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Dealing with Earthquakes

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

Dealing with Earthquakes

Dealing with Earthquakes

Just like many other controversial topics, there is conflicting evidence on whether earthquakes are increasing.  Some news sites say that there is no increase in earthquakes; it just seems that there is an increase because reporting methods have gotten better (usgs.gov).  However, a journal for the insurance industry reports that earthquakes are increasing in US oil regions.  This 2021 article “reveals that tremors of above the magnitude of 2 on the Richter scale quadrupled in 2020…The oil and gas industry is contributing to the increased seismic activity through its practice (of) the saltwater disposal through underground injection.”  Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico were the areas studied, and more frequent and larger events continue to occur.  

California has hundreds of “fault” lines (a fracture or zone of fractures between two blocks of rock, which allow the blocks to move relative to each other) (usgs.gov), two of the most infamous being the San Andreas fault in southern California and the Hayward fault in the San Francisco bay area in northern California.  Here is a picture of what frequent earthquakes look like (source: earthquaketrack.com):

If you live in a zone where earthquakes are frequent, you’ll know that the effects of earthquakes are manifold (source: getuhoo.com). 

Dust:  “A case study was done in New Zealand following the 2010 earthquake that hit Canterbury, along with its aftershocks. The data from the study shows that PM10 particulate matter levels hit 140µg/m3 over a 24 hour period, which is well over the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality (NESAQ) threshold of 50 µg/m3. The amount of PM2.5 concentration also hit 127µg/m3 at this time, about 90% of the level of PM10.”

 “The vibrations and tremors hitting buildings and homes loosens up dust and drives them into the air. Tectonic shifts can disrupt sediment and expose them to the air where they linger as particulates for days or even longer. Even in homes the jolt can release dust that is normally packed away and bring them out into the open, underscoring the importance of keeping a clean home.”  

We agree; it’s important to have dust control measures in place before a small or large earthquake shakes things up!  Here are our top ways of controlling it:

  • Minimize carpet and fabric furniture if possible

  • Frequent vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum 

  • Use of a MERV 13 filter (if possible) in your furnace/HVAC

  • Use of a standalone HEPA filter in areas where you spend a lot of time (living room, bedroom)

  • Brush and bathe pets weekly if possible

  • Keep several MERV and HEPA filter changes, as well as N95 masks, on hand for use during emergencies.

Fire and water damage:  According to earthquakeauthority.com, the primary damage in an earthquake is caused by surface rupture and ground displacement, when the ruptured fault produces vertical or horizontal movement on either side of it.  However, liquefaction is another odd consequence that damages pipelines too: solid soil will change into a “liquid” during violent shaking, causing support systems to fall away.  When this happens, pipelines break and fires can start, spewing all kinds of chemicals into the air, ground and water.  In this severe case, you should have an evacuation plan if this kind of disaster affects your immediate neighborhood.  If you are experiencing these pollutants from several or miles away, shelter in your home if possible, and keep windows and doors closed with the HVAC on “recirculation” mode with minimal fresh air.  Here are some ways to mimimize the pollutants you’re breathing inside:

  • Use of a MERV 13 filter (if possible) in your furnace/HVAC

  • Use of a standalone HEPA filter in areas where you spend a lot of time (living room, bedroom)

  • Keep several MERV and HEPA filter changes, as well as N95 masks, on hand for use during emergencies.

  • For fresh air, you can use a Window Ventilation Filter to keep smoke, dust and pollution out of your home. 

  • Units like the Germ Defenders and Air Angels will help to mitigate harmful contaminants by converting them to larger particles that will fall to the floor. 

Landslides and Tsunamis: Landslides are the movement of rock, earth, or debris down a sloped section of land, and are caused by rain, earthquakes, volcanoes, or other factors that make the slope unstable.  (nationalgeographic.org).  Obviously, this type of earth movement will trigger a lot of dust and pollution released into the air as earth and buildings and infrastructure are demolished in the path of the landslide.  Tsunamis are giant waves caused by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions under the sea. (noaa.gov)  The wave can cause catastrophic flooding upon hitting land, which brings building devastation and mold to the buildings that are not destroyed.   

