Tag Archives for " VOCs "

Measure it so you can improve it!

Measure it so you can improve it!

There are several great old quotes that still hold true today:

“You can’t improve what you don’t measure.” (often attributed to Peter Drucker, “father of management thinking”, Forbes.com

“When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind: it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.”  (Lord Kelvin, British scientist, oxfordreference.com)

Ok, so we need to measure if we really want to know what is going on.  When you’re talking about air quality, sensors are the key!  Whether you are a homeowner or a professional, an economical sensor is a valuable thing.  Here are some of the best and their many uses.

Air Flow 

There are several instruments that can be used to measure airflow.  HVAC techs use manometers or anemometers  to verify whether the installed ductwork and fans are performing as designed.  There are also many uses for these around the house!  Here are a few:

  • Hold it below your kitchen exhaust vent fan to see if it is moving enough air out of the kitchen (you can do the same for the bathroom exhaust fan)
  • Hold it below your return air intake when the filter is clean, and when it is dirty, to see how much a dirty filter impacts your air flow.
  • Install a pollution-filtering window screen and window fan, and check the fresh airflow in and out of the room (see our post here). 

Here’s an inexpensive anemometer that not only measures wind speed, it also measures the temperature.  In order to get a volume air flow measurement in cubic feet per minute (CFM), set the output to read feet per minute and then multiply it by the square footage of the duct or window you’re measuring (width in inches x length in inches divided by 144). 

Air Pressure

We’ve written quite a bit about the “pressure” of your home; ideally it will be “balanced” so that outside air is not being pulled in through cracks and crevices (other than fresh air ventilation).  How do you really know, though, without measuring?  Air pressure sensors are called manometers and here are some other uses for them:

  • Checking the pressure drop across a new higher MERV filter (we recommend MERV 13 for the best home filtration).  You can make a small hole in the filter in order to feed one of the ported tubes through, and seal it later with some tape.
  • Check the negative pressure in rooms with the door closed, to see if the HVAC returns are getting proper air flow.  In this post we discuss tackling the problem of getting enough air movement with closed doors.  

Here’s an inexpensive manometer that detects pressure or differential pressure (with two ports) and has readouts in several different common units. 

CO2 

If you’ve read our post on CO2, then you know how important this pollutant can be to your wellbeing.  Too much CO2 comes from not having enough fresh air ventilation, and can be a big factor in feeling groggy, less energetic, and causing brain fog and poor mental performance.  Of course, then, you’ll want to measure it in your home and workplace, your car, and maybe even in your classroom, church or other public meeting place.  Here are some sensors that will help you do that:

  • To get the most bang for your buck, AirThings 2930 WavePlus combines 6 sensors in one unit: Radon, CO2, VOC, Humidity, Temp, Pressure (Barometric pressure) for about $200.
  • InkBirdPlus makes a unit that tells CO2, temperature and humidity, which are 3 key measurements for home use.  It can be hung on the wall or be portable.  This unit is about $69.

PM and VOCs

Particulate Matter (PM) is not only dust–it’s smaller than that!  Dust ranges in the 2.5-10 micron range (check out the following diagram), but when there’s smoke or cooking involved (which happen in the home all the time), particles can be less than 1 micron.  That’s where you can really see what’s going on when the toaster burns your bread!  

Source: visualcapitalist.com

Formaldehyde is a toxic VOC that is a common “off-gas” component of new furniture, flooring and pressed-wood cabinets.  It can be measured separately or as a part of Total VOCs (TVOCs).  Those who like to have their nails manicured and painted may or may not be in shock if they took a VOC meter into the salon…the same could happen in a busy restaurant with “open kitchen” concept.  Here are some sensors that you can use in the home or business (gasp!) to make sure you’re ventilating or wearing a mask when appropriate.

  • This model by Temtop has a sleek design for your desk and measures PM2.5, Formaldehyde and Total VOCs ($90).
  • Temtop Air Quality Monitor measures PM2.5, PM10, Formaldehyde, temperature and humidity, TVOC and AQI, with solid ratings on Amazon ($149).

Some sensors look like a sleek medical device and some look like a machine from Inspector Gadget, but remember, they will give you information your nose alone can’t tell you.  If you take out your sensor in a public place and someone asks you about it, you may be able to impart some timely wisdom that will help them, too!

