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Indoor Air Quality Part 2

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can still be found in many older homes. Inhaling tiny asbestos fibers can increase the risk of lung cancer and other lung diseases. Pipe coverings, flooring, shingles and roofs are likely places to find asbestos.

Check asbestos-containing materials regularly for damage from tears, water or wear. Don’t try to remove asbestos that is already in place; asbestos is best left undisturbed. If the material is damaged or you plan to remodel, protect your health by getting professional help.

Properly ventilating your home is one of the best ways to protect and improve air quality.

High levels of moisture in your home increase dampness and the growth of mold, which not only damage your home but threaten health. Dampness and mold are linked to increased wheezing, coughing and asthma attacks in people with allergies. Normal daily household activities — including cooking, washing and even breathing — produce water vapor, so having adequate ventilation is essential to remove moisture from the air.

Try these dehumidifying tricks to keep the humidity in your home below 50%:

  • Install and run exhaust fans in bathrooms to remove unhealthy moisture and odors from your home.
  • Make sure that vents exhaust air outdoors and not into other parts of your home.
  • Remove any mold damage or growth and fix all leaks.

Dry cleaning solvents are strong chemicals, and can be toxic to breathe. Let dry cleaned items air outdoors before bringing them inside. Hanging them on an outdoor clothesline will prevent many of these chemicals from entering your home.

Keeping the air clean within the walls of your home starts with the walls themselves.

Lead-based paints can still be found in homes built before 1978. Any peeling, chipping or chalking of lead-based paint can increase the risk of unhealthy lead exposure. Young children risk delays in mental development, lower IQ and behavioral problems from inhaling lead paint dust. Some of those damages can be permanent.

Remodeling that requires sanding, scraping or removing walls will release paint dust into your living space. However, you can reduce the risk if you take the proper steps. The Environmental Protection Agency offers these six recommendations:

  • Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible.
  • Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition; do not sand or burn off paint that may
  • contain lead.
  • Do not remove lead paint yourself.
  • Do not bring lead dust into the home.
  • If your work or hobby involves lead, change clothes and use doormats before entering your home.
  • Eat a balanced diet, rich in calcium and iron.

Get professional help for peeling paint or remodeling if your home was built before 1978. Older homes likely have lead-based paint on the walls, doors and trim. Inhaling the lead paint dust can be harmful to your health and professionals can help you stay safe.

Fireplaces and wood or gas stoves in your home can produce carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particle pollution, as well as other toxic air pollutants.

Use a fireplace or wood stove only if you must have it for heat. If you must use a wood or gas stove or fireplace, make certain it is fully vented to the outside.

Formaldehyde is a nearly colorless gas found in many home products. Disinfectants, adhesive or bonding agents, insecticides, urea formaldehyde foam insulation and particle board may all contain formaldehyde. It is a carcinogen and can cause health problems that include coughing, eye, nose, and throat irritation, skin rashes and asthma-like symptoms. People with asthma may be more sensitive to formaldehyde.

Keep formaldehyde away from your home by choosing wood panel products that are not made with urea formaldehyde glues, lumber or materials. Cigarette smoke is also a major source of indoor formaldehyde — another reason to ban smoking from your home.

Pesticides used to curb household pests can allow harmful chemicals into your home and may cause added health dangers to children and pets. Still, some pests can trigger allergic reactions and worsen asthma.

Practice integrated pest management to keep your home free of pests and harmful chemicals alike. Integrated pest management includes simple things like blocking holes and keeping food in tightly sealed containers. Cover your trash cans and keep your floors and counter free of crumbs. Use bait traps if necessary to catch pests. Only use chemicals as a last resort and get professional help.

Consumer products can produce harmful air pollution indoors. Hair and nail products, cleaning products, art and hobby supplies and other common products can increase the levels of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. Some of the VOCs in these products include substances linked to cancer, headaches, eye and throat irritation and worsened asthma.

