goes from the ground (foundation), through walls and insulation and even into the attic.  That’s right–if the attic over your garage is not sealed from the attic over your home, you got it–there is shared airspace and the possibility of contaminants crossing over from the air that circulates there due to changing temperatures. 

As with most air-sealing projects, creating this boundary is easiest if it’s done during the building phase.  The easiest way is to build your attached garage as a “separate” building…as in this article.  Jake Bruton of Airow Building in Missouri does it this way: do all the framing for the house, install your air barrier, and only then, frame the garage on the other side of the air barrier.  Finally, any penetrations like electrical and ventilation must be properly sealed. 

Another way to airseal during construction is to hang drywall on the shared wall inside the garage, foam the penetrations like light switches and outlets on that wall, and also run plywood sheathing above it to the roofdeck, using sprayfoam to seal the entire barrier in the attic as in this video.  Sprayfoam really is the only way to effectively seal around ceiling joists, which often run straight over the wall from the home into the garage.     

This is all great...for new construction.  What if you are buying an existing home, or just now want to upgrade your home?  First of all, examine that shared wall from the garage side, from floor to ceiling. 

  • If the drywall is finished, that’s good.  Finished drywall can be an air barrier.  However, you’ll want to remove any trim like baseboards or trim around doors, faceplates like electrical plates, and uncover any penetrations.  Get some spray foam in a can and seal all of these cracks with spray foam.   You’ll want to cover the space from the sill plate to the drywall, the spaces around electrical boxes, and around any pipes sticking through the wall like gas pipes or hot water pipes if you have a hot water heater in the garage.  Make sure to seal around the door frame if there’s dead space there. 

  • If the drywall is not finished (no tape and mud or just insulation), that’s even better!  Consider removing the existing drywall on the garage side (you can install it again later if screws were used), as well as any fiberglass or rolled insulation, and sprayfoaming the entire wall.  Spray foam can be an excellent air barrier if it’s done by a pro.  Before you schedule the job, however, go to the next point and prep the attic space so that they can foam there as well.

  • If the attic space between the garage and home are shared, you’ll need to build a partition wall between them.  Of course this is not a fun job, because attics are typically low, cramped and have extreme temperatures, but it’s critical if you’re going to do a thorough job.  Then, the wall can be sprayfoamed on the attic or house side, or at least foamed around the roof, rafters and joists and taped where plywood sheets come together.  

  • Ventilation (air conditioning and heating) is something that should never be shared between a house and garage, because that is a sure way to pull those contaminants right in and distribute them around your home!  If you do have a shared system, consult with an HVAC company about terminating the vents to the garage and installing a dedicated mini-split.  For small garages, a window air conditioner and portable heater will do the trick!  

  • If flexible ventilation ducts go over the garage with no vents, it’s really hard to get an air seal around flex ducts.  If you can’t/don’t want to switch to metal ductwork, install a collar in the attic wall that separates the garage and house (the one you build as in bullet #3 above), and attach the ends of the flex duct to it, so the wall can still be adequately airsealed.  

  • The door between the house and garage, of course, is an area that needs to seal tightly.  Adjust the door so that no daylight shows around the perimeter (I know, this is easier said than done!) and use weatherstripping around the sides so that it seals when closed.  If necessary, install a “sweep” on the bottom or replace the rubber seal in the threshold so the bottom seals as well. 

Here are some product recommendations for air sealing the garage:  

  • Air-sealing tapes can be expensive, but don’t scrimp: don’t use duct-tape, vapor-barrier tape or anything less than a product that is for air-sealing.  ZIP System is a great brand and be sure to buy more than you think you will need, because there always seems to be another seam to seal!  Use this tape to seal plywood edges together, seal the door frame to the drywall (if you can’t foam it), etc. 

  • Spray foam cans come in lots of formulations: small cracks (less than ¼”), larger gaps and cracks ( ), pest block formula (who knows what kind of chemicals are in there), but just be sure to buy a good number of the small and large gap formulations before you start the job.  Wear gloves, safety goggles and old clothing (long hair safely tucked away) because this stuff is super sticky!  Also, if you use a can quickly, you can reuse the same straw on the next can, and save the extra straw in case one gets plugged or lost.  Unless you buy the “smart dispenser” version, the straws and remainder in the can cannot be reused after about 30-40 minutes, so be sure to have several spray areas ready when you start spraying!  After it hardens, you can use a utility knife or hacksaw blade to cut away excess foam.  Consider these different products:

    • Great Stuff Window and Door gently expands so that frames will not warp under pressure.

    • Great Stuff Gap and Cracks (use in gaps up to 1”)

    • Loctite Tite Foam, pack of 2 for $19

    • Great Stuff Pro (large cans, $14 each–a great tool for a large job because it’s easier to dispense and can be reused for up to 30 days); however it requires a special gun.  Users report that a can goes a LONG way (3-6 cans on a large home) but if you have more air-sealing to do, it’s worth having several more on hand.

    • And more…

Not only will your house smell better and stay cleaner after these airsealing improvements, you’ll probably notice less cold drafts in winter and hot air in summer, since most attached garages are not conditioned.  Finally, complete your sealed garage upgrade with a funny sign reminding everyone to “close the door”...after all, airsealing can only go so far when the door is open!!

Photo by Kevin Wolf on Unsplash

Summer Cooling: What are our options?

Summer Cooling: What are our options?

Many places in the US and around the world have broken temperature records this June.  Whether you’re in Minnesota or south Texas, it can be tough to keep your home cool during summer while maintaining a decent air quality.  We’ll go over some of the most popular ways of cooling your home and maybe some you haven’t thought of.  

If you’re not familiar with the different types of air conditioners and how they work, check out this article.  Note that newer air conditioners are also often “heat pumps” that can reverse the flow of refrigerant to provide heating in the winter.   

Central Air:  About 66% of homes in the US have central air conditioning, but this is not spread out evenly over the country.  As one would expect, central A/C is more prevalent in the south (37%), west (22%), and midwest (21%), versus the northeast (17%), and newer homes are more likely to have it.  (How Much Value Does Central Air Add to Your Home?) The best thing about central air conditioning is its distribution system, which allows multiple rooms to receive cooling and filtration from one unit.  With any air conditioning, it’s very important to do the following things:

  • Keep your home closed (a sealed system) so that warm, moist air is not introduced.  Letting in humid air from the outside will quickly increase humidity inside, because air at a lower temperature cannot hold as much moisture as warmer air, and humidity climbs.  This applies to windows, doors, and any significant leaks (like the door to an unconditioned attic or crawlspace).   

  • Change the filter on your unit regularly!   We can’t emphasize this enough: a dirty filter not only puts extra stress on the machinery like fans and compressors, but it increases cooling costs, and when the filter gets dirty enough, air will start to leak around the filter and get your evaporator coil dirty, providing food for mold.  Using the highest MERV possible for your unit will help keep the system clean and your air clean as well.  You can check out our article here to find out how to get more filtration out of your current AC system. 

  • For extra filtration, you can cut filter material to fit your vents, just don’t forget to clean or change these regularly, too. 

  • Get your unit serviced regularly.  Here are some things that the HVAC tech will do for you during a service visit:  inspect the inside coils, clean the outside coils and straighten fins if necessary, check the refrigerant levels and add refrigerant if necessary, and test the thermostat.  An HVAC system is a big investment (average $7000), so you’ll want to take care of it!  