There are “early warning systems” in major quake zones, however they can only provide warning to those outside of the epicenter (10 miles or more), and they only provide warnings of larger, more violent earthquakes. (caltech.edu).  

Preparedness is key.  In addition to the measures listed above, you can also prepare an evacuation kit in case you have to leave your home, which of course is useful in disasters other than earthquakes.  Judy.co is a company devoted to emergency kits that include water, food, power and tools so that families can survive for short periods following a disaster.  With advice from this page at ready.gov, you can build your own kit.  We sincerely hope that no one is injured or affected by such a disaster in their lifetime, but sadly in areas like northern California, this is not what experts predict will happen.  Earthquake risks can be high in the beauty of the South Pacific islands, the mountains of Mexico, and the plains of Oklahoma, so wherever you live, be aware and be prepared!

Photo by Dave Goudreau on Unsplash

Check them at the door! (How to bring less contaminants into your house)

Check them at the door! (How to bring less contaminants into your house)

Oh, how I love to walk barefoot or bare-socked around my house!  It’s a pleasure that doesn’t happen often enough. With two (albeit non-shedding) dogs who constantly bring sand and dirt in from the outside, and my own habit of walking straight in from outside with my shoes on, walking barefoot only happens for a few hours after I vacuum and mop.  Vacuuming and mopping takes a minimum of 45 minutes to do, so how often does it get done?  Embarrassingly, not enough!

There are even more benefits to cleaner floors than walking barefoot.  After all, you and your pets are not just bringing in lifeless dirt…there are microorganisms like mold, pollen, bacteria and viruses in every grain of dirt.  These can wreak havoc on those who are more sensitive, and especially those who spend more time on the floor, like babies and young children.  At HypoAir, we’re all about avoiding bringing contaminants indoor whenever possible!

It’s hard to believe what you can’t see, so I was grateful to run across this article.   The hostess of this website became self-educated about mold after she and her family experienced numerous health problems from the homes they lived in, and she has a very informative website that includes interviews with experts!  She performed a test with a white towel laid at the door of her home, to catch dirt and mold particles as they are tracked in. She performed a mold test before and after two days.  Although the “before” mold test revealed some mold from the clean towel being stored in the garage, the “after” test was definitely more prolific and indicated that some colonies could be producing mycotoxins.  Yuck!  Unfortunately I know this is happening at my house in the woods during the very wet summer we’ve had….

This has prompted me to research strategies to avoid bringing that dirt, mold and germs in!  There are some ways that make a big difference.

  1. Leave your shoes at the door.  My main problem with this is time (like when I’m bringing in groceries), and sheer number of shoes.   Patience and dropping off loads at the door will take care of the first problem, but for the second one, If I had a “mudroom” this might be more easy to organize.   I’m not a shoe collector by any means, but I have a number of shoes that I like to wear outdoors!  This has led me to find a used low bookshelf and number of baskets so that I, my sister who lives with me, and any number of guests can feel comfortable storing them at the door.

  2. Find the best doormats for your situation, and use them!  When I went searching for “doormats” online, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number and diversity of them.  Then I refined the search to “best doormats for pets” or “best outdoor doormat”, etc. and read what people wrote about them.  I am even doubling up (one indoor, one outdoor) for more protection.Here are some good ones:

    1. Doormat for pet feet: I like the generous size and decor options for these rugs by PURRUGS, but they are made of polyester.

    2. Outdoor mat for removing dirt: 

      1. According to Spruce.com, coir (pronounced “coy”-er) is the best material for removing dirt: it’s made from coconut husks, so it’s scratchy and natural-looking.  A lot of coir mats are made with a rubber backing, which doesn’t let the dirt fall to the floor, but if you get a woven one with no backing like this one by Kempf ($43), you don’t have to shake it out as often. 

      2. For a modern look, Clean Machine Mats are made of Astroturf, but not all of them have the bright green color!  This one ($29) just takes a simple shake to empty all the sand off your porch.