Photo by Jorge Ramirez on Unsplash

Air-Purifying Paint? Yes Please!

Air-Purifying Paint?  Yes Please!

Every little bit helps.  Even if you haven’t changed your furniture or decor in years, most of us are constantly bringing chemicals and VOCs into our homes that come with food packaging and toiletries, new clothing and shoes, electronics and consumables like filters, printer ink and cat litter.  It’s a revolving door–even the garbage bags we use to take the garbage out (ie. scented or unscented “odor control” garbage bags) unleash a lot of VOCs into the air when we shake them out and every time we open the garbage can. (cleanlivingpodcast.com)

These are the reasons I was elated to find that something as simple as paint can purify the air in your home.  It’s brilliant, really, after all the years that paint added VOCs to the air, that now it can take them out of the rest of our homes.  And, it can deal not just with VOCs but microbes like germs and mold.  These really are super-paints, and although their cost is premium, if you can afford it, why not?  Here are some of the ones that stand out.

ECOS Paints (ecospaints.net) are marketed as “paints that you can feel good about”.  I feel that way about most no-VOC paints, but these are special.  They have categories like “Air-Purifying”, “Anti-formaldehyde”, “EMF-Shielding”, “Pet Dwelling”, and “Lullaby” (for nurseries and nursery furniture).   All formulas are water-based, are non-toxic and emit zero VOCs.  Primers, stains, varnishes, concrete and stone coatings are included.   My main fascination, however, was with the Air Purifying Paint.  At $120 per gallon, it’s quite pricey, but you can justify the price over the lifetime of the paint.  It “absorbs and neutralizes chemicals, pollutants and VOCs for improved indoor air quality.”  Their Air Purifying Paints contain a molecular sieve which is designed to both stop harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from being released into the air and to trap them as they float through a room.  (What is Air-Purifying Paint)  This sieve is zeolite, which is used in water purification, similar to activated carbon.  Over time, the pores in the zeolite will become less active (the website does not say how long this takes), but considering that most people repaint every 3-5 years, renewing the paint is like changing a filter on your air purifier. 

Gush Paints contain a proprietary catalyst that constantly breaks down VOCs in the room.   Their research indicates that the gush proprietary catalyst (GPC) is proven to be effective for at least 5 - 8 years under real-life conditions, which is a considerable length of time to enjoy cleaner air.  The literature is quite technical; GPC uses the principle of lattice doping and electron hole positioning, to interact with oxygen and water vapour in the air to form radical agents on the surface of the paint.  (This is not unlike the way bipolar ions attack VOCs through hydroxl radicals.)  It claims that VOCs are broken down at the rate of 99% in 21 hours.  They also stop mold and 99.9% of infection-causing bacteria.  At $70-75 per gallon, it has air-purifying and washable versions, which the air-purifying capability also somewhat regulate humidity.   Gush paints are GreenGuard Gold certified.  The colors are very hip with names like “boogie board” and “coffee beam”... perfectly named for the area they are manufactured, southern California. 

Smog Armor is made in Florida and uses zeolite (similar to ECOS Paints), which adsorbs VOCs and carbon dioxide, too.  It does not release them back into the environment and remains active for about 5 years.  It’s currently only available for commercial projects, but we can see the market for these types of paints expanding. 

Even Sherwin-Williams has picked up on this market.  Its SuperPaint with Air Purifying Technology ($75 per gallon) is mold and mildew inhibiting, zero VOCs, and helps reduce V.O.C. levels from potential sources like carpet, cabinets and fabrics and works to reduce unwanted household odors.  It’s also GreenGuard Gold Certified, but it is a latex paint, so those with latex allergies should be advised. 

Although Airlite is an Italian company and mostly available overseas, I thought I would tell you a little about their technology, because it seems different than the other paints presented.  “Airlite uses the energy of light to generate a small concentration of electrons on the surface on which it is applied. These electrons interact with water and oxygen present in the air to generate negative ions. When the air comes into contact with the wall on which Airlite is applied, the ions present near the surface interact with the polluting molecules and transform them into water-soluble, invisible and harmless mineral salts.”  The company has partnered with a number of artists and organizations to refresh and create outdoor murals, in order to reduce outdoor pollution as well.  The efficiency of the Airlite properties are guaranteed for 10 years; as long as there is light and humidity in the air, the benefits of Airlite will be active.  With its negative ions, Airlite also destroys viruses, bacteria, and mold at its surface, and repels dust and dirt. It’s a radiant reflector, with a saving of electricity for air conditioning between 15 and 30%.  Brilliant!

