To Protect Your Family as Cold Season Begins, Start with Your Home

As September approaches, cold and flu germs begin to multiply. The cooler, damp weather often associated with the annual sniffles can chip away at your health… and yes, the elements can creep indoors. Excess indoor moisture can be a breeding ground for airborne bacteria, mold spores, and all of the respiratory system’s worst enemies. With a proper defense plan in place, you and your family can take less sick days and enjoy more of the good things the turning seasons have to offer.

1. Regulate indoor humidity

Control relative humidity

Balanced home humidity levels can effectively reduce allergy and respiratory irritation-causing contaminants. An indoor relative humidity of more than 60 percent provides the ideal environment for mold, mildew and dust mites to flourish. In the Pacific Northwest’s wet and rainy fall and winter climate, it can be especially challenging to maintain a healthy indoor relative humidity of between 30 and 50 percent. This is most often achievable by ensuring that your home is properly ventilated, and that no leaks or water intrusion issues have been left unaddressed. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, excessively dry, stale air can cause cold and flu germs to stick around. As the weather begins to chill, we gravitate toward our indoor heating systems. Unfortunately, in order to warm our homes, we often must sacrifice healthy moisture levels. Although rarely needed in the Pacific Northwest, a humidifier may help you shift your home’s moisture balance in the right direction by adding just enough moisture back into the air. This can help you and your family breathe easier (especially when battling coughs and chest congestion) and can combat seasonally dry skin.

Fix drafty windows and doors

Drafty doors and windows are not only portals for uncomfortable cold air — they can also let moisture into your home, causing structural damage or agitating allergy and cold symptoms. For a temporary fix, try recommendations such as v-seal weather stripping, rope caulk, shrink film, clear weather-seal tape, or a draft snake, and be sure to permanently address the problem ASAP by reglazing or entirely replacing the door or window if necessary.

Focus on trouble areas

Consider your home’s high-moisture zones and prioritize humidity regulation in these areas. For most people, these tend to include the bathroom, kitchen, or laundry room. If your bathroom’s ventilation system doesn’t do the trick, turn on a dehumidifier while bathing or showering to combat mold and mildew buildup. If your home’s kitchen lacks an effective above-stove fan, crack a window (weather permitting) or enlist the help of a stand-alone fan.

Pay attention to temperature

One simple way to decrease indoor moisture levels is to crank up your thermostat a few degrees. Of course, this isn’t always the most energy- or cost-effective fix. If you find your household gas or electric bill soaring during the damp and dreary seasons, consider supplementing your efforts with other avenues discussed in this guide. A proper ventilation or humidity control system might even help increase indoor temperatures as it redirects excess moisture.

2. Install an air filter

HEPA filters

A HEPA filter, or High-Efficiency Particulate Air filter, works by removing small particles such as mold spores, pollen, allergens, and general dust. HEPA-rated air filters must effectively remove 99.97% of all particles that are 0.3 microns or larger. Basically, this filter classification is the industry gold standard. Choose from a variety of portable or residential-sized units, depending on the size of the room or rooms you’d like to filter. While this generally helps mitigate airborne allergens, filters are intended to be used in tandem with other environmental control methods for a healthy home.

VOC filters

VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds, are chemical irritants that are released from household and building materials including paints, plastics, furniture, cleaning fluids, and more. Because high levels can disturb allergy symptoms, many families may want to consider searching for a unit outfitted with VOC-filtering capabilities.

3. Clean surfaces

Clean surfaces susceptible to germs

Scrub or clean high-traffic and commonly germ-laden surfaces daily, especially when someone in your home is feeling under the weather. These include doorknobs, faucet handles, phones, video game controllers, TV remotes, and more. As kids return to school, they tend to track more germs into the home, so this becomes especially important in the early fall. Make sure to avoid cleaning supplies that contain harmful chemicals (remember: household cleaners can be a source of those pesky VOCs!).

Clean surfaces susceptible to mold

This includes shower linens (bath mats, towels, shower curtains, washable shower liners), shower and tub (especially any corners and crevices), windows (especially single-pane windows or those lacking moisture-wicking capabilities), sink tops (especially cracks surrounding faucets), and kitchen cabinets that may collect condensation from steam during stovetop cooking.

4. Schedule air quality testing

Ventilation assessment

A proper ventilation system should help your home retain indoor heat and prevent cold air and moisture leaks. Fresh air flow prevents issues from high or low indoor humidity and allows indoor air pollutants to escape. A professional ventilation assessment can offer you a cost-effective plan that may have a positive impact on energy bills, evaluate where in your home exhaust fans or fresh air ducts might be beneficial, and install your preferred system.

HRV installation

If an in-home evaluator discovers excess levels of humidity, condensation, VOCs, or odor-causing contaminants, HRV installation (or Heat Recovery Ventilator) may be right for you. An HRV replaces stagnant indoor air with fresh outdoor air while maintaining as much indoor heat as possible. This can give you greater control over your home’s relative humidity, carbon dioxide levels, and any VOC buildup.

Home air quality testing

If you suspect your home’s air quality might be less than ideal for your family’s health, Hawk Environmental provides a home air quality testing package to address the most common concerns and offer solutions. A professional visual assessment, room-by-room environmental data report, airborne mold spore testing, and more can offer added peace of mind as we enter cold and flu season. Contact us to find out how we can help you maintain a healthy home all year!

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