Look for products which are marked “low VOCs” and be sure to open windows and use exhaust fans when using these products.

If you or someone you live with has asthma, you know that most homes contain a wide assortment of irritants and allergens that can trigger dangerous attacks. Take a comprehensive approach to identify and fix problems in order to maintain a healthy home. Studies show that doing just one or two things — like using mattress covers alone — won’t make much of a difference. Make sure you ban smoking from your home, keep the humidity level below 50% and regularly look around your home for problem areas or the specific trigger that causes problems.

Cooking can be a big source of indoor air pollution, especially if you have a gas stove. Scientists who measured indoor air quality found that cooking a single meal on a gas stove can produce levels of nitrogen dioxide that the EPA considers unsafe to breathe. Nitrogen dioxide can worsen asthma and increase your risk of respiratory infection.

Ventilate your kitchen stove directly outside or open a kitchen window when you cook. Keeping exhaust — including cooking odors and particles — outside of your home prevents dangerous fumes and particles from harming you.

Avoid using carpet whenever possible. Carpet traps unhealthy particles — including chemicals, dust mites, pet dander, dirt and fungi — and vacuuming can make them airborne.

If you do have carpets, use a HEPA (high efficiency particle air) vacuum cleaner to ensure better air quality.

Hard surface flooring, like wood, tile or cork can be readily cleaned by damp mopping.

Seven Tips for Keeping a Healthy Home (Dept. of Housing and Urban Development)

Keep it Dry:   Prevent water from entering your home through leaks in roofing systems, rain water from entering the home due to poor drainage, and check your interior plumbing for any leaking.

Keep it Clean:   Control the source of dust and contaminates, creating smooth and cleanable surfaces, reducing clutter, and using effective wet-cleaning methods.

Keep it Safe:   Store poisons out of the reach of children and properly label.  Secure loose rugs and keep children’s play area free from hard or sharp surfaces.  Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and keep fire extinguishers on hand.

Keep it Well-Ventilated:   Ventilate bathrooms and kitchen and use whole house ventilation for supplying fresh air to reduce the concentration of contaminants in the home.

Keep it Pest-free:   All pests look for food, water, and shelter.  Seal cracks and openings throughout the home; store food in pest-resistant containers.  If needed, use sticky-traps and baits in closed containers, along with least toxic pesticides such as boric acid powder.

Keep it Contaminant-free:   Reduce lead-related hazards in pre-1978 homes by fixing deteriorated paint, and keeping floors and window areas clean using a wet-cleaning approach.  Test your home for radon, a naturally occurring dangerous gas that enters homes through soil, crawlspaces, and foundation cracks.  Install a radon removal system if levels above the EPS action-level are detected.

Keep it Well-Maintained:   Inspect, clean, and repair your home routinely.  Take care of minor repairs and problems before they become large repairs and problems

Exterior Painting

Yearly maintenance will keep the exterior of your home looking good and protected.

  • Check for blistering, blemishes, or peeling paint.
  • Inspect your caulk. Cracked or dried out caulk should be repaired right away.
  • These areas may cause moisture to enter and then you will have even more problems: soft or rotten wood, mold, or mildew.
  • Pressure wash to reveal the bad spots in paint, caulk and wood. Cleaning the exterior will also get rid of grim, mold and mildew.
  • Keep plants, shrubs, and trees away from your home. They can cause excessive moisture  and damage your siding.

When painting, the temperature must be over 50 degrees, even at night.  Here in northern Michigan, clients often get excited that their project will be finished soon, as it is getting warmer out.  Winter is gone, and Spring is here.  Even if the daytime temps are over 50, it is the nighttime temps that cause a problem.  It must be warm even at night for painting.  It is nothing to have 65 during the day, but 25-30 at night.  So have patience, your paint job will last longer when done properly.

How to Keep Your Business Safe on Public Wi-Fi

(What we have done, is take our personal router (with a good password of course) and connect to the public Wi-Fi.  This gives us a safer way to access the internet.)

