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Improving Air and Water Quality in Your Home
Find tips on how to improve the indoor air quality in your home and test the water and surfaces for contaminants such as lead. Watch this video to find out more. ...More
Improving Air and Water Quality in Your HomeBy: Danny Lipford
Is your home healthy and the materials in it safe for your family? Watch this video to find out what you can do to make sure!
A healthy home includes:
- Air you breathe
- Water you drink
- Surfaces you touch
Indoor Air Quality
While we hear a lot about smog, the air quality inside most homes is more polluted than the air outdoors.
Common indoor air pollutants include:
- Carbon monoxide
- Mold and mildew
- VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)
- Formaldehyde and other chemicals
To reduce indoor air pollution:
- Kitchen: Install a range hood over the stove in the kitchen that’s vented to the outside, and use it whenever you cook.
- Bathroom: Install a bathroom exhaust fan vented to the outside in each bathroom, and run it during and for 15-20 minutes after showering or bathing to reduce mold and mildew.
- Air Filter: Install a high quality air filter on your heating/cooling system, and replace it every 1-3 months.
- Ductwork: Seal any leaks in HVAC ductwork with metallic duct tape, duct mastic, and caulk.
- Air Cleaner: Consider installing a whole house air cleaner, such as the Carrier Infinity Air Purifier.
- Vacuum Cleaner: Replace canister or upright vacuum cleaners with a central vacuum system, such as those made by Broan-NuTone, to remove dust and dirt from your home.
- Venting: Make sure all gas appliances and fireplaces are properly vented to the outside.
- Fireplace: Have wood burning fireplaces inspected annually and cleaned if needed.
- Carbon Monoxide: Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
- Radon Gas: Test the air in your home for the presence of radon gas, and take steps to eliminate it from the air if found.
Municipal water supplies are monitored to make sure they’re safe to drink, but the pipes the water travels through can release contaminants into the water, especially in older homes.
Start by using a water test kit, or have your water tested professionally, to make sure it’s free of lead, pesticides, bacteria, chemicals, and other contaminants. Even if the water quality is free of contaminants, it’s still a good idea to install a water filter on the water you drink and on the icemaker.
Clean your drains regularly with a drain stick to remove any hair or other organic matter. Once the drain is clear, pour either bleach or hydrogen peroxide (but not both) down the drain to kill any germs or mold.
Indoor Surfaces and Materials
The materials used inside your home can also contain and release contaminants into the air or through contact.
To make your home safer:
- Use a test kit to test the paint for lead in homes built before 1978 when lead was banned from paint.
- Choose furniture, cabinets, and building materials—such as Roxul mineral wool insulation—that don’t contain harmful contaminants and are safe to use.
- Use paint, caulking, and adhesives—such as Titebond GREENchoice—which release little or no VOCs into the air.
Read episode article to find out more.
- Installing Carbon Monoxide Detectors (video)
- Sealing Leaks in Ductwork (video)
- How to Choose Air Filters (article)
- Water Filters for Your Home (article)
- How to Test for Lead Paint (video)
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Danny Lipford: Is your home healthy? This week on Today’s Homeowner we’re breaking out the stethoscope to help ensure that it is. Don’t go anywhere, the doctor is in.
E.A. Keeble: Don’t tell my husband you taught me how to do this.
Danny Lipford: We spend lots of time and energy making our homes more attractive, more comfortable, and more efficient. But are our homes healthy? It’s an often-overlooked but important question that involves several factors. The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the surfaces we touch. So we’re doing a checkup with homeowner E. A. Keeble. Her historic home was built in the late 1800’s and she loves the character of the place, but is it healthy?
E.A. Keeble: And this is the heart of the home, our kitchen, I am the chief bottle washer. I do not cook.
Danny Lipford: What, no gourmet meals in here?
E.A. Keeble: Not particularly. I’ll do a cheese cake or a salad.
Danny Lipford: Oh, well, I can live off that. Not bad. Okay, you have the gas stove, what about your water heater?
E.A. Keeble: We do have a gas water heater, it’s in…
Danny Lipford: Oh, you got it hidden back there.
E.A. Keeble: …closed in this little handy…
Danny Lipford: I’ve seen that before. I’ve seen that a lot, where they tuck it away like that. And the vent, I see it’s vented right to the outside. So that’s, that’s good. That’s important.
Well, I’ll tell you what. On the carbon monoxide, I don’t know if you know much about it but it’s…
E.A. Keeble: I do not.
Danny Lipford: Well, it’s basically from the gas, from the gas not being burned completely, just kind of a by-product from that. And so it’s clear, it’s odorless, and you just cannot detect it any way in a home unless you have a detector.