  • Make sure your insulation is up-to-par: check air ducts to make sure they are not crimped and are fully insulated, and make sure there are no “bare spots” in the home’s conditioned-space envelope (ceiling or roof).  You’ve got to keep that cool air where it belongs!

Mini-Splits have most of the same parts as a central system, but they don’t have ducts to distribute cool air.  Instead, you could have one outdoor unit combined with up to eight indoor units, with the outdoor unit distributing refrigerant, not air.  In this way, you’ll have eight separate fans and filters inside, but these are smaller.  Mini-splits also have filters, so you’ll want to clean or change these on a regular basis.  One disadvantage with mini-splits is that the air filters tend to be similar to window air conditioners, which are cleanable, but they don’t provide high filtration, just large dust capture.  You will also want to get your units serviced regularly by an HVAC technician.  To get additional dust filtration, try adding standalone HEPA filters in the rooms that seem to get the most dust. 

Window Air Conditioners have come a long way in efficiency and looks!  They are one of the quickest installations, too: from buying one in your local home improvement store to having cool air in your space, could take as little as 1 hour.  Window air conditioners are a sort of “plug and play” cooling solution, but they also require regular maintenance of cleaning the filter.  Because the filter is equivalent to a very low MERV, like mini-splits, you’ll want to add a standalone HEPA filter to reduce pollen and dust.  In addition, if your window unit is more than several years old, it would benefit from a deep cleaning (see our article for tips on how to do that).   Some window air conditioners also have a feature that mini-splits and basic central systems don’t: a fresh air vent.  When this vent is open, you can get a small stream of fresh air from the outside, to dilute stale indoor air.  The only problem is that this air is usually not filtered or conditioned:  it’s the same as “cracking the window” without a screen.  To find this feature and operate it correctly, sometimes you’ll need to refer to the owner’s manual.   New window units with “inverter” type motors can be extremely efficient and this “saddle” style unit by Soleus even gives you your window view back, because it hangs below the window on each side.  It also has a dehumidifier setting to lower the humidity in your space. 

Portable Air Conditioners have become popular because like the name suggests, they are the most portable.  They can cool spaces without a window, as long as you have a place nearby to send the heat through the exhaust duct (through a sliding door with an adapter kit, for example).  You will also need a drain to collect condensate, or you will need to empty the reservoir every so often.  Portable air conditioners have the minimal filters similar to window air conditioners and mini-splits, so they are not able to filter smaller particulates.  It’s really important to clean these filters on a regular basis to keep your air conditioner working well!  Another downside to portable air conditioners is that they are less efficient than window air conditioners, and they have bulky hoses that aren’t the most attractive.  

Fans are the most common cooling systems we have, and many are cheap, at less than $50.  Fans cause evaporative cooling, where the circulated air carries heat away from our bodies in the form of water vapor.  Fans work well to cool us down if there is some humidity in the air.  (See our article about the detrimental effect of fans in extreme dry heat.)  You can use a combination of ceiling fans and portable fans to move air from cooler to warmer areas of your home.  Dreo Air Circulators are very powerful, efficient, and quiet because of the fan design, and because they use brushless DC motors that have a large range of speed with low energy consumption.  Since most fans don’t have filters, you can add standalone HEPA filters to cut down on dust, or add cloth filters to your tower fans. Filters for box fans (20x20”) are mainly the replaceable type, not cleanable, but $45 for a 4-pack of MERV-13 filters could help your space stay a lot less dusty.

Opening the windows is an option if you live outside of polluted urban areas, wildfire smoke, or excessive heat and humidity.  In these cases, it’s best to leave the windows closed and curtains drawn to preserve coolness as long as possible in the day.  If inside temperatures start to equalize with outdoors, however, you can use regular window screens in pristine areas, and Window Ventilation Filters in more polluted areas.  Although the filters restrict airflow slightly, they provide a good buffer against dust and pollen.  Here again, standalone HEPA filters will also help reduce dust in your home. 

Evaporative coolers, also known as Swamp Coolers, began to be popular in the 1920’s and 30’s when electricity was available, but residential air conditioning was not affordable/accessible. (Window air conditioners were invented in 1931 and central air conditioning was offered in 1931 but many Americans could not purchase them due to the Depression).   Swamp coolers use a fan to blow air over a wet membrane, which, if not cleaned regularly, begins to grow algae and smell like a swamp!  This older type of membrane is definitely not something we would recommend for air quality, but newer models like those made by Big Ass Fans uses a proprietary resin coating on the media that resists the growth of algae and mold to keep your airflow clean and people healthy.  Following the cleaning and maintenance guidelines are very important, too.  Another downside of this type of cooling is the massive airflow that could kick up a lot of dust.  However, if you have a large outdoor or unconditioned space and adding humidity into the air is not a problem, then an evaporative cooler could help you stay cool.  It would even help to cool a porch, from which you can open up air to your home to take in cooler air.

Heat Pump Water Heaters can actually cool your space.  It sounds counterintuitive–til you consider what this machine is actually doing.  Instead of creating heat by an electric coil or gas furnace, this type of water heater pulls heat from the surrounding air–in effect making the room in which it’s installed, cooler!  If you have the water heater installed in the garage or another unconditioned space, you can still reap the benefits by using ducts to bring warm air from your house to the heat pump, and cool air from the heat pump back to your house.  Heat pump water heaters do cost more than the basic electric or gas varieties, but according to the Department of Energy, they can be two to three times more efficient than a regular electric water heater.  However, when you consider you’re getting free cooling during the summer, you can deduct this cost from your cooling bill.  Another consideration is the size of room where it is installed.  It must be installed in a room at least 12’x12’, or have ducting to access larger areas, so it can pull the heat it needs from the ambient air.   If it’s time to replace your water heater, check with your plumber to see if a heat pump water heater would work for you!

There are many ways to move cool air from the basement into your home, but consider the quality of basement air before you make this move.  If it’s musty or moldy smelling, you’ll definitely want to get rid of that mold before trying to move that air upstairs.  For this reason, we can’t recommend circulating basement air in the rest of your home.

Whichever way you decide to cool your home, make sure that air quality doesn’t suffer.  Our Germ Defenders, Mobile Air Angels and Whole Home Ionizers sanitize air using bipolar ionization, killing microbes and agglomerating dust and pollen so it’s easy to filter or clean.   Extreme heat tends to lead to increased air pollution, so be conscious of air quality when you open the windows, or even when they are closed and outdoor air seeps in (as it always does except in the tightest of homes).   Check out our article to find out how to ride out a heat/air pollution wave safely!

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

What is Salutogenic Design? How can we use it in our homes?

What is Salutogenic Design?  How can we use it in our homes?

Salutogenic design comes from the two Latin words ‘salus’ meaning health and ‘genesis’ meaning origin.  It is the study of the origins of human health.  Aaron Antonovsky was an immigrant to the US in the 1920’s, eventually being drafted into the US Army in World War II and serving in the Pacific.  Much later after obtaining his doctorate in sociology, Aaron studied survivors of concentration camps and wondered, why aren’t more of them in very poor health?  It was his questioning of the means and causes of good health, rather than what causes disease, that set him apart. (The Handbook of Salutogenesis, Chapter 3, Aaron Antonovsky, the Scholar and the Man Behind Salutogenesis

Normally salutogenesis is focused on healthcare settings and providers.  However, we can take the same concepts and apply them to our workspaces and homes. In today’s news, we’re constantly being made aware of environmental and human threats like viruses and toxic spills that threaten our health.  The possible effects,  such as cancer, high blood pressure, and sickness, are always presented to admonish us, avoid this or suffer consequences!  It’s definitely hard to tune out these sources.  However, if we’re able to focus on what makes us feel good, the results could be much greater.  Whether you’re designing a home from the ground up or have some time and budget to make some changes, here are some concepts from salutogenesis to keep your perspective in the right place: your health.

