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What do our holiday traditions really cost?

What do our holiday traditions really cost?

Okay…we all know that visiting the Christmas Tree Lot the day after Thanksgiving can be really expensive, and prices get better the longer you can wait to get one.  That’s not what I’m talking about!   I wanted to know, are some of our traditions costing us in our health?  After my manager shared how his family “mysteriously” gets allergies every December after bringing home a live tree, I had to do some research!

As it turns out, Christmas tree allergies are real.  If you experience any of the following after bringing home a live tree or other live pine decorations, the pine may be an allergen, or it may be carrying allergens (advancedsinusandallergy.com).

  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Itchy eyes and nose
  • Dark circles under your eyes
  • Skin rash

Now that you may be making some mental connections, here is what scientists have found about homes with live trees:

  • Mold: pine trees can carry 53 different types of mold!  (Researchers at SUNY Upstate Medical University).  Many of these are allergens and especially so for infants and children.  The mold, which is attached to leaves, branches and bark, multiplies in your warm home and spores are released during the agitation of bringing the tree in, setting it up, placing lights and decorations on it and watering it.  A 2007 study found that apartments containing a live Christmas had a 6-fold increase in airborne mold, which did not return to normal until after the tree was removed.  Weed, grass and tree pollens were also found in the air during the time Christmas trees were in the house, because of course, live trees once lived in fields with other weeds and trees.  
  • The beloved pine scent emitted by Christmas trees is actually a family of VOCs called terpenes.  Terpenes are made naturally in the tree sap, and real or artificial terpenes are often used in pine-scented cleaning products and home fragrances.  Terpenes can unfortunately be allergenic to some people. 
  • Dust mites and insect droppings come with live and artificial trees that have been in storage because they naturally accumulate dust. 

Bringing home a live tree is a deeply-ingrained tradition for many American families, so unless your allergies become severe, simply treating your tree appropriately may help you to suffer a lot less this season!

  • Formerly, it was recommended to spray the tree down with water and allow it to dry naturally outside for a day or two, or blow off the water with a leaf blower before bringing it inside (advancedsinusandallergy.com).  However, water is just what mold needs to keep growing and multiplying!  Therefore, we’re going out on a limb here (pun intended) to say that the same EC3 Mold Solution Spray or  Remedy Mold Treatment Spray by CitriSafe that is safe for humans and pets, is a great treatment for live and artificial Christmas trees.  Yes, use that leaf blower on your live or artificial tree to remove dust outside (with a mask of course), and then give it a good misting of EC3 Mold Solution Spray or  Remedy Mold Treatment Spray over every branch (don’t be afraid to use too much).  This should drastically reduce the amount of mold in your home while the tree is up!  Treat live garlands, wreaths and other live decorations in the same way.
  • Dispose of the tree as soon as possible, because any mold that was not touched by the spray will continue to grow.  

If you opt for an artificial tree, you still may suffer from allergies if it’s improperly stored.  Here are some tips:

  • Storing trees and decorations in unconditioned spaces like attics and basements can expose them to mold and dust.  In these situations, don’t use cardboard boxes; change the storage container to a sealed plastic bin or optimally, make a little room in your conditioned space for storage.  
  • Use a mask when retrieving them out of storage.
  • Use a cloth misted with EC3 Mold Solution Spray or use CitriSafe's Remedy Multi-Purpose Mold Treatment Wipes to wipe down ornaments and lights before adding them to the tree. 

Scented candles and sprays may smell nice, but they can seriously irritate your respiratory system and add unwanted VOCs and toxic chemicals to your air.  Instead, we can show you a number of ways to add holiday fragrance without the allergies in this post!  With the vodka air fresheners mentioned,  if you have several spray bottles, you can “decorate” your home with different holiday scents by adding drops from an assortment of essential oils like this one

This holiday season, break the mold (pun intended) by dis-inviting mold and allergens from your decorating party: it will be less costly for your health! 

Retrofitting with Radiant Cooling

Retrofitting with Radiant Cooling

Radiant cooling reduces or eliminates many of the faults of forced air systems: cost of operation, noise of air rushing through ducts or vents, drafty spots, allergens and dust being blown through your home, etc.

The need for a new cooling and heating system in my home has me looking at all the possibilities, now including radiant cooling and heating, also called “hydronics”.  I never thought that this would be possible because my house is, mostly, “finished”.  Radiant systems need to go in the floor before the floor goes down, right?  

Wrong!  It turns out that there are many options to installing radiant heating after the home is “finished”.  It just depends on how creative you can get with surface areas.  First, however, I’ll go over why radiant heating and cooling is superior to forced air systems, which encompass the majority of home heating and cooling systems today.

To me, this picture says it all.

Source : iapmo.org

The reason a tiny ¾” pipe can be equivalent to the big duct systems is because water is able to absorb more than 3,500 times the heat as the same volume of air!  Mind-blowing, right?  There’s a reason those big cast-iron radiators persisted in homes for all those years!  But instead of dealing with the thunk-crack-cluck of the radiators and boilers as they warm up, and being cold on the far-end of the room, now you can enjoy cool or warmth in silence as the room changes temperature from the floor up, ceiling down, or wall-out.  That’s right, you can install pre-made panels in the ceiling or on walls, which in general are way more accessible than floors.  For this reason, I’m going to focus on ceiling and wall panels and ways to work them into your existing home.  Also because I live in the southeast US, I’m going to focus on cooling, because radiant cooling is unconventional but very needed here! 

