Did you know that apps used to measure sleep have uncovered an insomnia epidemic?
BUT did you also know that the wireless technology required for these apps to function has been linked to sleep disturbances?
“What Can I Do?”
At the very least, don’t sleep with your phone!
4. Smell… naturally lovely!
I want to tackle the topic of “fragrances” here. Fragrances are in everything from perfumes, air fresheners and deodorisers. They are in our laundry products, sanitary protection, and even in our cosmetics. Nappies, doggy-do bags, and toilet paper also are scented… and that is just the tip of the iceberg!
If you ever see this word on a label, it means “a cocktail of many ingredients.” Fragrance, parfum and perfume all mean the same thing, when reading labels.
The ingredients used in perfumery are primarily chemicals, most of which haven’t been tested for safe use by humans, some that have been tested really aren’t good for us (causing cancer, irritating our skin and lungs, messing with our hormones…).
Our exposure to fragrances is enormous and our bodies need to deal with this. For some people, this constant exposure is physically exhausting.
Did You Know?
Did you know essential oils are a better option that synthetic fragrances? But please bear on mind that they are very potent – so use sparingly and avoid using them 24/7. For people who are environmentally sensitive, even these can be problematic. Please use them with care (and NEVER eat/drink them).
“What Can I Do?”
Don’t buy anything that contains fragrance, parfum or perfume.
Have you noticed there has been a lot of media stories about mould and how it is making people sick? It has definitely attracted a lot of attention, and was the subject of a 2018 Parliamentary Inquiry, instigated by Senator Lucy Wicks. Mould comes in many different colours, and it doesn’t have to be black to cause health problems.
Mould spores are everywhere and play an important role on our planet. Only 25% of the spores can grow, the other 75% are “dead” (that said, it doesn’t make them less problematic for someone who is sensitive).
However, we don’t want mould growing in our homes.
When you think about it, all mould is waiting for is the right conditions to grow. This centres on the right amount of moisture. Moisture can come from leaks, burst pipes, spills, condensation and many other places.
Did You Know?
Did you know that flexible braided hoses (the bendy pipes on your taps and toilets) account for over 20% of water damage claims in Australian homes? They only last for around 5-7 years and erode faster in the presence of chemicals. (What is under your sink?)
“What Can I Do?”
Deal with water quickly – mop up spills, fix leaks, dry out anything that has become wet within 24-hours.
I trust this has given you a lot to go on with…
If you have any concerns, or want to get in touch, please book a call.
Let's first explore humidity – to set the scene and give context to the rest of this post.
What is Humidity?
Humidity is the amount of water vapour in the air. It is important to know and understand this, particularly if you have any water damage or you live in a humid environment.
Humidity is commonly measured and discussed in two ways.
Firstly, there is relative humidity – this is the one we hear about a lot. When you think of being somewhere tropical, where you feel clammy despite having just showered, these areas will have a high level of relative humidity. The level is given as a percentage, for example 62%.
Relative humidity is the measure of how much water vapour is in the air and varies according to the temperature, in that it is relative to the temperature. The warmer the air, the more water vapour can be held and thus the relative humidity level will be higher.
Specific humidity is a different measurement and does not vary with temperature. It is expressed as gpk (grams per kilogram) or gpp (grains per pound).
Ideal Levels of Humidity
There are no ideal levels for specific humidity. As a building biologist, the different readings in different rooms can show me where to look further for water damage, and this requires quite specialised equipment.
Relative humidity is the one that is easiest to measure and changes can be quite noticeable in the way it feels. This is the one more closely related to comfort. Relative humidity is easily measured using an inexpensive hygrometer, such as this one.
Most people generally feel comfortable when the temperature is between 18-24oC and the relative humidity is between 35-75%, beyond this people generally feel uncomfortable.
When relative humidity levels are high, the air is uncomfortably moist – you may feel hot and clammy, sticky or just damp.