Louisa Grey is a designer living in north London who has embraced salutogenic design.  She prioritizes space, light and air in her projects by identifying the direction of natural light and the optimum layout to encourage airflow.  She admires the design of southern Italy’s trulli (ancient homes made out of limestone with conical roofs) and often incorporates a similar building material–clay–in her modern works, because it is naturally abundant, has acoustic-controlling qualities, is dehumidifying, regulates temperature and can improve air quality.  Clay plaster on walls has a soothing texture and appearance that gives a rustic, hand-crafted look to rooms, which also saves on energy in manufacturing and reduces waste. (Interiors expert Louisa Grey on how to embrace salutogenic design)  

Well-placed windows should allow the right amount of sunlight into your home, such that it doesn’t cause a large cooling load but rather allow a range of filtered or dappled light.  There are a number of companies that also offer faux skylights (thus avoiding any leaks or roof problems!) when natural light is at a premium.  

Open-concept floor plans do have the advantage of seeming more spacious than the same size traditional floor plan, but there is also comfort and peace in having walls and doors define some spaces, like an office or home library.   

Porches, courtyards and the ability to open large windows or doors to the outdoors (in areas with good air quality) are very beneficial because they allow fresh air to fill your home and to warm or cool it.  Plus, they are an ideal place to keep plants that need a little shade or protection and surround your seating areas in green.  Even views of green–from inside the house–lower stress, lower blood pressure, improve cognitive functions (like your ability to learn or focus), increase productivity, reduce anxiety, improve mood … the list is extensive! (How Your Home’s Design Can Improve Your Health)

If you are not building from the ground up, however, there are still ways to apply this type of design in your home.  According to the previous source, one of the most popular methods of salutogenic design is to incorporate biophilic design, which is based on human’s innate connection to nature. To do this, you can incorporate plants into your home, a calming mural, or the actual “architecture” of nature such as a natural stone fireplace, spiral staircase, or live-edge shelving that protrudes at different widths and heights on a wall.  Honeycomb shelving or tiled floors also mimic natural shapes.

Texture and comfort inside the home are very important.  (Although rugs and upholstery can hold dust and dust-mites, the way they “warm up” a room to make it inviting and comforting is important enough to use them when you can.  Also according to Louisa Grey, scents are can also be a healing part of your home: try to use natural oils and purifying mists and flowers that are grown locally. (How to design a healing home – and the power of salutogenic design)

Salutogenic design can even encourage healthy behavior when features like stairs or a swimming pool are included, or workout areas are not tucked away into a back corner or basement (you pass by them on a regular basis).  A beautiful library space, whether it’s an entire room or several bookshelves and a comfortable chair with good light also encourages learning. (Salutogenic Approach to Design is at the Core of Wellbeing)

Salutogenic design follows the principle that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  Many homeowners make this choice everyday: should we go for small pieces of quality workmanship in our decor, appliances and clothing, or larger but lower-quality items?  It’s true that good design, building and decor may cost more than “builder’s grade” plans and materials, but what you should reap is a lifetime (or at least as long as you can live there) of better air quality, ergonomic ease, increased productivity and creativity, lower stress and overall wellbeing.  Who can put a price on that?

Photo by Andrea Davis on Unsplash

Q: Do Air Handlers Belong in the Attic?

Q: Do Air Handlers Belong in the Attic?

A: It depends!

(Don’t you love that answer?!)  Every one’s home is different, as well as where their home is built (climate), so there aren’t hard and fast rules, but we can surely show you the pros and cons of putting your air handler in the attic.

First of all, an air handler is part of a split system central AC unit.  In these systems, there are two distinct parts: one contains the condenser that changes the refrigerant from a gas to a liquid to release the heat from inside the house (the condenser is usually located outside), and a second part that contains the evaporator (which absorbs heat from the house air) and a blower to move air through ductwork to different rooms.  This second part is called the air handler and because it’s not super quiet and can take up a good amount of space, many people install their air handler in the attic.

The attic may or may not be a good location for your air handler.  Here’s how to know: is your attic conditioned, or unconditioned?  Conditioned attics are considered part of the building envelope and they are insulated.  Conditioned attics don’t have to be “finished” per se with drywall and nice flooring, but they do need to be air-sealed from the outdoors.  Air handlers CAN belong in conditioned attics. 

Unconditioned attics (also called vented attics) are exposed to exterior temperatures through ridge vents, gable vents, soffit vents or powered vents.  There is no “air conditioning” so humidity, dust, insects and extremely high or low temperatures are all present in an unconditioned attic.  Air handlers DO NOT belong in unconditioned attics.  Why?  

  • For one, the air handler is responsible for moving the air you breathe, and even a small leak in it or the ductwork will pull humid, dusty, unconditioned air from the attic into your home.  
  • Extreme temperatures cause your air handler to work less efficiently, which translates to higher heater and cooling costs.  
  • The air handler is an expensive piece of equipment that can cost thousands of dollars; to minimize breakdowns and maximize its life, it’s best to place it in a clean, moderated environment!
  • Accessing and crawling around a dirty, dusty attic makes routine maintenance or needed repair work more difficult.
  • If the condensate drain plugs up and overflows the pan under the unit, guess where that water will go?  Onto and through your ceiling!

“Conditioned space” in your home costs money, because it is part of the square footage that realtors count when valuing your home.  For this reason, homeowners and many builders prefer to stick the air handler “out of sight and out of mind” in the attic or worse, in an unconditioned crawl space.  Now that you know better, if you have the opportunity, give your air handler an “upgraded” installation spot in your home.  Here are some tips for finding that spot:

  • The air handler should be centrally located in the home in order to minimize ductwork run lengths to all rooms.
  • Closets are better than the attic, but without enough room to do maintenance on your unit, small closets are not ideal.  Without room to walk or reach around the unit, HVAC technicians will have a hard time making good sealed connections with ductwork, and if anything needs repair, it takes longer to do it, possibly requiring removal of the whole unit.

It’s tough to understand how this air handler and ductwork were installed in such a small space.  (Source: energyvanguard.com)

  • A large utility space is ideal.  You will not want carpet or hardwood below the unit, so that any water leaks can be cleaned up easily.  Good lighting also makes it easier for you to check on the unit from time to time, and to change any filters.  

When replacing your air conditioning unit, we hope you will give serious thought on where to locate the new air handler.  Giving it preferential space inside your home will give you quality air for years to come.  It’s important, however, to make sure that:

  • This room or large closet has its own air supply and return, because when air gets sealed behind closed doors (and you will want to close the door to isolate the unit acoustically), mold can develop.  This can be accomplished by placing a grille in the return of the air handler, and placing a supply grill in the wall or through the ceiling with a “jump duct”. This article from renowned building scientist Joe Lstiburek shows the flaws of different locations and how to overcome ventilation issues.
  • Locating an air handler next to a gas appliance such as a gas hot water heater can be problematic, unless it is a “sealed combustion” unit.  The air handler will cause the room to be under slight negative pressure while the fan is on, which can affect combustion and venting of the water heater.  
  • If your furnace is a gas furnace, you’ll need to make sure it also gets adequate combustion air.