A fresh coat of paint has long been uplifting to our eyes and moods, but with these added technologies, these benefits are going beyond aesthetics to better health…making it easier to live in a polluted world.  Every little bit helps!

What’s hiding in that pallet wall?

What’s hiding in that pallet wall?

Another embarrassing but true story:  

Once upon a time in New Orleans, I rehabbed a house that was gutted post-Katrina.  In a neighborhood built in the 1950’s, I took down a few walls and set about making this little 1500 square foot home into my Pinterest dream.  No matter that the sloping floors would make a soup can roll from front door to back with no effort and amazing speed; all of the reclaimed furniture and materials available at that time were more than sufficient to supply the ideas that came into my head.  Some of my favorite places to go were the local “Green Project” or Habitat for Humanity stores.  Green Project had a small lumber yard of reclaimed wood and salvaged architectural pieces.  I don’t know whether I found this particular piece of wood there, or from the side of the road, but it looked perfect. 

My carpenter had framed in split-level bar countertops on either side of the newly opened-up kitchen, and to keep the cost of countertops low, I decided that the top of the bar would be reclaimed wood.  The chunk of wood I found was long enough for both tops, and the color of dark chocolate, a perfect contrast to the cream-colored kitchen.  I cut the pieces, sanded the edges, coated them with a few layers of varnish and set them outside to dry for a week or so.  Time to install!  They looked beautiful.

Throughout processing this wood, I did notice a “smell”.  It didn’t seem too strong, probably because I was doing the cutting, sanding and painting outside.  But soon after I installed it inside, the headaches started.  I had a constant strong headache most days for a week, until I made the connection and removed the wood.  Bingo!  Problem solved.  This was probably a decade before home VOC-testing equipment was available, but my brain and respiratory system was telling me that this wood was poisonous. Looking back, it was probably treated with creosote, which gave it the (beautiful!) dark brown color.  Creosote is derived from the distillation of tar from wood or coal and is used as a wood preservative. Pesticide products containing creosote as the active ingredient are used to protect wood used outdoors (such as railroad ties and utility poles) against termites, fungi, mites and other pests. (epa.gov) The EPA has also determined that coal tar creosote is a probable human carcinogen (over longer exposure periods).  Thankfully, I was the only one in the household who seemed to be affected.  

I’m still a fan of reclaiming wood and other materials, but I’m a little more cautious nowadays.  That’s the major drawback to most reclaimed wood: you just don’t know its history.  Whether it’s been soaked in smelly chemicals like creosote, or sprayed with non-odorous pesticides, or just sitting outside accumulating mold and insect droppings, it has a mysterious history that you may or may not be able to neutralize when you “reclaim” it.  Following are the main dangers of using some (not all) reclaimed wood (cdawood.com) indoors.  

  • Like my experience above, reclaimed wood that has been treated with harsh chemicals, like paints or stains, or contains VOCs (volatile organic compounds), can release toxins into the air.  Unlike my experience, you may not always smell these VOCs or toxins, which is a “silent” risk.

  • Wood is quite a porous material.  Mold and mildew can be hiding in the crevices of the wood, especially reclaimed wood that has a lot of “character” (read: cracks, knots and grains).  Mold and its toxic byproducts, mycotoxins and MVOCs, can make you quite sick and even spread to other parts of your home via dust and spores.  

  • You could bring pests inside.  Anyone who’s lived in the southeastern US would be familiar with termites, possibly carpenter bees, and maybe carpenter ants.  These are all wood-loving pests that can hitch a ride into your home inside of the lovely reclaimed wood.  They generally exit or die when the wood is agitated or dried out.  But have you heard of powder-post beetles?  These tiny pests can spread to other wood furniture and even the framing of your home, reducing the wood to “powder”.  Imagine losing your grandma’s precious antique dresser, or your kitchen floor joists, to these destructive pests because you decided to “reclaim” some wood for a table top: not a good trade-off!

If part of the reason to use reclaimed wood is “saving money” (one of my original reasons for creating those bar tops), are you really saving if one or more of these problems surfaces because of using it?  Here are a few ways to be more cautious with reclaimed wood: (Brunsell.com)

  • Consider the source: Grocery store palettes are likely to have been in close contact with food, so they run a higher risk of having bacteria (from spills), so don’t use them indoors.

