A clean, vibrant living environment is a key component of a well-rounded life. On the other hand, a dirty, dusty, and damp home can be detrimental to health. The following five things at home could be triggering allergies, irritations, and respiratory issues and should be addressed so you don't end up feeling sick in your sanctuary:
1. High humidity
A home with elevated humidity (anything above 60%) can become a breeding ground for mold. If the humidity levels get high enough, they can also affect the drywall and create an environment where mold spreads behind walls. We now know that certain mold causes a plethora of health issues1, from chronic sinusitis to nervous system damage. High humidity also welcomes dust mites, which can cause allergic reactions, stomach issues, and sleep disorders. Keep in mind that you don't want your humidity to be too low either (below 40%) since that can lead to respiratory irritation.
How to balance humidity levels at home:
- Purchase a humidity monitor and aim to keep levels between 40 and 60%.
- Make sure you run fan vents when showering and cooking.
- Open windows whenever you can to increase ventilation.
- Purchase a dehumidifier if necessary.
2. Lots of dust
Not only is dust a nuisance, but it also carries irritating dust mites that can disrupt our nasal passages and eyes. Studies show that dust mites put stress on our immune system2, weakening it over time. Dust also attracts dirt and particles from outside, which can contain pesticides and herbicides that are potentially toxic to the nervous system, and one recent study linked dust to weight gain.
How to minimize dust:
- Vacuum often and make sure your vacuum has a clear filter.
- Use a HEPA filter in your HVAC system to minimize the spread of dust.
- Don't wear shoes in the house, and wipe off paws before animals enter.
- Wash bedding, drapes, and stuffed animals often.
3. Water damage
Most people have experienced water damage at home at one point or another—whether it be from a leaky window or a basement flood. Any of these forms of water damage can greatly reduce the health of your home and should be taken care of by a professional. If you spot water damage or an ongoing leak, it's important to clean it up properly so it doesn't attract mold.
Telltale signs of water damage:
- Cracked, peeling paint on walls or ceilings
- Soft or warped walls or ceilings
- Trim that is not flush with the walls or floor
- Warped or buckling floorboards or flooring
- White mineral deposits of wood or basement floors
4. Tight sealing
How to reverse the effects of a tightly sealed home:
- Use natural ventilation by opening windows and doors when possible.
- Use mechanical ventilation by installing an air-to-air heat exchange.
- Utilize fan vents that pull air outside when bathing and cooking.
5. Moisture intrusion
Moisture intrusion can refer to any water that comes into your house (whether from the inside or outside) as well as its less-talked-about counterpart, condensation. Water coming in from outside can obviously cause water damage behind walls and in ceilings. And we now know that water, even in small amounts, causes mold problems. Water can also show up from indoor plumbing leaks.
And though condensation may sound harmless, it can actually put your home at an even higher risk for mold growth. Often seen on windows when the outdoor air is cooler and drier than the indoor air, condensation can eventually drip down into the inside of walls, causing mold to form.
How to prevent moisture intrusion:
- Check the outside of your house for holes, gaps, and leaks.
- Check gutters to make sure rainwater is properly diverted away from the house.
- Keep tabs on plumbing fixtures and drains, watching for any sign of a drip.
- Monitor indoor humidity levels to reduce the risk of condensation.
Amanda Klecker is a Certified Building Biologist and the creator of Healthy House on the Block. She has studied through Water Quality Standards Academy as well as Internachi Inspections. She's passionate about helping homeowners create their own healthy living environment and teaches just that online through her Healthy House University courses for homeowners.
She’s always looking for new ways to make it easy to create a healthy home environment for her husband and daughters. Healthy homes = healthy lives.