If you can’t bring it inside your building envelope, you may consider a unit that doesn’t require big air handlers–namely, mini-split units.  One external compressor/condenser can supply several indoor units (evaporators), which are typically hung on the wall, with only small refrigerant and drain lines running between the inside and outside.  Where there’s a will, there’s usually a way!

Will a Radiant Barrier Help My Home’s Air Quality?

Will a Radiant Barrier Help My Home’s Air Quality?

Radiant barriers have been a “hot” topic for the last few years: If to install them, where to install them, and how to install them.  Are they worth the work and cost?  It’s time well-spent to do some research before diving in with such a project.

Radiation is one of the three types of heat transfer, along with convection and conduction.  A radiant barrier is a material with a shiny surface that reflects radiant heat back outside the home.  If the barrier gets dusty or is installed incorrectly, however, it does not work well. 

According to Attainablehome.com (a builder’s website devoted to building of modern, sustainable, and high quality homes that is within reach of household incomes), properly installed radiant barriers can reduce heating costs in the hottest months in southern climates, if the home’s air conditioning system is located in the attic. It can also offer a degree of protection to that equipment when the barrier is installed over the equipment, “shielding” it. 

In colder climates, however, radiant barriers are not recommended for several reasons.

  • The savings in reflecting heat away from the home in summer is minimal.

  • Cold climates can allow moisture to condense behind the barrier, creating mold issues.  Perforated radiant barriers can reduce this problem, though.

What is “properly installed”?  Here is a good video showing installation of a radiant barrier over a garage.  Radiant barriers:

  • Need an air gap: don’t install the barrier sandwiched between existing insulation, as it can conduct heat into it.  For instance, do not install radiant barrier foam board (such as LP’s Techshield) and sprayfoam over it. (energyvanguard.com)

  • Need to be relatively clean: dust will reduce the effectiveness of the barrier, so installing on the attic floor is not recommended in most cases. 

  • Must be the right type for your home/climate. There are:

    • Perforated and non-perforated: Perforated barriers allow vapors to escape through the barrier, reducing the chance that moisture or mold will build up behind it.   If you live in a hot, humid climate and have a vented attic, a highly permeable barrier like “Super-Perf” from AtticFoil is recommended to allow moisture to pass through. 

    • Made with insulation or board attached to the radiant surface

  • Must not block air flow in the attic.  Most vented attics have soffit and ridge vents, so do not block the air flow between these two, or moisture issues may result.

In a 2010 article that still applies today, energy advisor Martin Holladay stated there are 5 factors that determine whether a radiant barrier is a good option for your home (discussed in this video):

  • Do you live in a hot climate?  Yes = consider radiant barrier.

  • Do you live in a humid climate?  Yes = the radiant barrier must be carefully and correctly installed so that moisture problems are not created.

  • Do you have a one-story home?  One story homes tend to have larger roofs to cover the livable square feet, so a radiant barrier in a one-story home will be more effective than a two-story home of comparable square feet.

  • Do you have air ducts in your attic?  Yes = consider radiant barrier to shield them.

  • Is the air barrier installed correctly?  This is imperative, so the barrier has to be compatible with the insulation in your attic.

In times of low-cost energy, installing a radiant barrier may not be worth it. (energyvanguard.com)  For example, in Houston in 2011 (a hot climate in a year with similar kilowatt-hour (kwh) energy cost to today), a homeowner could save about 180 kwh per year with a radiant barrier installed on their 2000 sf newbuild home, considering that it is installed under the roof decking and the only additional cost was the more expensive barrier under the decking ($200).  This is about $25 per year savings, which would be an 8 year payback if there is no mortgage, or only about 50 cents per month if there is a mortgage (check the article for the explanation!)  It’s not a whole lot, but if energy prices go up (they will at some point), the savings could be more.

According to this video, LP Techshield (an OSB board with aluminum coating on one side) produced an 18 degree reduction in temperature in a doghouse.  Another video using the same product achieved an 8-10 degree reduction in a real house. 

So, how does all of this affect your air quality?  At HypoAir, we are in favor of not adding things that harm you or your home, so adding a radiant barrier to an existing home must be carefully considered.  Here are some steps to check whether it is right for you: 

  • If you have an unvented attic, a radiant barrier is likely not to benefit you.  If you have a vented attic, make sure the vents are not blocked and there is sufficient insulation in the walls/floors of the attic facing the conditioned space. 

  • Consider the current state of your attic and take temperature and humidity measurements in the attic and in the home as a “baseline”.  

  • If possible, you could conduct a small “experiment” in a part of your attic that faces the sun by installing one roll only (best if it shields some ductwork) and seeing how it affects attic and home temperature and humidity.  

  • If this test is favorable, continue with installation of the rest of the south- or west-facing sides.  Although I could not find much information about it, radiant heat is not very applicable on the north-or east-facing walls in the northern hemisphere. 

  • If humidity increases with the test spot under similar atmospheric conditions, it’s best to terminate the experiment and remove the barrier. 

Radiant barrier material is not very expensive, so if you can install it yourself, it can provide energy savings going forward.   It’s best to take your time and research the pros and cons of installing it in your home and not succumb to pressure from a salesperson, however.  Overall, it should not increase your energy use or humidity levels, so make sure to hold the manufacturer and/or installer to their claims.  We’d love to hear from you on how radiant barrier affects your home’s atmosphere!

Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

How to increase indoor air quality in mobile and manufactured homes

How to increase indoor air quality in mobile and manufactured homes

No matter where you go in the US, there are mobile and manufactured homes.  The homes we’ll discuss here can fall into 2 categories: homes that were moved from a tractor trailer, placed on pilings and realistically will never move again, and then there are recreational vehicles (RVs) that can travel the country (but many sit at home or in storage for most of the year).  There’s also vastly different reasons to live in one or the other–from financial to lifestyle choices to temporary housing.  Whatever your reason to stay in a mobile or manufactured home, we want to help you make it a healthy place. 

Mobile homes with a pier foundation are actually supposed to be called “manufactured homes” according to the industry representative, The Manufactured Housing Institute.  Mobile homes and manufactured homes are two words for the same thing: a home built in a factory on a steel frame with wheels for transport to a homesite, where the wheels are removed after it is set on a foundation.  Manufacturers and HUD prefer that they be called manufactured homes, but most people still refer to them as mobile homes.  You can have single-wide, double-wide, triple and even quadruple-wide “mobile” homes, where the extra “boxes” can be configured side by side or even on top for a second story.  Mobile homes don’t have a great reputation for quality or lifespan, but that doesn’t mean they don’t start out that way or can’t be upgraded to make them better.  Let’s discuss the ways in which mobile homes can be improved for healthier indoor air quality.  The main objective is to keep water out, seal air leaks and provide good ventilation. (source: howtolookatahouse.com)

Starting from the top down…The roof: generally speaking, less-expensive manufactured homes have flatter roofs.  This is because the higher the “pitch” or angle of the roof, more material is necessary to frame and cover it.  The problem with low pitch roofs is that rain and debris spends more time on the roof–rain doesn’t run off as quickly and debris like tree branches and pine needles don’t roll off as easily.  Roofs in general need inspection and maintenance, and low-pitched roofs need regular inspection to keep water from getting backed up and leaking through.  Many owners decide to “double-roof” their homes and this can make a huge difference in indoor temperature and longevity of the home.  I’m not talking about 

Roof overhangs tend to be short in manufactured homes, so that water coming off the roof runs right down the wall.  This is a recipe for water intrusion and mold, not to mention undermining the footings of the piers.  If the home does not have gutters, you can install gutters and downspouts to channel the water away from walls, doors, windows, decks and the foundation.