  • Check for signs of how the wood has been treated: Know if and how the wood’s been treated. Heat-treated wood, also known as kiln-dried wood, is generally marked with an “HT.” In terms of your health, HT wood is preferable to chemically treated wood. You forgo the chemicals, and the heating kills off bugs. 

  • Consider the end-use of the wood:  If it will be in close contact with children, pets or food, it’s best to use new, untreated wood and opt for non-toxic finishes (like the paints and stains we mention in this article). 

If your gut says, I don’t know about this piece of wood, it might be best to listen to your gut!   Manufacturers have honed in on the reclaimed trend and created vintage looking wood and furniture from new materials.  

  • CdA Wood in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho is one such company that has the slogan “Barn wood but better”.  They take new untreated wood and make it look like old barn wood without paints or stains, using a patented “Xcelerated” process.  In the words of the VP, they “age wood indoors without using paints or stains”.  

  • Another company that values indoor air quality is EarthPaint.net.   All of their coatings are non-toxic, so you can start with new wood and get a fabulous aged finish without VOCs, mold, toxins or pests.   

  • Here’s a slew of ways you can add “character” to new wood with tools and a little elbow grease; just substitute non-toxic finishes for the stains used in the last few slides.

  • Did you know that charred wood naturally resists water, pests and further aging?  Developed by the  Japanese, Shou sugi ban is the art of preserving and finishing wood using fire.  Cedar wood works best for shou sugi ban because of its natural chemical properties, but you can also use shou sugi ban on pine, hemlock, maple, or oak.  This article tells you a little about the history and how to DIY your own burnt wood!  EarthPaint.net also has “Special Linseed Oil” similar to what is used in the article.  I’ve personally used shou sugi ban on some wood supports for my shower curtain, as well as an outdoor table. 

At HypoAir, we aim to bring the best of the outdoors inside.  We’re very selective, though, to make sure that hidden pollutants or pests don’t slip in with the good stuff…and with vigilance you can be too.  It’s time to raise the bar on reclaimed wood, to make it as healthy as it is beautiful!

How to equip your college student with better air quality

How to equip your college student with better air quality

If you’re a parent with a son or daughter in college, of course you want to see them succeed!  It can get costly, though.  From helping with tuition, room and board and everything else, it seems like “clean, fresh air” should be a free part of the package. Unfortunately, that may not be the case.  Many colleges and universities are housed in old buildings that did not give thorough consideration to air quality when they were designed, built, or renovated.  In many cases, you are paying for the privilege of  studying there, with living as only an afterthought!  

The problem with poor air quality in the university setting is that it affects the very thing young adults go there to do: learn.  Contaminants in the air work against their body in the following ways.

High CO2 due to inadequate fresh-air ventilation decreases the ability of the brain to metabolize oxygen.  In other words, the brain becomes oxygen deprived!  This can affect learning in terrible ways.  In a Havard study in 2015, 24 participants spent 6 days in simulated offices to control for CO2 and VOCs.  Days were designated by the research team, but blinded to the participants and analysts, to be one “High CO2” day of 1400 ppm CO2, two “Conventional” days representing the average office building conditions of about 940 ppm CO2, one “Green” day representing better ventilation with conditions of approximately 740-750 ppm CO2, and two “Green +” days representing 100% outdoor ventilation (approximately 550 ppm CO2). Cognitive scores were 61% higher on the Green building day and 101% higher on the two Green+ building days than on the Conventional building day. On average, a 400-ppm increase in CO2 was associated with a 21% decrease in a typical participant’s cognitive scores across all domains after adjusting for participant (data not shown), and a 20-cfm increase in outdoor air per person was associated with an 18% increase in these scores.  This shows that for lack of fresh air in their dorm room or classroom, your student could be missing out on their chance to absorb all the material presented, with lower test scores as a result!  Here are some ways to “open the windows”, so to speak:

  • Add a Window Ventilation Filter to their dorm room.  It’s easy to install and remove, and filters out pollution, pollen and dust. 

  • For more info on how to measure CO2 in your dorm or classroom, check out our post.  If the classroom or lecture halls turn out to be high in CO2, advise students to check with their student advisor on advocating for more ventilation.  