When relative humidity levels are low, you may feel quite dry – dry eyes, dry throat, dry skin, “parched”; you may even experience more static electricity.
The optimum level for relative humidity is between 40-60%.
Bacteria, viruses, fungi and house dust mites all are less active; and these biological contaminants can be highly problematic for health, and form part of the microbial stew.
Occupant Activity and Humidity
Humidity can result in water damage.
In our homes, there are four main ways for water damage to occur. The first is a disaster of some sort, eg flooding. The second is damage to the building, eg a burst pipe, tiles coming off the roof, a leak. The third is poor building design or poor workmanship, such as not having an exterior vent on an extractor fan, having bedrooms with no opening windows, running the downpipes to the underneath of the house… And the fourth (which can often be overlooked) is occupant activity.
Occupant activity can cause a lot of water damage. Some examples are:
not using the extractor fan when bathing
using a clothes dryer
spilling liquids and not cleaning them up quickly
Examples of Moisture Created from Occupant Activity
The following is from Elkink and Pringle's 2012 book Building Basics: Internal Moisture – and these levels, I am sure, will amaze you!
Showering and bathing
Varying levels of moisture depending on temperature of shower, length of time, ventilation.
People in a room
Awake we exhale 200ml of water vapour per hour. Asleep we exhale 20ml per hour. This is roughly 3L of moisture per day.
Unflued gas heaters
0.5-1L of water per hour.
Varies depending on method (e.g. boiling and steaming), if the heat source is gas; and includes kettles, microwaves, dishwashers and washing dishes.
Clothes washing and drying
Up to 5L per load can be released if clothes are dried inside on a rack.
All produce enough heat and water vapour to require additional mechanical ventilation systems.
Increase the humidity in a room and can result in condensation.
Overflowing baths, sinks and laundry tubs can all create problems if not dried within 24-48 hours.
Roof space ventilation
This is important particularly if extractor fans are flued into the roof cavity, and not vented externally. Changes in pressure can cause moisture and other contaminants to enter the building.
A potential problem is created if the materials are not completely dry within 24-48 hours.
Leaking pipes and appliances
A very large problem, which will vary depending on what, where, how much, and how long before it is rectified.
A normal subfloor
Evaporation from a 93m2 subfloor is 45L of moisture per day, and up to 180L per day if there is standing water on the subfloor soil.
As you can see, there are a lot of ways that we can fill our homes with moisture – inadvertently, which is one reason why ventilation is important. My ideal would be for every home to exchange all of the air every few hours, and yet reality brings us back to at least once a day.
My favourite thing to do is to open windows and doors in the morning until I feel the temperature change, and I know that all of the air in my home has been exchanged.
I'll come back to this a little later, but it is important to note that moisture moves to where levels are lowest… So, if there is less humidity outside, then opening your windows can allow the moisture to dissipate out of your home. If the relative humidity is higher outside, then it could be better to open your windows and doors when this has changed over.
How to Use a Dehumidifier
A dehumidifier takes the water vapour out of the air and it can be used to bring relative humidity levels back into the optimum zone – between 40-60%.
I like people to have them, particularly when the cause of the moisture is occupant activity or a lack of ventilation (such as a rented property with no extractor fan in the bathroom).
Here is a general step-by-step guide for how to use a dehumidifier for the initial deep-drying. Please note that every house is different, so this is merely a guide.
If you have pets, like birds, etc, please take them out of the room first.
Close the windows and doors of the chosen room.
Open cupboards and drawers in this room.
Set your dehumidifier to 30% relative humidity.
If temperature of the room is low, turn on the heater (or the heater on the dehumidifier) for optimum drying.
Run the dehumidifier for 24-hours a day for 1-3 days.
A good dehumidifier will automatically turn itself off when its water tank reaches capacity – so you should be able to run it while you are at work (they are a bit noisy, so this is preferable to running them overnight).
After this initial drying phase, you can use it periodically to dry the room.