    3. Indoor mat: Requirements for good indoor mats are that they need to be of a safe material that doesn’t create dangerous VOCs (polyester and PET may have endocrine-disrupting chemicals in them).  A non-slip backing is best, but solid rubber or plastic may harbor mold if moisture gets underneath, so check for mold during wet or humid weather.  Machine-washability is a plus!  

      1. Large and absorbent, these mats by Crate and Barrel ($135) are great for wet and muddy feet.  They can be spot cleaned or taken outside for scrubbing and hosing down.  The rug is made of polypropylene, which is quite durable and has a low off-gas.  The backing is made of rubber (20% recycled), which can give off a smell but doesn’t seem to be a complaint with this rug.

      2. Chenille is very absorbent and soft, which makes these rugs by Gorilla Grip a nice buy at $35-50 depending on the size.  They are machine washable!

      3. I love the idea of recessed mats, which are popular in commercial buildings and apartment buildings.  They “fit” into your floor and are very unlikely to slide around.  Water and dirt will also be more contained in a recessed mat, where you can easily vacuum it up.  You’ll need to create a standard-sized recess that is laid into your floor at the front door.

  3. If you have pets, teach them to stop at the door and wipe their feet! (cue cute video…)  More seriously, you can teach them to at least stop while their human helps them wipe their feet!  You can even hang a towel near the door for that purpose on a simple hook or more elegant towel rack.  You can also use  EC3’s Mold Solution Spray ($28 for 32 oz) for misting their fur to deactivate any mold spores they may carry in.

  4. Use a non-toxic additive or detergent to get rid of mold in the laundry.  EC3 products by Micro Balance are recommended by a number of experts and experienced laymen who know about mold!  This non-toxic, environmentally safe laundry additive ($29) is good for about 11-16 loads at the recommended dosage of 2-3 oz per load.  It’s great for washing those dirty door mats and washable shoes.  (moldfreeliving.com)

  5. For shoes that can’t be washed in the washing machine, spritz them with EC3’s Mold Solution Spray ($28 for 32 oz) before you put them back in your closet.  You can also spritz it on the indoor mat between washings.  (moldfreeliving.com)

  6. Vacuum and mop frequently(1-2x per week) in the entranceways of your home, if not your whole home.  At the beginning of this article, I was lamenting the time it took me to successively vacuum and mop the ground floor of my home (where the most dirt lies).  Well, this is the case IF you don’t have a combo vacuum/mop, which can be a total game changer!  I’m happy that I have all tile with only a few area rugs on this floor, which makes it the perfect candidate for such a machine. I grew up using cumbersome canister vacuums, which seemed to hit every doorjamb as I tugged them through the house.  My mother has already graduated to a Bissell CrossWave, and raves over it.  Here is a great review of the newest upright vac/mop combos, in which I’m sure you’ll find one that’s right for you.  The only problem with using water floor cleaners is that they tend to have chemicals of questionable toxicity in their proprietary cleaning solution (7 of 11 Bissell products earned a “D” grade on ewg.org).  If you use another solution during the warranty period, your warranty may be voided.  If that prospect does not bother you, this article gives some tips on making homemade cleaning solutions for your vacuum/mop machine that have non-toxic ingredients.

How to have clear sinuses

How to have clear sinuses

Going through yet another round of stuffy nose and headaches, I decided to research all the ways that I or my environment is sabotaging my sinuses.  

First of all, it could be sinusitis (also called rhinosinusitis): an inflammation of the paranasal sinuses, the cavities within the bones that surround the nose (Harvard Health).  Inflammation blocks the ostia, which are the narrow channels that drain into the nasal cavity, so that drainage becomes blocked.  Sinusitis can be caused by a cold, allergies, or a deformity such as deviated septum or nasal polyps.  Here are the different lengths of sinusitis (healthline.com)

  • Acute sinusitis can be caused by a cold, but then a secondary infection can happen once the sinuses get inflamed and blocked.  Technically acute sinusitis lasts less than 4 weeks.

  • Subacute sinusitis lasts from 4-12 weeks.

  • Recurrent acute sinusitis occurs when you have the same symptoms 4 or more times per year, but it lasts over 7 days each time.

  • Chronic sinusitis symptoms last over 12 weeks.