Now, a lot of times, people think, that you have to position these very low or very high. But actually the carbon monoxide is about the same density as air. So we can go just about anywhere. Actually, why don’t we find a place in this adjacent room that we can plug it in?
Now, I’ll tell you, a lot of these older houses, you have challenge with outlets. You have anything to spare?
E.A. Keeble: The former owners updated the house, so we have…
Danny Lipford: Oh, is that right? You’ve got a few extra ones. That’s perfect.
E.A. Keeble: …this one’s not in use.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, well this is okay. Pretty close to the drapes, so you wouldn’t want them, you know, anything where the drapes would be covering it to block any airflow. That’ll be fine, that’s perfect.
So, all we have to do here is plug it right in just like that. And it still will give you the opportunity to use that other one. Now…
E.A. Keeble: So it doesn’t matter, you said, that’s it’s down low.
Danny Lipford: No, not a problem, because of it having the same density—carbon monoxide—having about the same density as air. It doesn’t really matter, I mean smoke detectors are a lot different. You want those up high.
E.A. Keeble: Right. Do all gas appliances have this potential for the danger of carbon monoxide?
Danny Lipford: Yeah, if they’re not vented properly. That’s why I was checking your water heater when we were looking at it to make sure that the vent goes out. Or if they’re just simply not working properly, then you have that potential. But also kerosene type heaters that you may use, like freestanding kerosene heaters, and certainly any kind of charcoal and even fireplaces.
That’s just one reason that fireplaces should be inspected by a professional regularly. Of course, you wouldn’t build a fire in the fireplace without venting the smoke up the chimney, yet many of us cook on the stove without removing the fumes.
A 2012 study found that cooking releases some of the same pollutants found in smog. So it’s important to always use your range hood when you cook, preferably on the highest setting. Then clean the filter regularly to make sure it’s operating at peak performance.
While you’re at it, clean your bath vent fans, too. If they don’t remove the steamy damp air from a bath, it’s an invitation for mold to grow; and we’ve all heard about the health risks associated with breathing mold. Now, speaking of cleaning…
Well, I’ll tell you what, E.A., I love the hardwood floors in the older house. What about keeping those clean, have you had much of a challenge with that?
E.A. Keeble: Well, these are almost what sold me on this house, I love the heart pine. And really it’s pretty simple, the oil soap and a little damp mop, and it shines it up really well.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, yeah, it looks like it, looks great. Now, I notice you have some rugs here and there downstairs do you have any other carpet?
E.A. Keeble: Yes, our two guest bedrooms upstairs and the bath are both carpeted.
Danny Lipford: I see. Now, how do you keep those clean?
E.A. Keeble: Well, I have an upright vac…
Danny Lipford: Oh, okay.
E.A. Keeble: …so I have to drag that out.
Danny Lipford: Okay. Well, you know, one the advantages—and they’ve really discovered this over the last few years with hard surfaces, whether it’s hardwood or ceramic or whatever—that a lot less dust, a lot less allergens, than with carpets. So if you have carpets you have to clean it well. But, you know, that upright is not the best thing for indoor air quality.
An upright or canister vacuum filters some of the dust and allergens it picks up but the rest is exhausted right back into the air in your home. A central vacuum system also filters the dust, but its exhaust goes to the outside.
E.A. Keeble: Well, I’ve heard of those. Aren’t they just for new houses?
Danny Lipford: Well, well, it’s a lot easier to put them in a new house. In an older house like this, you can retrofit. You’re up on crawlspace, so you can’t get under there and do that, but then your central system would be located in a garage or a back storage area, something along those lines.
E.A. Keeble: Oh.
Danny Lipford: Now, let’s check in with Joe for this week’s Simple Solution.
Joe Truini: Drip irrigation is an ideal way to water a row of plants or vegetable beds or even flower beds; because it delivers a precise amount of water exactly where you need it without over watering.
I want to take the benefits of drip irrigation, add it to houseplants, and here’s what I came up with. All you need is an empty plastic bottle and drill an eighth-inch diameter hole in the cap, and that is the drip irrigation system right there.
So, you go to your houseplant and get a stick or a screwdriver, and make a little bit of a hole in the back of the pot—just enough to stick the neck of the bottle in there. This also works, by the way, with wine bottles—you can drill hole in the cork.
And you take the bottle, force it upside down in the hole, right in the soil. And there you go. Now that will very slowly drip a little bit of water each minute or two into the soil and keep it nice and moist.