We sure have progressed in the past several years.  Depending on your age, you may have had to check in at the office via pay phone when on the road.  Did you have the huge “bag phones” with the antennae for the top of your truck?  Now, thanks to ever-improving technology, we can check in pretty much wherever we are.

(From Intuit)  Here is how to protect yourself while using someone else’s network:

  • Beware of “dummy” networks.  Let’s say your hotel’s Wi-Fi server is called “PierpointHotel.”  A hacker could set up a fake network named “PierpointHotelGuest” that looks and acts like a normal wireless internet connection.  But there’s a catch: If you join the fake network, the thief could capture your keystrokes, access your computer, and copy your passwords and other personal information.  Be extra sure you are connecting to the right network.
  • Favor networks that require passwords.  “Wi-Fi networks that require a WPA key are orders of magnitude safer than networks using WEP passwords or no encryption at all,” says Darren Kitchen, host, producer, and founder of the online technology show Hak5. A WPA key is a password you enter on a security screen before you join a network, not one you’re asked for in a web browser after you connect.
  • Don’t access your bank or credit card accounts.  Don’t even quickly check your balance through a public hotspot.  Although your bank probably encrypts your online sessions, hackers can still view the name of your financial institution as you connect. Using that, they could send you fake “phishing” emails or set up a spoof network that mimics your financial institution’s name (see “Beware of dummy networks” above).  Wait until you’re connected to your secure home or business network to access any financial accounts.
  • Watch what you email.  Consider your emails to be public postcards.  Don’t send notes that include business account information or client details that they wouldn’t want shared.  If you must email sensitive data, Kitchen suggests encrypting it with a Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) program such as Mailvelope.
  • Stay off Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and other personal accounts.  It may sound like overkill, but Kitchen says hackers could easily reel you in through your favorite sites. “What looks like Facebook, Amazon, or Twitter to you could just as easily be a phishing site designed to harvest your account,” he says.  “Alternatively, hackers can employ session-hijacking methods, which involve stealing the authentication cookie while in transit — for instance, if you have a ‘remember me’ [set up], so you’re not prompted for a password every time.  By doing so, an attacker can pose as you without needing your password at all.”  If you must log on to these accounts, it’s probably safer to do so via your smartphone instead of your laptop.
  • Avoid public Wi-Fi altogether.  That’s your best bet, says Kitchen, who feels strongly that it’s just too risky.  Use your laptop offline for work while you’re away from the office whenever possible. Or if you truly need access to email or online accounts, set up a Virtual Private Network for your business.  (Kitchen has used WiTopia, because it’s easy and inexpensive.) These networks let you get online more safely than public Wi-Fi while away from the office by encrypting everything you do.  An easier and possibly more secure option, albeit a costlier one ($25 or so per month), is using a mobile broadband adapter from providers like T-Mobile, Sprint, or Verizon. These gadgets let you create your own, password-protected mobile network wherever you go.

Make Your Home Safe for All Ages

With the holidays coming, here are some tips for making your home safer for the elderly.

Your 80-year-old aunt is coming to stay for a few days.  You are looking forward to the visit, but realize your home may not be entirely “older-generation” friendly.  To help enhance the safety and comfort of your visitor, especially one who may have some of the physical challenges that come with aging, here are a few quick and inexpensive things you can do to make the time less stressful for you and more comfortable for your guest:

Consider pathways in the house.  Clear obstacles, and maybe even move furniture that a person usually has to maneuver around.  Move any electrical cords that are where a person might walk – perhaps taping them to a wall or using a hook.  Clear stairs of any objects—shoes, books, and other personal items that tend to collect on the lower treads.  Also check that railings on stairs inside and out are secure, and make repairs where needed.