Siding is the protection for walls against wind and rain, and siding can be metal (very old homes), fiberboard (80’s and 90’s homes) or vinyl, engineered wood or hardyboard (modern homes).  Fiberboard must be continually maintained, or water ingress will cause it to degrade quickly.  Vinyl, engineered wood and cement board sidings provide longer-lasting protection, but they also need to be inspected for damage or improper installation.  The weakest points in siding are the corners, window and door casings, because the irregular joints are typically spots for water ingress.  

For many years, windows in manufactured homes were single pane with an aluminum frame.    The transport of the home to its new foundation may cause the frame to warp or the casing around the window to become unsealed, exposing the sheathing underneath to water.  If you are able to, you can upgrade the windows to double-pane for more insulation against outside weather, and make sure the new windows are installed with good flashing, casing, and caulk techniques.  Likewise, if the front door is of a thinner, lightweight quality, an upgrade to a steel door is also an opportunity to make sure it is installed correctly with flashing, casing and caulk to minimize water ingress.

Foundation: On manufactured homes that have a “skirt” or foundation, a vapor barrier must be installed on the ground (2008 HUD law).  If the home is resting on a concrete pad, then the vapor barrier is not needed because the concrete will act as a vapor barrier.  Unfortunately, the “underbelly” of the home often falls into disrepair because no one wants to go under the house to inspect it!  Directly under the home, another vapor barrier of plastic or black “belly board” will protect the insulation and subfloor from moisture and pests, but this is often damaged and missing in older homes.  Manufactured homes on piers are really sitting over a “crawl space”, so it’s important to inspect the underside of the manufactured home to see how sealing up the ground vapor barrier, belly barrier and insulation can really make a difference in comfort and humidity!  Here’s an article that goes step by step through this repair. 

Inside: the manufactured home industry has certainly had a bad reputation for formaldehyde emissions inside homes.  Formaldehyde has never been banned from the manufacture of homes, but lower limits have been set on the use of components such as plywood and particleboard by HUD and the EPA.  The problem is that there are no HUD standards for the maximum allowable level of formaldehyde gas inside a home, meaning that all the new components like flooring, cabinets, walls, furniture and drapery can have low individual levels of emissions, but a high overall level.  For this reason, it’s best to avoid purchasing or staying in new manufactured homes,  If this is not an option, you can choose to furnish it with only solid wood furniture or composite wood furniture with sealed surfaces. If you have any newer composite wood furniture that is still emitting formaldehyde gas, remove it from your home. Because the formaldehyde off-gassing diminishes over time, storing the pieces outside of your living area for a while (under cover of course) may solve the problem. (howtolookatahouse.com)  You can also ventilate as much as possible (leaving windows open in mild climates, and using a fresh-air ventilation system in more extreme climates.  And of course, increase ventilation of your home while doing any interior painting or use low VOC paint.

Some of the most important mold protection also happens on the inside of the home, because leaking pipes, sinks, showers, toilets, washing machines, etc. all need immediate attention in order not to cause mold and damage that can be very costly to repair.  The abundance of fiberboard in manufactured homes will wick up water much more quickly than hardwood, and even ambient humidity is important to control.  

Recreational Vehicles (RV’s or campers) truly are supposed to be mobile, so that you can take your home with you, and enjoy new scenery wherever it’s parked!  Like manufactured homes, there are a variety of pricepoints and features in two classes, motorized and towable.  There are 3 types of motorized RV’s, ranging from the largest, luxury bus-type (Class A), the smallest conversion van (Class B) to the in-between (Class C).  Towable RVs can be as simple as a small “Pop-up” to large “travel-trailers” and “fifth wheels”.  “Tiny homes” can look like miniature versions of homes on wheels.  Here is a more in-depth look at the differences between these classes. 

RVs have similar challenges to manufactured homes when considering water intrusion from above and vapor from below.  It’s a sad truth that RVs are going to leak, but with a lot of inspection and maintenance, you can prevent this.  Most RV’s rely on sealant and caulking, and inspection and repairs should occur every 90 days (see this video for how to inspect it).  Again, let’s take a look from the top down:

Roofs: Most RV roofs are either rubberized (a thin membrane stretched over wooden frame) or fiberglass (molded).  Considering that these materials are more fragile than the asphalt shingles or metal roofs found on manufactured homes, they need a bit more care and upkeep!  Keeping them clean and conditioned helps so that leaves and branches slide right off instead of piling up, and aftermarket coatings can extend life against the sun’s UV damage.  RV roofs can last from 10-20 years or more, depending on the care and maintenance given them.  Here is an article detailing cleaning and repair tips for each type of roof.  Ideally, RVs should be parked under a permanent roof when they are not being used in order to minimize water and sun damage, and a minimal conditioning system (like a dehumidifier) should be left running to keep the air dry inside.

Since RVs are mobile, they are more prone to separation at the roof and wall joint, as well as openings like skylights, windows and doors.  One website says that driving an RV at highway speeds is “ the equivalent of driving your house through a hurricane during an earthquake.” (!)  Any separation needs to receive prompt attention by removing old sealant, cleaning the surface, and applying new sealant.  Here is a great article on how to achieve a professional look and long-lasting finish when resealing seams.   If your RV has a slide-out, special attention needs to be paid to protecting this area, and awnings are a great way to shelter the slide-out roof and joint area by keeping leaf and branch debris, animal droppings and nests off of it, as well as rain and snow. They’re not too hard to install (instructions here) and are a great investment for your RV. 

Each penetration in the side of the RV (like vents, ports for electricity and drainage, and storage compartments) needs attention, because sealants fail over time and with sun damage.  They should have a bead of sealant at least on the top and corners of the penetration to prevent water from coming in (the best would be all around the penetration).

The underbelly (underside) of the RV also needs regular inspection and repair.  Some RV’s have fiberglass, others have wood or metal sheets, and all are susceptible to road damage or more frequently, water damage from the inside like a leaking pipe.  Here is an article with photos on how to assess and repair underbelly damage.  You can even upgrade the type of underbelly protection fairly easily, but it may take more than one person to wrangle the material into place.

Inside the RV, again, motion from road travel is constantly working to pull apart connections and seams.  Keep an eye on all sources of water leaks such as pipes, sinks, showers, toilets, etc., so that water will not damage your home on wheels and initiate mold!  Also, since many RVs have propane powered appliances such as stoves, furnaces, water heaters, etc, a propane leak can be very dangerous to your health. You can use your nose (the old “rotten eggs” smell is a clue, or detectors such as a Gassaf propane leak detector, or a propane dial manometer (to detect pressure drops in the propane system).  (rvlife.com has a great video on how to inspect your propane system).  A pressure drop-down test is recommended once a year so that you can tell if your system is leaking at all.  If you do have a leak, you can use a simple spray bottle with water and liquid dish detergent, to check all joints for leaks (the soap will cause bubbles around the joint if it’s leaking).  