This is ideal for watering plants when you’re on vacation or if you’re just away for few days. And when you come back your plants will be nice and hydrated, lush, and as green as ever.
Danny Lipford: This week we’re helping E.A. Keeble give her home a checkup to see how healthy it is, and we’re starting by focusing on the air she breathes.
And I’ll tell you E.A. when you’re talking about improving the air quality inside your home it really starts right here. This is your return air grille. Do you know what that is?
E.A. Keeble: Not particularly.
Danny Lipford: Not particularly, okay. So that means you haven’t changed the filter in a while.
E.A. Keeble: Oh, right. No, it wouldn’t have been me.
Danny Lipford: Well, I’ll tell you when you look at this—and, of course, air is pulling through here to get to the air conditioner—and you can tell the amount of pressure that’s on that right now, which means this is really dirty.
E.A. Keeble: Oh, okay.
Danny Lipford: It’s really dirty, so changing that. You know you need to change it on a regular basis for a lot of reasons. First of all the quality of air. And when you think about it, every cubic foot of air in your house goes through this grille or through this filter twice an hour.
E.A. Keeble: Really?
Danny Lipford: Yeah. Yeah, so you think about that, that how important this is.
E.A. Keeble: I had no idea.
Danny Lipford: Now this, you see these all the time—they cost about two or three dollars—they’re worthless, just really never use them. I mean, look, you can see right through it.
E.A. Keeble: You can see right through it.
Danny Lipford: You know, it’s not good. So I would use one similar to what you have there, like this one, that’s an electrostatic filter.
And you see the little arrow on it? That’s the direction of the air, so you want to install it like this.
E.A. Keeble: All right, okay.
Danny Lipford: But before we do that, I want to show you something here that I’ll bet we’ll find. You see all of the cracks where this is supposed to be completely sealed so that all of the air is only coming through this grille. It’s pulling in from, from this, what is a bathroom, and adjacent areas and then—what is this, a little storage area?
E.A. Keeble: Oh, that’s also a bathroom, that’s our cat litter.
Danny Lipford: Cat litter?
E.A. Keeble: A closet.
Danny Lipford: Oh! Can I open it?
E.A. Keeble: Oh, please do, yeah.
Danny Lipford: Oh, how about that!
E.A. Keeble: It’s a little place for our cat.
Danny Lipford: Oh, isn’t that clever? Pretty cool. Well, you could be getting in some odors pulling in from there that’s also distributed throughout the house.
So I have a solution to that, I have some caulk out in the truck. It’ll be real easy for me just to seal this plenum up, you want to keep it good and clean. We’ll put the new filter in it, then you’ll be in great shape here.
E.A. Keeble: Oh, okay, I see because the intake is coming from, not only from here, but through this. All right I understand.
Danny Lipford: You get it?
E.A. Keeble: Yeah, okay
Danny Lipford: Sealing up the leaks in the air return and changing the filter is an easy fix anyone can do.
E.A. Keeble: Don’t tell my husband you taught me how to do this.
Danny Lipford: But a heating and cooling professional can help you take air filtration to another level.
Kent Kuffner: This is the Infinity air purifier. It’s a whole house air cleaning, air purification device. This one is different because it has that Captures & Kills technology that is unsurpassed in the industry. It actively kills or deactivates germs, like bacteria and viruses, including viruses that cause colds and the common flu.
So here’s how it works. As particles enter the purifier, they’re given electrical charge. Now, the filter also carries electrical charge so those charged particles are going to be attractive to the charged filter fibers and held there tightly like a magnet. Then the viruses and bacteria are going to be actively killed or inactivated because of the electrical charge in the filter.
The filter is thicker than most ordinary filters but it has a lot of surface area to have a lot of holding capacity so it will last a long time without overly restricting the airflow going through it. It’s important to keep the filter clean, and filter life varies from home to home, but if you the Infinity control, it’ll actually remind you when to change the filter.
Allen Lyle: If you talk about indoor air quality, you’ve got to discuss radon. Radon is a radioactive gas created as uranium decays. Now, right off the bat you may think, “Okay, then it’s rare.” Not really.
You see radon is in almost all types of soil. It’s been in all 50 U.S states, and it’s estimated that one in 15 homes have elevated levels of radon. It’s a dangerous gas, you do need to test for it.
Easy to do, test kits are available for about ten dollars. And it’s simple as a little tray of granules that will absorb the air. You’re going to sit out in a room for about 48 hours. Now, unlike other home tests, you do need to send this one off to an independent laboratory to get the results.
