Winter Healthy Home Threats Occur in Every Home
Winter with its cold and often wetter weather presents unique healthy home threats that differ from other seasons throughout the year.
What is a healthy home threat?
A healthy home threat is something that challenges our efforts in creating a healthy home. It might be something that undermines what we’ve done, or perhaps something that needs to be considered to prevent issues.
Which Challenges Does Winter Bring?
I like to start with looking at the way that our behaviours change with the seasons, as well as the climatic conditions.
The drop in temperatures, the increase in rain in many parts of the country, the advent of snow in the ranges, and the shorter daylight hours tend to see us:
- Be indoors more of the time
- Use heating
- Perhaps light the fire, especially for date night
- Close windows and doors to keep the cold out and heat in
- Draw curtains and blinds for more hours due to the earlier sunset
- We wear more layers of clothing
- Our clothes are thicker
- We may need to dry our clothes inside due to inclement weather
- We often eat soups, stews and roasts – making the most of our ovens
- Some people bathe more often or take longer and hotter showers to warm up
You may be surprised to discover that all of these behaviours can create healthy home threats.
Let’s take a look at the threats and what can be done to reduce any issues.
Reduced Indoor Air Quality
When we “close up” our homes (closing windows and keeping doors shut) to keep the heat in, we’re reducing the number of times that the air is exchanged. This means that the air doesn’t get diluted often, if at all, which can result in reduced indoor air quality.
What happens is that VOCs, gases and other contaminants build up in the air. Oxygen levels often are reduced and carbon dioxide can increase – leading to feelings of sleepiness.
Ventilation is key.
- The simplest thing to do is to leave windows open just a tiny bit, as long as it is safe to do so, can dilute the air well.
- Regularly opening windows and doors several times throughout the day will exchange the air, and I recommend that this is done at least 3 times a day, and preferably every hour or two.
- If it isn’t possible to do this 2-3 times a day, then an air purifier would also assist.
Carbon Monoxide Build-Up
There’s a big difference between carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the gases that we exhale.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas that comes from combustion – gas appliances are one of the biggest contributors to CO levels within our homes. Cars are another big source, which is why I don’t like people idling their cars in their garages or driveways.
Since we’re using gas appliances more during winter – heating, cooking, hot showers – there’s an increased risk.
- Have your gas appliances checked by a licensed gas fitter every autumn so that they are ready for use in winter.
- Ventilate your home often – as discussed above.
- Avoid idling your car in the garage or driveway.
Poor Outdoor Air
The levels of outdoor air pollution can become very high in areas where people rely on wood fires for heating.
The smoke produced by wood fires can contain formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, chemicals (some of which are known carcinogens) and fine particulate matter.
According to the Environment & Human Health Inc. (n.d.) wood smoke “interferes with normal lung development in infants and children… can depress the immune system… [and, according to the WHO] can cause coughs, headaches, eye and throat irritation in otherwise healthy people.”
Whilst enclosed wood fires, such as Coonaras, don’t release the pollutants indoors, they are still released outdoors, and can readily affect your neighbours, particularly who are sensitive and/or have asthma or other respiratory complaints.
- Avoid using wood fires.
- Rug up and/or be physically active – this is a great time of year to get big gardening jobs done.
- Invest in an air purifier to help clean your indoor air.
Increased Moisture Levels
Did you know that “occupant activity” is one a big factor in indoor moisture levels?
The obvious ones are bathing, drying clothes, and stovetop cooking. However, occupant activities that increase moisture also include using gas appliances, breathing and sweating (or perspiring).
Given we tend to not only wear more layers in winter, but also the layers are thicker, they take longer to dry. As a result, many people dry them inside near a source of heat, or pop them in the clothes dryer.
Combine our tendency to be indoors in winter with these activities, then add to it the closed windows and doors, you can see how quickly moisture levels can increase.
- Monitor the levels of relative humidity with a hygrometer – we’re aiming for 45-55% RH; 50% RH is ideal.
- Use extractor fans when cooking, bathing or laundering.
- If your extractor fans don’t vent to the outside, or you don’t have efficient ones, then a dehumidifier can be useful.
Mould on Windows & Curtains
In the cooler months, many people report condensation on windows and glass doors especially in the mornings.
This happens because glass changes temperature quickly, and moisture in the air condenses out of it, forming condensation on this, and other, cold surfaces.
It is due to the presence of this moisture that mould can readily form on blinds or curtains that touch the glass, and even on the glass itself.
- Dry your windows daily with a dry bamboo microfibre cloth.
- Dry glass that is high up using a flat mop.
- Leave your windows open a little to equalise the temperature.
Increased Exposure to EMF/EME
Spending more time indoors can also increase your exposure to EMF/EME if you have wi-fi or use wireless devices.
Wireless technology is used in smart meters, Bluetooth equipment, smartphones and tablets, 3G, 4G & 5G, phone towers, home stereo systems, and more.
- Head outdoors to “discharge” and “ground.”
- Do without wi-fi and other wireless devices.
- Turn the wi-fi and wireless devices on only when you need them, ensuring they are off while you sleep.
As you can see,
Winter Healthy Home Threats Occur in Every Home – to Varying Degrees
I trust that you are feeling empowered to take the relevant action in your home.
If you’d like to get some advice on this, then please book a call.