Like manufactured homes, RVs tend to have an abundance of particleboard, fabric and flooring that should have formaldehyde limits individually, but corporately may give off a lot of formaldehyde when they are new from the factory.  These levels go down dramatically as an RV ages, but RV age also increases chances of other problems, like water or structural damage.  In general, less-expensive units have more adhesive-based components (which generate formaldehyde off-gassing) and could create some irritation for more sensitive RV owners. (rvtravel.com).  When checking out RVs to purchase, you can even bring a portable sensor with you to measure the levels of VOCs and formaldehyde inside them (check out our article on sensors for recommendations).  Air purifiers with activated charcoal filters, like the Germ Defender with carbon filters, absorb VOCs and formaldehyde, and fans are helpful to keep air circulating.  1-2 Germ Defenders can cover the average RV (remember that they don’t cover spaces separated by closed doors) so that your RV can be comfortable even new off the factory floor. 

Manufactured and mobile homes can be as healthy as a permanent home inside with a lot of diligence and the decision to choose your neighbors wisely!   If you are in close proximity to smokers, barbeque grills, auto exhaust or other toxins, this can seep into your home.  If possible, try to live or camp on a large lot and use HEPA filters to capture particulates inside.  In a small or large home, it’s best put your health first and live in the best place you can afford.

Photo by Jon Hieb on Unsplash

What non-toxic multipurpose spray cleaners really work?

What non-toxic multipurpose spray cleaners really work?

If it wasn’t on your mind before 2020, it most likely is now…. is it CLEAN?  Many people wonder before touching surfaces, outside and inside the home.   The solutions for  “concern” over cleanliness are also being absorbed into our skin, drying out our skin, being inhaled into our lungs, and broadcasted into the atmosphere.  So, let’s get to the bottom of it: what cleaners are safe, and of those, what cleaners really CLEAN?  As in, clean up the mess AND disinfect.  Give me some of those!

For true disinfectants, the EPA has developed a list “N” that will even kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus; however, this list is full of products with ingredients that will also harm us.  In response, TURI (Toxics Use Reduction Institute based at the University of Massachusetts Lowell) has produced a list of “Safer Cleaners” that do not have toxic ingredients.  From 431 formulations on the List N that are classified for “Residential Use”, only 15 made the list by TURI for non-toxic ingredients!  That’s only 3.5%!  The reason is that most of the active ingredients classified by the EPA as disinfectants, and some of the “inert ingredients” are also toxic to us.  For example, over half of the products on List N contain quaternary ammonium compounds (Quats) as active ingredient.  Quats kill microbes by binding to the negatively-charged surfaces of microbes.  They have been studied to induce asthma in cleaning workers, decreased lung function in farmers, and greater immune reactions and decreased fertility in mice, among other effects. They are very persistent and are difficult to remove from surfaces, so it’s important not to use them on food prep surfaces.  This is the type of info we need!  Unfortunately, I just identified a common quat (Benzalkonium chloride) in one of the anti-bacterial soaps I use at home :(.  Time to get safer! 

I wanted to focus on spraying cleaners, because we’ve all been doing a lot of spraying lately.  Spraying counter tops, spraying doorknobs, spraying toilets, spraying toys, spraying steering wheels…you name it!  If we could spray each other, I’m sure we would.  Back to the task: it would be so much simpler if we could buy one spray for the whole house, right?  Such cleaners do exist… check out our shortlist here!

  • TotalClean is our new offering that is safe for adults, children and pets, and is fragrance free!  Using an iodine-based formula, it cleans surfaces and removes odors, without adding harsh chemicals like quats or overwhelming fragrance.  Use it anywhere you can use a water-based cleaner: counter tops, toilets, leather, glass, marble, stone, linoleum, tile, stainless steel, painted surfaces, fabrics, carpet, stove tops, appliance exteriors, sinks, floors, cabinets, tubs and walls.
  • Force of Nature is great for those concerned with toxic chemicals and environmental preservation!  In addition to being an EPA-registered disinfectant, it is a safe cleaner using only vinegar, salt and water, and their “bundles” includes the spray bottle and appliance and “capsules” used to make the cleaner.  This avoids lots of packaging waste and all you have to do is add water and electricity (plug in the appliance) to make a refill.  Genius!
  • Lysol with Hydrogen Peroxide Multi-Purpose Cleaner is an EPA-registered disinfectant that dissolves grease and soap scum, and comes in a number of scents (Citrus Sparkle, Fresh, Cool Spring Breeze and Oxygen Splash are the ones I’ve seen). As one of the household names of bleach (most of their cleaners are bleach-based), you need to make sure that the multi-purpose cleaner you buy is “bleach-free” to avoid that chemical.
  • Arm and Hammer Essentials Disinfecting Wipes are a convenient way to disinfect–great for keeping in the car, bathroom, classrooms, etc.  Using citric acid, they are a registered disinfectant by the EPA. 

Can I make them myself?  Yes, but some are better than others.

For example, you’ve probably seen countless recommendations for using vinegar-based home cleaners, which do break down dirt and help remove it.  However, vinegar is not the best disinfectant according to the EPA.  In order to be classified as a disinfectant, the product must kill 99.9% of harmful germs within 5 to 10 minutes, and vinegar only kills some of those germs, including E. Coli and Salmonella (healthline.com).  If you want to make your own disinfectant, look at the ingredients on the Safer Cleaner list.  The first three, citric acid, ethanol (ethyl alcohol) and hydrogen peroxide, are cheap and accessible ingredients!  Here are some recipes for cleaners based on these ingredients:

  • Ethanol-based cleaner with white vinegar (I like this recipe because it incorporates eucalyptus oil, which is a powerful antimicrobial essential oil).  
  • Citric acid is quite powerful and the Method brand on the TURI list is 5% citric acid and 95% inert ingredients.  It is not recommended to use on natural stone or marble, wood, delicate surfaces or electronic screens because of its acidic effects. For this reason, and the popularity of natural stone counter tops in the US, I’m not going to post a recipe for homemade citric acid multi-purpose cleaner here, but citric acid is best used in descaling and de-greasing appliances.  Here is how to clean 5 household items using citric acid. 
  • Hydrogen peroxide (3-6%) is safe to spray undiluted on surfaces, meaning you can pour a brown bottle from the drug store straight into your spray bottle. “According to The Ohio State University Extension, cleaning counters with undiluted hydrogen peroxide is effective at killing E. coli and Salmonella bacteria on hard surfaces like counters when it’s allowed to sit on the surface for 10 minutes at room temperature.”  (healthline.com also has 21 other ways to use it).  However, according to this website it is slightly acidic, and can damage natural stone counter tops over time (don't use it every day).  There are various recipes to make cleaners, however hydrogen peroxide should never be mixed with vinegar because it makes peracetic acid, which has dangerous fumes.   Hydrogen peroxide should also be used within 6 months of opening the original bottle, because it decomposes into oxygen and water by being exposed to sunlight and heat, losing its disinfecting properties. 

Air Pollution from Oil Wells is real–and you may not even realize how close the wells are!

Air Pollution from Oil Wells is real–and you may not even realize how close the wells are!

I live in a geologically rich state, Mississippi.  Rich for those with mineral rights…and not so rich for those who get to smell their hydrocarbons, sometimes on a weekly basis!  At least several times a month, I wake up to a pungent, rotten egg smell in my house that I recognize immediately from having previously worked in refineries (hydrogen sulfide)…except there are no refineries near me.  One day I decided to find out where the rotten eggs were. 

There are a number of online maps that will show you where active and inactive oil gas wells are.  Some maps give more info than others, and I found that my state has a pretty good one, listing the operators, what type of well (dry hole, oil production, injection or disposal) and data on the well.  I found one dry well less than a mile away.  The field in production closest to me (3 miles away) has 61 wells, 35 of which are in oil production, the remaining mostly dry holes and some disposal. Another one that is 6 miles away has 59 wells, 41 of which are in production, with the remaining as disposals, dry holes and a few injections.  I want to find out which one is throwing the eggs!  It turns out, it may not even be the ones that are in production.  According to Reuters, millions of abandoned (no longer in production) oil wells in the US are leaking methane and other toxic gasses like hydrogen sulfide. Some have been around since the late 1800’s!