If you do have radon, it’s not the end of the world. Here’s what you need to do, and I do suggest getting a contractor who is certified in radon mitigation. All types of things they’re going to do for houses on slabs or basements like we are here. You can seal any cracks and gaps in the slab.
If you’re above grade, something as simple as putting down a layer of heavy plastic with pipes underneath that plastic and ventilation fans to help move that gas out of the way and dissipate safely.
Jodi Marks: You know, if you’re in the market for carpet, you could come over here to the carpet section and be a little overwhelmed. And who wouldn’t be, because there are so many choices.
But, of course, you want to get the trifecta of your good carpet. And by that I mean, you want it to be durable, you want it to be stain resistant, and of course you also want it to be comfortable; because that’s why you’re putting carpet in to begin with.
So, look no further than right here. Now, this is a carpet by SoftSpring. And I’ll tell you what, this is actually so soft. And the reason it’s so soft is it has twice the fibers per strand of ordinary carpets. So check that off, it’s going to be comfortable.
But take a look at all of the different color choices and textures that you have. So, you’ve got a lot of different options when it comes to this carpet choice. Another thing which I like about it is, you know, carpets are either made from a nylon fiber, a polyester fiber, but this one isn’t.
This is actually made out of Triexta. And what that means is, it’s made from 39% corn sugars, which is a green renewable resource. It makes it durable, it makes it last longer, and of course it is beautiful.
Danny Lipford: We’re continuing our healthy home checkup with my friend, E.A. Keeble, and we’ve already dealt with the air she breathes inside her home. Now it’s time to check out the water she drinks.
So, I want to ask you, how does the water even taste?
E.A. Keeble: Well, to be honest, this house is over a 125 years old, so I’m a little bit nervous about drinking tap water, so I generally boil it.
Danny Lipford: Oh, is that right? Yeah.
E.A. Keeble: Just to be on the safe side.
Danny Lipford: Oh, a lot of people do. A lot of people are concerned. Or, you know, people get so carried away with the bottled water and that type of thing.
Actually, you know of course, in a municipality like this they’re required to have safe drinking water. And they provide this little report that I printed out for you off the Internet. So, take a look at that. But one thing this doesn’t address…
E.A. Keeble: Oh, my word!
Danny Lipford: …is how it tastes. That’s why I was asking about that. But can you get anything out of that at all?
E.A. Keeble: This, I am afraid my diploma didn’t qualify me for that.
Danny Lipford: The chemistry doesn’t go that deep in there. Well, it’s pretty complicated, but essentially it’s saying that there are some contaminants, but it’s not to the point that it’s dangerous.
The biggest concern I have is, as you just mentioned, is even though the water may be considered safe, from the plant out to the street, what’s happening between the street and getting into the house when it gets to this faucet?
E.A. Keeble: Old pipes.
Danny Lipford: E.A. may have whispered it, but the prospect of lead in the water is very real in an older home. So we’re going to test the water with a home test kit. And some of them can be rather involved, so it’s important to read the instructions carefully.
Here’s your booklet for nighttime reading.
E.A. Keeble: Oh, thank you! Okay, there’s supposed to be a test each for bacteria, lead, and pesticides. All right, “Rinse out the test vial and fill to a quarter-inch from the top with water. Remove one of the four-way test strips from the foil package, dip in water. Swirl strip three times and remove.”
All right, and then it says, “Immediately read the chlorine tab by comparing to chart below.”
Danny Lipford: Some results are immediate, while others take a little time to react. But all of the tests have very specific instructions.
E.A. Keeble: Why did they put that in there? They’ve already told… Okay.
Danny Lipford: I’ll wait till you read it all, and then we’ll…
E.A. Keeble: Using dropper, place…
Danny Lipford: If you don’t have an eye for the details, you might want to consider getting a local lab to analyze your water. You’ll need to tell them what you want to test for, and give them a sample of your water.
Either way, take note of the results and use them to guide your next steps. Okay, so pesticides: fine.
E.A. Keeble: Pesticides. And the lead…
Danny Lipford: Yeah and the lead… Oh yeah, it’s a little faint, but it’s showing a little trace.
E.A. Keeble: I think so, too.
Danny Lipford: Just need to a little investigation on that as far as the filtration…
E.A. Keeble: You have a booklet, don’t you.
Danny Lipford: Yeah. Yeah, we’ll have to do some reading on this.
Because point-of-use filters are pretty easy to install, but they don’t all filter the same stuff. So it’s important to know which ones remove the contaminant you’re concerned about.
While we do that, Allen’s checking out another plumbing concern.