Messana is an Italian company focused on radiant cooling.  They have a number of high-end residences and office buildings portrayed as Projects on their website, and I can see why.  Their “Ray Magic” panels bridge the gap when figuring out how to place hydronics in the ceiling, because they have gypsum board (drywall) on the surface that faces the room, the tubing embedded in lightweight aluminum panels in the middle, and 1-½” of styrofoam on the side that faces the ceiling (yup, the same width as a 2x4).  Ray Magic panels are the “body” of the system, but a sophisticated “brain” is needed so that you can segment the home or office into different zones, sense the air in the different zones and control the temperature and speed of the circulating radiant fluid so that the zones stay comfortable and above dew point (to avoid condensation).  This is what the Messana Climate Control Platform does.  Although hydronics technically does not move air around, many times “air treatment” is needed so that the need for fresh, dehumidified air is met.  For this reason, Messana offers a range of Air Treatment Units (ATUs) for accompanying ventilation.  To see their products installed, check out these two videos here and here…and the system was installed in Austin, TX.  Austin can definitely speak to needing dehumification! 

Now, comparable with other things Italian, Messana installations are on the expensive side.  According to their FAQ page, the equipment costs between $15-20 per square foot, with prices of $40-45 per square foot installed (this is based on the total square footage of your home, although the panels typically cover only 60% of the ceiling).  For a renovation, this can add up to a lot of $$$, so following are some other alternatives.  As mentioned above, radiant floors can be installed over existing subfloors.  Here are some products to make the installation easier: 

  • Thermalboard is a ⅝” thick MDF board with aluminum coating and channels for 3/8” PEX tubing.  The company WarmZone uses your floor plan to create and ship the boards to you for a custom installation that looks to be fairly simple for the average DIY homeowner.  The boards are glued, then nailed down to wood subfloors, or only glued to concrete subfloors.  Costs are about 2x of a standard baseboard radiant heating system, but 30-40% savings in long run.  The pros: the product is lightweight and easy to install on the floor or on walls.  The downside: MDF absorbs water, which with a product that uses water, seems to be, well, not too smart.  Also, MDF is manufactured with significant glues, which emit VOCs.  Thermalboard specifically tested their product and it does not off-gas formaldehyde.  

  • Warmboard R, which uses slightly larger tubing (½”) with larger spacing and thicker aluminum, but costs approximately 2x as much. 

  • EcoWarm RadiantBoard is a similar product to Warmboard R but uses plywood as the substrate.  The aluminum thickness is comparable to Thermalboard, and it uses ½” PEX.  It costs approx. 35% less than Warmboard R.  It tends to discourage use of its product with radiant cooling, however.

  • Uponor has a variety of products in radiant flooring: Quik Trak, which is similar to the above products as a plywood and aluminim substrate for the PEX, Fast Trak, which is a knobbed mat that will secure the PEX in any configuration, and Joist Trak, which can be nailed to joists for sub-floor heating and cooling. 

  • Rehau, a German company which is one of the pioneers of radiant-floor heating, has products that allow direct installation of flooring over them (RauPanels), within a joist space (RauPlate) or within a concrete overpour. 

  • Heat-Sheet is a grid system for laying out your own radiant flooring made of high density expanded polystyrene (EPS). It can be used under poured concrete or gypcrete (see next).  The panels are lightweight and interlock to minimize movement.  The website shows it being used under driveways (no more ice!) and swimming pools.

Of course, installing the radiant tubing is only half the work, because it needs to be protected with a durable covering that is not too insulative.  Radiant flooring can be covered with any number of durable flooring options, including hardwoods, tile, carpet, finished cement, etc.  Here are some options:

  • Gypcrete: You can embed radiant tubing in a mixture of gypsum plaster, Portland cement, and sand, known as gypcrete.  Therma-Floor is a trade name of this product.  Installation takes significantly more time because it doesn’t come in a snap-grid, and takes time to cure.  It also must be installed by a professional crew. 

  • With tile, laminate and carpet systems, a plywood underlayment will be needed to help provide support over the tubing.  Here are some example installations from Thermalboard.  The article also gives R-values for sample materials.  Remember, when covering a radiant floor, you’ll want your R-Value to be as low as possible, so that you’re not “insulating” the heat or cold within the flooring material!  TheSpruce.com recommends that ceramic or porcelain tile is the best material for covering a radiant floor, as it conducts heat (and cool) most efficiently.  On the other end, carpet is the most insulative and worst choice for covering.

Finally, if you already have old radiators in your home, you can replace them with these modern radiators to add a modern touch in older homes.  The manufacturer says “The Ecostyle radiators will work in almost any closed loop hot water system regardless of the heat source.”  Unfortunately, the manufacturer says they cannot be used with radiant cooling (I asked). They are designed to be wall-hung, which even if only a few inches from the floor, eliminates the problem of trying to clean underneath them.  They come in a variety of sizes to fit a small bathroom to large rooms with multiple radiators.  White is the most widely-available color but other colors can be special ordered with a 100% price markup and shipping time of several more weeks.  

If you going to maximize your installation to provide cooling as well as heating, it’s necessary to make sure that the humidity in your home is well-controlled so that you don’t end up with condensation on the radiant surface, which can cause accidents, damage your expensive flooring or furniture, and create a habitat for mold.  This requires calculating the dewpoint temperature for the ambient temperature and humidity, and staying above that dewpoint temperature.  Higher-end systems provide sensors in every room to prevent this problem, but a whole-house dehumidifier can go a long way toward keeping the air safely above the dew point temperature.

These are just a sampling of radiant products on the market.  With new products and technologies released every day, don’t take your pre-existing home features as limits when it comes to the important decision of heating and cooling.  Research, ask, test and compare so you can find the most healthy, comfortable solution for your home!

Photo by Ronnie George on Unsplash