NOTE: If there is water damage and/or mould, I recommend that a) the source of the water is addressed and b) if anything is wet for more than 48 hours that the resultant mould be addressed first.
When Else a Dehumidifier is Useful
A dehumidifier, as mentioned is great for moisture caused by occupant activity.
My #1 use for a dehumidifier, in an ongoing way, is to use it in the bathroom or ensuite when bathing. Despite using it regularly, it always astonishes me the amount of water vapour that a shower can produce.
It can also be used when you are exchanging the air in your home, and the outside relative humidity is higher than the indoor relative humidity.
If you get a good one, it will also have a heater on it. This is beneficial as you now have a clothes dryer – that doesn't add moisture to the air! Simple hang your clothes on a rack and run the dehumidifier nearby (wishing I had one when I lived in the Blue Mountains, where it took weeks to dry my laundry!)
This is the New Wide Tech All Seasons 35L Dehumidifier.
Basically, bigger is better, it does the job more efficiently and has a greater water capacity.
What else to look for?
variable humidity settings
the water tank will automatically signal when it is full and the dehumidifier will stop working
a ceramic heater to help dry more quickly and allow it to work well in cooler climates
option for continuous drainage
When a Dehumidifier is Not Enough
As much as I am a fan of the dehumidifier (pun not intended) – there are times when one is not enough. My biggest concern with recommending them is that someone may have water damage to their property with resultant mould.
Mould spores are everywhere and just need water as the spark of life… anything that is wet for longer than 48-hours can be a problem – even if it is dry now.
Read more about mould here and mould, water damage and health here.
A dehumidifier is fabulous for occupant activity, but not ideal (without professional assessment) when there is something more going on, eg structural damage…
So, these factors would give you an indication that you should look beyond just drying out the room with a dehumidifier:
You (or someone in your household) is unwell, and generally, your health improves when away from the home
You have mould
Your home (or parts of it) smell musty, mouldy, damp, dank or earthy
Your clothes are always damp
There is a history of water damage in your home
You have a leak
There is water under your house
Obviously, the above list does not cover everything. Mould is a serious problem, and it is a moisture issue. Addressing the source is paramount to resolving the issue.
(This post is intended to be informative, and not an infomercial. Given the gravity of biotoxin/mould-related illnesses, please understand that I do need to point out the limitations, and how you can action the situation.)
Aderholdt, J (3 August 2011) The Insulation Lab (Online) Available at http://www.ntcinsulation.com/the-insulation-lab/moisture-_psychrometrics_and_relative_humidity_-_their_effect_on_structure_and_air_quality (accessed 28 November, 2016)
Elkink, A and Pringle, T (2012) Building Basics: Internal Moisture Building Research Association of New Zealand, Porirua, New Zealand
ProAir (2011) Indoor Air Quality (Online) Available at http://www.proair.ie/the-technology/indoor-air-quality/3/ (accessed 28 November 2016)
Water damage can create massive issues for our homes and our health.
Sources of Water Damage
Water damage can occur as a result of many factors, here are some to consider:
damage to the roof
lack of adequate fall in the roofline
box gutters (and other internal gutters)
structural damage eg holes in the roof, gaps between windows and walls, and so forth
occupant activities such as bathing, cooking, sleeping, perspiring, laundering and drying your clothes
lack of or damaged water proofing
lack of or damaged caulking, silicone or grout
I have written more about the effects of water damage, and mould, on the Australasian Society of Building Biologists (ASBB) site.
This article begins:
As a building biologist, my primary role is to identify the possible cause of health complaints and then hunt out the hazards in a home. It is quickly evident when there are problems with indoor air and electromagnetic radiation. However mould and problems from water damage is far less obvious – except to a trained professional.
Many people don’t realise that materials that remain wet for more than 24 hours begin to become problematic.
“Don’t worry about it, it’s only water!” Something we all have said… and then left the spill to dry out naturally.