SO….it’s not just the rotten eggs that concern me: they seem to go away within several hours.  What about the odorless gasses?  Yes, according to this summary of a study from California, researchers found increased air pollution within 2.5 miles of an oil or gas well, such as PM2.5 (toxic particulate matter), carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, ozone and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  When a new well is being drilled or reaches 100 barrels of oil production per day, PM2.5 increases by approximately 2 micrograms per cubic meter one mile from the site.  This “small” uptick can be significant, however, because oil wells can remain in production for decades, and a different study concluded that even an increase of one microgram of PM2.5 per cubic meter, increases the risk of death by COVID-19 by 11 percent.  Air pollution becomes worse and more widespread on windy days, which is how I figure I am smelling hydrocarbons from a well 3 or more miles away.  Thankfully I live upwind most days (the pollutants of wells flow away from me most of the time).  And thankfully, I am not surrounded by wells like the residents of southern Los Angeles or those along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. 

A study from Harvard released in January 2022 links increased mortality rate for people aged 65 and over to living close to “unconventional oil and gas drilling” operations, or UOGD.  UOGD includes directional (non-vertical) drilling and  “fracking”, or hydraulic fracturing, which is the injection of high-pressure liquid and materials to fracture shale and stimulate oil and gas production (ipaa.org).  The results point to air pollution from the wells causing the increased mortality, although there are hardly any air quality  monitoring stations near the wells. 

In order to confirm what your nose (or sadly, your overall health) is telling you, you can start monitoring and logging indoor and outdoor quality.  Of course, with indoor measurements you’ll want to note what air purification systems you have running (HEPA filter, air purifier, etc.).  Keep a journal or computer log (the device you use may keep records for you) and also note weather conditions, so that wind, temperature, humidity, precipitation, etc. can be referenced along with the air quality.  You’ll want a sensor that measures VOC and PM2.5 levels, and this unit is a great budget-friendly option to get started!  You can easily travel with it too.

For persistent indoor air quality problems due to oil well emissions, you’ll want to get a HEPA filter for PM2.5.  Depending on the model, the unit may also handle VOCs if it has activated carbon in the filter.  The Air Angel helps in both of these areas because it has polar ionization and AHPCO technology, but pairing it with a stand-alone HEPA filter is recommended.  Check out our post on portable HEPA filters for recommendations!

Who can help us get something done about wellhead emissions?  There are rules of law for well emissions (example), however without the know-how, technical equipment, or access to the well to measure air quality, it’s hard to know whether a well is in violation.  Also, there are many abandoned wellheads, for which it is hard to get anyone to take responsibility in many cases.  So, it’s best to start by trying to contact someone locally, and work your way up.  Start with your city or county representative, as often these officials are aware of problems and resources.  Typically, individual states are responsible for cleaning/managing their own wells, unless there are wells on federal or tribal land, which is managed by the federal government.  Your state may or may not be easy to contact with air quality problems, but give it a try!  For example, Mississippi is not excessively progressive because it only has a couple addresses and fax numbers listed for air quality complaints.  Some states with high drilling activity have started their own “orphaned well” programs, and this 2021 report summarizes the efforts of reporting states to register and close orphan wells.  It has a lot of information about states agencies and websites.  The EPA, also, has an email form you can use.  

Air is one thing that is free, but free doesn’t always mean good.  We urge you to persist in making your indoor and outdoor air as good as it can be!

Home automation makes for a healthier home

Home automation makes for a healthier home

Confession: I have not made it a priority to automate my home via smart technology.  Being an artist, I tend to allocate my budget more for aesthetics, like a nicer couch or new faucets.  There are some devices in which I’m not remotely interested, like a smart toilet (TMI for Alexa!)  but I’m starting to yearn for some of the health benefits of other elements of home automation and I might cave soon!  I want to discuss some unique smart appliances that not only make our lives easier, but make our homes more healthy for all the inhabitants, even pets.

Before I get to the goodies, I must divulge that the type of home automation discussed here (smart home technology) operates on wireless signals, which is a type of electromagnetic field (EMF).  The potential health effects of EMFs is a subject that is debated by consumers and scientists alike.  We at HypoAir have some very healthy clientele who are always in search of what will take them to the next level.  They are constantly judging the health benefits of any technology against any unhealthy aspects of it--as we all should!  That said, I encourage you to research EMF to be aware of the invisible magnetic fields all around us, including in our homes.  Then you can be the judge: are these smart appliances worth it for you?

