Today while the little one was napping I decided to “conquer a nagging task”*… or a task that could have easily become a nagging task. I weatherized our windows!
Last fall we spent a good bit of $ on some renovation projects aimed at making our home more energy efficient and healthy. One of the comments from our energy auditor was, “Your windows aren’t good, but they’re the least of your problems.” Great! What a place to start…
We invested in a brand-spanking new and top-of-the-line energy-efficient boiler (replacing our ancient, carbon-monoxide leaking, gas-guzzling one). We got a new roof (turns out letting moisture into your home makes any other updates you do moot… who cares about nice furnishings if you’re letting water destroy the bones of the home?). We had new insulation put in the crawl space in the basement and in the attic. We got a new fan for our bathroom and for our stove. We re-graded the side of our house to keep rainwater moving away from the foundation.
Since those projects more than exhausted our available resources, we couldn’t even think about new windows (although we’ve started to dream about how nice those would be!). The good news is that we did save a hefty sum on our gas bill last winter (in one of the months, the average temperature was about equivalent, we kept the house almost 10 degrees warmer, and we spent $100 less on heating)…. and that’s on top of no longer having dangerous gases leaking in our home. Yay air quality!
The other good news is there are literal “bandaids” that help our drafty windows — those lovely plastic film window kits (like these). I don’t love the process of putting them up — cleaning the window frame, adhering the tape, lining up the plastic, using the hair dryer to shrink the film (okay maybe I like that part), and trimming the excess film (which, by the way, can be recycled alongside your grocery bags and plastic paper towel wrappers at local drop-offs). But the difference is huge — and totally worth it for our heating bills and for the environment.
*This is a reference to Gretchen Rubin’s book the Happiness Project.
That sounds dreadfully boring!
But it’s actually really important, and something that a lot of people (myself included) don’t know a lot about.
After recently learning that our ancient boiler was spilling carbon monoxide over the last few years at least, I began to worry about what other hidden dangers may be lurking in the air in my home. (I tend to worry about the cosmetics concerns of our house…. but what about the invisible dangers?)
While you could bring in an expert to do some tests in your home, there are some basic things that you can do to improve your air quality. These are things I learned from our home energy contractor and some things I found online.
- Get a carbon monoxide detector and install it! (I think we have one we’ve never installed!)
- Consider the air fresheners you use. Many of the air fresheners out there contain a harmful type of chemical called phtalates that can have harmful effects in kids and adults. A study published by the Natural Resources Defense Council showed that 12 out of 14 air fresheners tested contained some level of phtalates. The worst? Walgreens Air Freshener spray, Walgreens Solid Air Freshener, Ozium Glycolized Air Sanitizer. Those with moderate levels of Phtlates included: Oust Air Sanitizer Spray, Glade Plug in Scented Oil, Glade Air Infusians, Febreeze Noticeables, and Air Wick Scented Oil. Those without Phtalates included: Febreeze Air Effects Air Refresher and Renuzit Subtle Effects.
- Air fresheners and other fragrances can also contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Use fragrance free or naturally-scented laundry products and cleaning products; use lemons and baking soda for a fresh scent in your kitchen.
- Use your bathroom fan. Not only does it help to tamper mold growth, it also helps rid your bathroom of odors (meaning you don’t need to use those chemical-ridden air fresheners!)
- Use your stove exhaust fan every time you cook on the stove or in the oven.
- Vent your clothes dryer to the outside, and make sure you are cleaning the lint trap regularly.
- Solve any moisture problems in the basement. Make sure the dirt outside the house has a slope away from the house to allow rain to runoff away from your house, not into the basement. Use a dehumidifier.
- Fill your house with houseplants! There’s some combination of the bacteria in soil and the the plants themselves that help to rid the air of harmful chemicals. However, it may realistically take a LOT of plants (hundreds) to make a significant difference in your air quality… Nevertheless, I like houseplants, so I’m keeping this one on the list 🙂
- Take care of lead dust. Exposure to lead dust is associated with lower IQ and behavior problems in children, and cardiovascular, kidney, and reproductive problems in adults. Our house almost certainly has had lead paint — any house built prior to ’78 likely has it (and newer homes can also track it in from outside). You can find more information than you’d ever want to know at the EPA website. Some things to do when renovating:
- Ask contractors who come into your home what practices they will use to be lead-safe
- Use plastic dropcloths when painting/ sanding. Tape them down to the floor.
- Cover ducts and close windows.
- Inspect areas for chipping, peeling or cracking paint
- Turn off forced air/ air conditioners when working on your home
- If disturbing paint, spray water to keep dust from spreading; use wet-sanding methods
- Use an all-purpose cleaner to clean up any dust
- Vacuum (with a HEPA filter) and mop regularly. Use a product with phosphates (like Spic and Span) — lead dust adheres to the phosphates.
- Remove shoes at the door so you don’t track lead dust in from outside.
- Don’t smoke. Especially not indoors.