Well what is causing it?  

Normal sinuses are lined with a thin layer of mucus that traps dust, germs and other particles in the air. Tiny hair-like projections in the sinuses sweep the mucus (and whatever is trapped in it) towards openings that lead to the back of the throat. From there, it slides down to the stomach. This continual process is a normal body function.(American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology) Here are some of the common irritants that can interrupt this process:

  • Dust:  A dose of good old dust, whether it’s from a woodshop, mowing the grass on a very dry day, or bringing out boxes from an attic, can overload the sinuses. The problem is that dust is a very complex mixture of irritants.  It can contain dustmites and their feces, chemicals, 

  • Pollen:  Plants have to reproduce, and sadly the weeds seem to be the worst offenders to our noses.  In addition, you’re not just imagining it: pollen really is becoming worse every year!  Check out our post on allergies here

  • Mold:  Mold is dangerous in that unlike other allergens, it can colonize and actually grow inside your sinuses, since they are warm, moist and dark.  Then, the rest of your body is susceptible to other colonizations as you breathe the mold spores and swallow them with mucous.   

  • VOCs:  VOCs can cause inflammation that leads to sinusitis.  A 2001 study showed that patients with chronic rhinosinusitis were exposed to higher levels of volatile organic compounds than healthy subjects.

We at HypoAir are not medical professionals, so we can’t recommend the techniques and drugs that doctors use for prevention and relief of sinusitis.  However, natural techniques are generally milder, and many of our clients are very sensitive to medications anyway, so we are glad to report that sinusitis can often be prevented or treated easily!  Here are some of the ways to do it:

  • I have to say that mask-wearing definitely cut down on my nasal issues when I was required/bothered to wear one.  Why?   Masks filter out many of the airborne contaminants listed above that can trigger sinusitis, as well as germs like bacteria and viruses.  Two+ years into the coronavirus pandemic, the stigma of wearing a mask is virtually nil, and there are a plethora of masks you can use to protect yourself against pollutants and germs alike (see our post on masks). 

  • Nasal irrigation is the number one defense against sinusitis according to Harvard Health (steps included in the article).  Whether you choose to use a bulb, small pitcher or neti pot, the homemade rinse works great to flush away the irritants that can block drainage and start a nasty infection.   It’s recommended to do this daily if you can!

  • Hydrate–your body as well as your nose!  Drink plenty of water during the day, and use a plain nasal saline spray several times a day if you are in a dry environment.  Adding a drop of food-grade tea tree oil or oregano oil (oregano oil is a bit harsher) to the saline spray adds a layer of antimicrobial protection to your spray. 

  • Avoid being unprotected in moldy and dusty places.  If you have to go down into a moldy basement or into a dusty attic, make sure to wear an N95 or respirator mask that seals well, and don’t take it off until you are safely in a clean place. 

  • Keep pollen, dust and pollution out while letting fresh air into your home, by installing some Window Ventilation Filters in your open windows.  They are easy to install and can be vacuumed a number of times before replacement.

  • Neutralize pollutants by adding a bipolar device by HypoAir to your home.  Positive and negative ions neutralize mold and germs by damaging their outer layers, and they cause small nanoparticles to stick together and drop out of the air in order to avoid breathing them in.

  • Be very vigilant about humidity levels in your home, so that mold does not gain a foothold.  You can monitor humidity easily using our inexpensive Humidity Sensors to maintain humidity between 40-60%.  If you see any water intrusion into your home, make sure to deal with it promptly to prevent mold growth! 

  • Use a MERV 13 filter (if possible) in your furnace/HVAC and change it regularly!

  • Use a standalone HEPA filter in areas where you spend a lot of time (living room, bedroom)

  • Clean as often as you can using a non-toxic, unscented cleaner: TotalClean fits the bill perfectly!  Safe to use around food, people and pets, TotalClean is the solution to replace all of the VOC-producing cleaners that can irritate and inflame sinus pathways. 

Think about the agony of sinusitis or a sinus infection and the time you lose while you battle it:  isn’t an ounce of prevention totally worth a pound of cure?  We think so!