  • Lighting: set your lights to dim or change color (to less blue ranges) in the evening to cue children and adults that it’s time to get ready for bed.  The easiest way to retrofit your lighting is by installing smart light bulbs, which you can control by voice, app, or your home’s smart system like Alexa (called a “hub”).  Some of the best smart bulbs are: 
  • Air Purifiers: To use smart filtration or not?  It’s possible to set your air purifier on “auto” mode to save energy and only kick on when needed, but several reviews like the Wirecutter tend to believe that either the air quality monitor or its settings in many purifiers may not be optimal, leading to above average pollutants in your home space.  Rather, employ an independent, high-quality air monitor that will give you alerts to bad air quality, in order to get the purifier activated. 
  • Mattresses: Some of us sleep like a log, from the minute our heads hit any pillow, and some of us roll around like a rotisserie chicken (more my style).  For anyone who is on a quest for a better night’s sleep, smart beds may know our sleep better than we do, and can adjust automatically to help us achieve more rest even when we’re in “la-la land”.  The Sleep Foundation has a great page explaining what smart mattresses are and the features they offer.  Most smart beds are air beds, which allow a great range of firmness options.  The ReST bed, Eight Sleep, Saatva Solaire made two “best of” reviews: Sleep Foundation and Tom’s Guide
    • Saatva Solaire: this mattress was rated best for back pain relief, and is also the most non-toxic bed we’ve found.  It was not the most high-tech, because it is only controlled by remotes (one for each side of the bed with no control over the other side: sorry sleeping partners to snorers!) but it is approved by the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), so it’s well-suited to people with neck and back pain (Tom’s Guide).  The best part for those who are VOC conscious: the anti-microbial treatment on the fabric covering is botanical, and includes natural latex and Certi-pur US certified gel-infused memory foam. At about $2900 for a queen model, it is also one of the most economical. 
    • Best all-around: ReST Essential Smart Bed: this one has many bells and whistles and with up to 64,000 firmness combinations on each side in manual mode, it easily suits everyone.  The best part for restless sleepers is how it automatically moves air to different chambers when you switch positions during the night (from side to stomach for example), so that pressure-point pain is avoided (pressure-point pain is what tends to wake up many people).  It’s not the most expensive bed but certainly falls in the mid-upper range of pricing ($3800 for a queen mattress). 
    • Best for hot sleepers and couples: EightSleep The Pod Pro Smart Bed has a water-based climate-control system (water beds are not extinct!) which can be customized for each side of the mattress.  The sensors in their Active Grid layer collect information about your pulse, breathing, movement and sleep quality, and also has a gentle vibrating alarm option to wake you up (a nice alternative to an audio alarm which can wake both people!).  At about $2900 for a queen mattress, this is also a great mid-level priced bed.
    • If you can’t afford a smart bed or just invested in a conventional mattress, you can still get sleep data by using Withings Sleep Tracking Pad, which is a pad placed under the mattress to record your movement, breathing and breathing disturbances, sleep cycles and more.  It can also be connected to your home’s smart system to automatically turn off/on lights or modify room temperature when you get into/out of the bed.
  • There are many “smart watches” out there that connect to apps designed to improve your health, but I have not seen one more stylish than the Withings ScanWatch. It can detect Atrial Fibrillation (abnormal heart beat) and blood oxygen levels, for those who are prone to these health issues!  It works with Apple Health, FitBit, Google Fit and others to monitor your activity and workouts.  It also works as a sleep monitor to record sleep duration, cycles, heartrate data and sleep apnea problems.  All this and a fantastic (30-day) battery life?  Yes please!
  • Smart Garage Doors: Anyone with a garage has at one point wondered: did I close the door? Usually this happens miles away from the house, and adds a level of stress to any trip if you can’t go back and verify.  I’m all for reducing stress, since driving can be stressful enough!   There are kits that can convert your existing garage door opener to a smart door, allowing it to open by voice or app or on a schedule, or you can purchase a smart door from the start. Most require a strong wi-fi signal. The Chamberlain's MyQ Smart Garage Hub is very economical at about $30, is able to check the open/closed status on the door, and open or close it remotely via its app, and it’s highly rated for ease of installation.  Upgrades to this product include a keypad and camera.
  • Pets are a recognized source of comfort and well-being which are often considered family members!  It makes sense then, to be able to care for them 24/7 almost like a family member, even if you have to go away to work or a short trip.  Here are some devices that help with that:
    • Smart Pet Feeders are great to extend your time away from home even if you have pets who like their schedules!  “Leaving out bowls” may work for cats, who tend to be more picky eaters, but most dogs I’ve encountered indeed would eat as soon as you set the bowl down.  Enter the ideal pet feeders that can operate on a schedule, or manually through an app, with the ability to work even if the wi-fi or power goes out.  
      • Pet feeders need to have sizes and features that fit the pet you’re feeding.  PetSafe’s WiFi -enabled Smart Feed Automatic Pet Feeder holds up to 24 cups of food and allows you to schedule meals, dispense a snack, or even “slow-feed”: an option for pets that eat too fast, enabling it to dole out the meal over a 15-minute period.  
      • Fish feeders are great even when you are home, as anyone who multi-task knows that some items may not get the attention they deserve!  This review rated the Eheim Everyday Fish Feeder as best in class due to its ability to dispense many different types of fish food with accuracy, to be mounted in several ways, and customizable feedings up to 4 times per day.  
    • Smart Pet Doors are an excellent way to alleviate stress of not getting home on time to “let the dog out”, while providing more security to your home and pet than the average dog door.  PetSafe Electronic SmartDoor is not app-enabled, but operates with an RFID tag that is attached to your pet’s collar,  to open only when your pet approaches.  It has two sizes: one for cats and small dogs, and another for large dogs.  Other brands operate with the microchip that is implanted in your pet,  No more free meals, Ricky Raccoon or neighbor cat! 
  • Smart flood sensors are awesome!  Anyone who has experienced the stress and cost of flooding, be it from a broken water heater, washer or AC drip pan, knows that this kind of warning could be priceless.  The Govee WiFi Water Sensor 3 pack can produce an audible alarm (100 dB) as well as an app notification, to let you know that water has been sensed.  This model sits directly on the floor of the area to be monitored, and includes the necessary 6 AAA batteries to get them going (2 per device). 

And for some of the plain-old convenience advantages, check out these smart appliances (from Living Things):

  • Set your oven to preheat before you’re even home, to make cooking less time-consuming
  • Set your coffeepot to come on before you need it (ok, old technology for sure but it's updated when you can sync it with the wake-up alarm on your phone!) 
  • Set your washing machine to start in the morning after you loaded it the night before
  • Go on vacation on the spur of the moment, when you have automated sprinklers and doors and cameras.

What is the best smart device you’ve discovered for your home?

Photo by BENCE BOROS on Unsplash

Wildfire Smoke: Not just for California anymore

Wildfire Smoke: Not just for California anymore

Historically most wildfires happened between May and October, and USDA Forest Service employees were traditionally trained knowing that the four months of June, July, August and September have the worst risk.  However, now the Forest Service is shifting to the concept of a fire year.  Because winter snows are melting earlier and rains are coming later in the fall, it’s a sad reality that fires in the winter months are becoming the norm and there is no longer a “season” for wildfires anymore.  Localities change, too:  as of the time of writing this post in early March 2022, there were more than a dozen fires burning in Oklahoma.

Even if you don’t live in an area directly threatened by fire, wildfires can be devastating to your air quality, just like second-hand smoke.  Air currents can carry the smoke up to thousands of miles away, affecting millions.  According to the EPA, “Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic materials burn. The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles. These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death.”  Yikes!

Here at HypoAir, we get many questions on how to protect indoor air from the pollution of smoke outside.  The EPA has excellent suggestions on what to do on this page, most of which need some time to prepare!  So as drought conditions in your state or surrounding areas persist, get ready now by doing the following:

  • Seal doors and windows with weatherstripping, caulk and door sweeps.  
  • Find out how to adjust your HVAC system accordingly: you’ll want to close the fresh air intake and change over to recirculation, no matter whether you have central AC, a window air conditioner or portable air conditioner.
  • Purchase extra MERV 13 or higher filters for your HVAC system, to be used on poor air quality days (caution: read our post on HVAC filters first, as using a filter with too high MERV rating can damage your system). 
  • If you live in an apartment building or condo with little control over the HVAC, consider purchasing vent filter material so you can place them in the vents into your space.  The filter material can prevent smaller particulates in smoke from entering.  Carbon vent filter material will neutralize many VOCs as well.
  • Purchase a HEPA air cleaner (non-ozone producing type) and be sure to have an extra filter or two on hand.  The use of a HEPA filter will take much of the damaging fine particles out of the air you breathe!  During a wildfire or whenever there is bad air quality outside, run the cleaner/purifier on high for an hour and thereafter at "quiet"/medium setting (Wirecutter).  You can check out our post on standalone HEPA filters as a purchase guide.  If you can't purchase one, make one: there are many videos and instructionals online for DIY air cleaners; most only require one or more filters, a box fan, and some cardboard and tape. 
  • Keep a stash of N95 respirator masks on hand.  These are a good source of protection if you have to go outside, or if power is cut to your home and indoor air quality gets bad as well.  The “95” means it blocks out 95% of particulates.   
  • Keep canned and non-perishable food on hand, so that you don’t have to cook during periods of bad air quality.  Cooking indoors increases small particulates and vapors in the air, and you won’t want to turn on your stove exhaust, as that will draw polluted outdoor air into the house.
  • If air quality is very poor (check next point), you’ll want to evacuate to a place with clean, filtered air, like indoor malls, libraries, community centers, civic centers and local government buildings (sfgate.com).
  • Check your local air quality and receive updates from airnow.gov . Fire and smoke maps are available under the heading fire.airnow.gov .  Using an Air Quality Index (AQI) as a measuring tool ranging from 0-500, your local forecast and larger maps can be color coded to show whether an area is good (green), moderate (yellow), unhealthy for sensitive groups (orange), unhealthy (red), very unhealthy (purple), and hazardous (maroon).

Photo by Tobias Seidl on Unsplash