VOCs: Most dorm rooms come equipped strictly with the basics -- a bed, desk, chair, light and garbage can, plus a small amount of storage space in the form of a dresser and/or closet. (howstuffworks.com) Therefore, moving into a new dorm room usually means getting new bedding and new accessories like rugs, wall hangings, and more storage like dressers or bookshelves.  When these things are purchased new, VOCs from off gassing can increase dramatically if the doors and windows are kept closed for most of the day.  In the study discussed previously,  a 500-μg/m3 increase in TVOCs was associated with a 13% decrease in the cognitive scores.  Once again, fresh air ventilation is really important to keep VOC levels in check. 

  • Use a portable VOC sensor to check for levels in the dorm room or wherever it’s suspected that VOCs may be high (like a newly renovated area).  

  • Install a  Window Ventilation Filter in the dorm room to get fresh air dilution. 

  • The Air Angel neutralizes VOCs with the catalytic molecules emitted by its AHPCO cell. Being portable and requiring very little maintenance, it can travel anywhere they go: on weekend sports events, home, and on vacation.

  • The Germ Defender/Mold Guard's optional carbon filter adsorbs VOCs emitted by newer items as they off-gas.

Indoor humidity plays a major role in our health: when it’s too low, disease transmissions are more likely, and when it’s too high, mold growth occurs and different mold-related conditions spike.  We can think of many reasons to keep humidity in the recommended range of 40-60% so that your loved one’s health is not at risk!  Sadly, sometimes it takes severe illness and even death to prompt renovation of problem buildings (see this article about the University of Maryland).  Here’s how to equip your student against high humidity and the risk of bacteria, viruses, and mold-related illness.

  • It’s super inexpensive to put a portable humidity sensor in their suitcase or next care package.  Ask them to message you with a photo of the sensor when you’re talking with them in the dorm room, or whenever else it seems to be high.  

  • If the humidity remains high, you can speak to the dorm manager, but also equip your student with a dehumidifier.  Amazon and big box stores can even deliver one from an online purchase.  Since the average dorm room is only about 228 square feet, and larger dehumidifiers come with complaints of extra noise and heat, you’ll want to keep it small.  This economical one by Eva-Dry only covers about 150 square feet (1200 cubic feet), but two of them plugged into different areas will help keep moisture under control.  Here is a review of other models that work great for dorm rooms. 

  • The Germ Defender/Mold Guard is perfect for small, humid spaces, and does triple-duty in a dorm room: 1) Even though the bathroom is typically always humid, mold doesn’t have to grow there… I can testify that one Mold Guard stopped mold growth when I couldn’t get a leaky shower valve repaired right away.  2) This unit also deactivates viruses and bacteria in the air and on surfaces across the room with polarized ions. 3)  Finally, it has an option for a carbon filter to adsorb stinky odors like running shoes and sweaty clothing!

  • Use an Air Angel to prevent transmission of germs and mold growth. This unit is portable and requires very little maintenance, in fact only a replacement AHPCO cell once a year.

Finally, if your college student has not adopted good cleaning habits by now, we can’t help you! (just kidding, but we can supply you with the right goods, read on!)  Statistics on bacteria in dorm rooms are pretty gross: the average women’s dorm rooms had over 1.5 million colony-forming units (CFU)/sq. in. of bacteria, while men’s dorm rooms had an average of over 6 million CFU/sq. in. (collegestats.org).  The same article breaks down the types of bacteria and where they are most concentrated, and while not all of them were bad, most of them were.  It’s time to clean up, because it’s hard to know which is worse: being sick in college or having a sick roommate who will soon infect you.  For those who do clean, equip them: 

  • Once again, Germ Defenders and Air Angels are passive sanitizers that help in activate germs between active cleaning.

  • A bottle of TotalClean goes a long way!  Since dorm rooms are small, heavy-scented chemical cleaners can be super-irritating and not always welcome to their roommates’ sense of smell.  TotalClean is unscented, non-toxic and very effective against dust, dirt, and germs on many different surfaces, even windows and mirrors. 

  • Small pump bottles of non-toxic hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes stationed around the room and on desks help between hand-washings. 

Of course, similar to sending them off to grade school, you can’t be there 24/7 to help your college student make smart choices, but at least by this point you can give them tools to monitor and correct their own air quality for the healthiest and most productive school year.  Viva la college!