Allen Lyle: Isolated odors are not uncommon. We get the question all the time, “I’ve got this smell coming from just one sink “or just one tub. What is it?” Biggest fear is that it’s sewer gas. And it’s possible, but it’s not probable. Here’s why.
Under all plumbing, whether it’s an old house like this or a brand new one, you’ve got what’s called the P-trap. What happens, as water drains out of the sink or out of the bath tub, a small amount of water stays right in there, and that becomes a barrier to all of that sewer gas.
So, if you’ve got a crack in that pipe or a leak fix it, that’s probably all it will be. But more than likely, it’s the bacteria. Think about it, washing your hair, shaving, you get a lot of organic matter down a sink, and down a bath tub drain—this is really notorious here.
As you get the clog, bacteria begins to grow. What you need to do is just remove the clog. Easy to do, I’ve got a little zip tool here. We’ll slip that inside.
Once you remove the clog, you want to take a little diluted bleach, maybe some hydrogen peroxide, pour it down the drain—don’t forget about the overflow. That’s going to kill both the bacteria and the odor.
Danny Lipford: Now, what about the surfaces you touch inside your home? If you live in a house that’s built before 1978 you need to think about whether or not you have any lead paint on any woodwork in your house.
Now, we have one of the little lead test kits, similar to the water test kit that we used earlier, and E.A. is using that to rub just a little swab here—a test swab—on the paint to see if it turns pink or red.
Now, if you test your house and if you find any woodwork that contains lead you need to think about the lead-safe practices that are available through the EPA, and through our website at todayshomeowner.com, to be able to tell you if there’s any problem with lead in your house and exactly how to handle it.
Now, I’m hoping we don’t see any pink or red here. What do you see?
E.A. Keeble: Nothing.
Danny Lipford: Not a thing. I think we’re pretty good. Yeah, I know.
E.A. Keeble: Thank heaven!
Danny Lipford: I know, I mean it’s not the end of the world if you have the lead in the house but it’s a lot better if you don’t.
With that in mind, when you improve, select materials that you know are safe. For example, this Roxul Safe’n’Sound soundproofing insulation is made from stone wool, which has a dense, non-directional structure that’s ideal for reducing sound transmission.
But equally important is the fact that stone wool is made from natural rock and recycled minerals so it’s safe for your home and your family.
Now, let’s hear one of your questions.
Amanda wants to know, “How do I make sure I have the right size range hood in my kitchen?”
That’s actually a very good question. It’s just one of the factors that a lot of homeowners don’t consider when they are selecting a range hood for their kitchen. But it is very important that you have a range hood that’s strong enough to provide the right type of air movement and exhaust out of your kitchen.
So, how do you know? Well, an average range is around 30 inches, and for 30-inch range you need a range hood that’s capable of moving 250 CFMs, that’s Cubic Feet per Minute of air movement.
Now, if you have a little bit of a larger stove, which a lot of people do, you want to upsize it just a little bit. Now another factor that would need a larger range hood is if you have a larger than average kitchen.
That way you can ensure that you’ll get all of the odors, the moisture, and proper ventilation that you need for your kitchen.
Danny Lipford: The important thing about a healthy home checkup, like the one we’ve been doing with E.A. is the knowledge you gain about the place where you live, and what you do with that knowledge.
While not all the news was good, it wasn’t all bad either, and I think E.A. has a plan to deal with the challenges she found.
Hey, it was a lot of fun today, E.A., hanging out with you. I hope we didn’t find anything that disturbed you in any way.
E.A. Keeble: Oh no, it was my pleasure. I learned a lot. I learned all about the carbon monoxide, and I learned about the various things that could be wrong with the water.
Danny Lipford: Hey, I’ve got to ask you, though, before we go, what’s the “E.A.” stand for?
E.A. Keeble: Oh, I’m named after both of my grandmothers.
Danny Lipford: Oh!
E.A. Keeble: There’s Ethel Octavia and Anna Celeste.
Danny Lipford: Oh.
E.A. Keeble: So Ethel Anne.
Danny Lipford: Oh, that sounds great. I love that!
E.A. Keeble: Well, you can call me Ethel Anne.
Danny Lipford: Okay. Hey, I hope you enjoyed seeing some of the things that you can do to have a healthy home. You know, it’s all about the air you breathe, the water that you drink, and the surfaces that you touch.
And you know what I’m going to say next, you can go to my website, at todayshomeowner.com, and find out even more about how you can have a healthy home.
I’m Danny Lipford. Thanks for being with us! We’ll see you next week, right here on Today’s Homeowner.
Hey, the cat door…