Lighting is crucial.  Put night lights in bathrooms, the guest bedroom, any hallways near the guest bedroom, and perhaps in the kitchen.  Make sure there is a lamp or light switch within easy reach of the guest bed so that your visitor can keep a light on until safely tucked in.  Well-lit outdoor walkways and entrances are also key for coming or going when it is dark.

Be sure the shower your guest will use has a non-slip floor.  To enhance the traction, apply non-slip strips or a suction-attached non-slip mat, both readily available at home improvement stores.

Secure or, preferably, remove any throw rugs, including bathroom mats.  Edges of rugs can be a tripping hazard, and even a slight scoot can affect a person’s balance.  If there are rugs you want to secure rather than remove, non-slip pads can help, but safer still would be to apply double-sided carpet tape or even caulk to attach the rug to the floor.  If you choose one of these methods, be mindful that you don’t mar the floor underneath.

Identify seating in your gathering rooms that is appropriately firm, high in the seat, and preferably one that has arms to help a person easily sit down and get up.  A chair that is too soft or too low to the ground can strand a person awkwardly.  If in doubt about the available seating in the room, bring a dining chair with arms into the room as an alternative.

(From the National Association of Home Builders)

Giving Your Bathroom a Facelift

Nothing dates a house more quickly than a bathroom that time has forgotten.Yet drab or outdated bathrooms can be dramatically revitalized. Bath products abound that can give you as lavish a bathroom as you could possibly want.

Your selections, and your budget, will determine the best way to remodel. Do you want to work within the existing space of your current bathroom?  Do you want to expand by taking room from somewhere else?  Would you rather build an addition to accommodate your new bath?  These are are just a few options which vary greatly in cost.

Renovating your current space is usually the least complicated and least expensive option. While the layout of your existing bathroom can be altered to some extent, moving major plumbing fixtures is the most costly aspect of a remodel. Local building codes require minimum clearances between, beside, and in front of fixtures to allow for use, cleaning, and repair.

If you have an extra bedroom, you could move the bathroom to this space or expand a current bath into a portion of it. This will mean moving the plumbing but it will also add a modern, spacious bathroom to your home which will increase the resale value. An addition or even a small bump-out could be the solution. This requires the largest investment but will give you just what you want.

If you’ve decided to remodel, start with an analysis of your existing bathroom:

  • What is the condition of the sink, toilet, and tub/shower? If it’s an older, wall-hanging toilet, you might update the look, perhaps with a low-water consumption style. If your tub is basically sound, consider reglazing it. However, many homeowners are moving up to whirlpool style tubs.
  • Does the sink have a vanity for storage? If it does, but you just don’t like it, consider replacing it with a one of the many beautiful varieties that are available today.
  • Does the sink have independent faucets? If so, you know how inconvenient this can be. Why not switch to a single operating lever which is easier to use and gives a better mix of temperatures?
  • Does your tub include a shower? One can easily be added with a combination tub-shower valve.
  • Think about reinforcing the walls, adding grab bars, and widening doors for visitors with physical disabilities or for your later years.
  • Is your medicine cabinet small and outdated?  Consider the various styles of newer cabinets, perhaps with recessed or decorative lighting.
  • How is the tile? If it is chipped and cracked and matching tile is not available, replacement or reglazing may be your best option.
  • If a wooden window is suffering the effects of humidity, it may be best to replace it and older metal windows with new vinyl windows. Deco glass block has made a comeback and is a good option for adding light and design flair to a bathroom.
  • Many older bathrooms don’t have adequate ventilation. You may want to add a fan to avoid moisture build-up which can deteriorate materials and promote the growth of mold and mildew.
  • Are electrical outlets a problem?  Face it, the number of electrical appliances we use in our daily rituals has multiplied since the time many houses were built. That means that you probably want more outlets. New and replacement ones should be protected ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets that are made to shut off automatically when they sense water.

Today’s bathroom can be all you want it to be. Enjoy the opportunity to explore the variety of materials, styles, and colors available to you. In the end, you’ll have a well-designed bathroom that functions as beautifully as it looks.