Although this is a common behaviour, it is something that needs changing…
As well, I have another post about it here on the Eco Health Solutions site. In this, I go into relevant signs and symptoms and have a list of references.
Mould spores are everywhere. They are a vital part of life on earth as they play the important role of breaking things down. However, like most “pests,” within our homes, they can wreak havoc, in two ways.
Before examining these, the following are important points to note.
Mould Doesn’t Have To Be Obvious To Be Present
You may not be able to see or smell mould for it to be present.
Mould can grow in between the walls, under tiles, behind the kickboards in the kitchen, and it can even be growing on the wall without being visible to the naked eye.
Oft times, when you can see is it, it is just the tip of the iceberg, where there is so much more that is out of sight, and the patch you can see is just an indication that it is there.
Mould Doesn’t Have To Be Growing To Be A Problem
Mould releases spores and hyphae (branches) can break off it and circulate in your home. Spores and hyphae both pose risks to human and animal health due to the mycotoxins that they contain.
Firstly, mould can structurally damage your home. Building materials that are wet for more than 48 hours can create a perfect habitat for mould, primarily as there is both water and source of food.
As well, water-damaged insulation is less effective, and therefore can increase energy consumption.
The presence of moisture can be attractive for vermin and termites, both of which are problematic in terms of the former being capable of carrying disease, and the latter being able to seriously damage the integrity of a building.
Modern building design is centralised around the notion of being energy efficient, this generally means “well-sealed,” which results in a building losing its ability to breathe. A result of this is that moisture cannot escape, and thus building materials, even without being affected by a leak or flood, can become “water-damaged.”
Secondly, mould can wreak havoc with regards to health.
Mould Can Be Problematic
Clearly, the presence of mould, mould spores and/or hyphae can have life-changing consequences.
What follows is a list of signs and symptoms identified that may be related to mould exposure. This is for your information and is not intended to diagnose or to replace the advice or care of your registered health care professional.
Symptoms Associated with a Water-Damaged Building
Of three systematic reviews on the adverse health effects associated with water-damaged buildings, the following signs and symptoms were consistent: cough, wheeze and asthma.
Other symptoms include upper respiratory tract symptoms, respiratory infections, bronchitis, allergic sensitisation and hay fever. This set of symptoms is also recognised by New York State (2010),
Headaches and tiredness have also been associated with mould exposure (Bornehag et al, in New York State, 2010, 27; IICRC, 2008, 74), as has cause skin reactions (National Institute of Medicine, 2004, 170).
Children and those with preexisting conditions are recognised as being at great risk (New York State, 2010, 27).
Other health effects
Neuropsychological effects, impaired energy production pathways, changes to hormonal functions, alterations to visuo-spatial learning and memory, migraine, pain, balance problems, autonomic nervous system abnormalities, and respiratory problems were all noted in research analysed by the Mold Research Committee (2010).
The National Institute of Medicine acknowledges that there are a group of mycotoxins that “selectively or specifically target the nervous system” resulting in neurotoxic effects, some of which include interfering with neurotransmitters or receptors (2004, 157, 160).
Many sources correlate mould-exposure to sick building syndrome, this is discussed at length in IICRC, 2008). By removing a person from a mouldy environment, it has been noted that their symptoms dissipate (New York State, 2010, 27).
Looking deeper, there is a growing body of research that implicates mould in inflammation (as discussed by the Mold Research Committee, 2010).
IICRC S520. (2008).Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Mould Remediation. (2nd ed). ANSI/IICRCS520-2008. Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification. Vancouver, Washington. USA.
National Institute of Medicine (2004). Damp indoor spaces and health. National Academies Press. (Online). Available: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309091934
New York State. (2010). Toxic Mould Task Force. Final report to the governor and legislature. (Online). Available: https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/indoors/air/mould/task_force/docs/final_ toxic_mould_task_force_report.pdf