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Home upgrades for better indoor air quality

With proper upgrades, adjustments and care, you can enjoy a home filled with fresh, healthy air and comfortable surroundings year-round.

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Photo by @grtshw from Unsplash.com

When most people think about air quality, they’re typically thinking about outdoor pollution. However, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the air inside your home can be as polluted, or even more so, than the air outside. The concentrations of some indoor pollutants can be as much as 2-5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations.

This is partly due to increasingly energy-efficient home construction and the growing use of synthetic materials in furnishings and interior finishes.

The air inside your home also contains pollutants from everyday activities like cooking, bathing and cleaning. A family of four can produce the equivalent of 22-30 pounds of moisture per day from normal activities, according to the Institute of Specialist Surveyors and Engineers, while household cleaners and products like paint, upholstery, carpeting and plastics can release chemicals containing volatile organic compounds. Pets and dust mites also contribute to poor air quality.

On average, people spend an estimated 90% of their time indoors, according to the EPA. All that time with minimal access to daylight and fresh air can take a toll on your health. For example, damp and moldy environments can increase the risk of developing asthma by up to 40%, according to research published by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics.

Particularly after all the extra time at home due to the pandemic, homeowners are placing greater emphasis on home design and habits that promote health and wellness. These steps for managing indoor air quality can help you create a healthier home.

Support your HVAC system

Many homeowners assume their heating and cooling (HVAC) system is adequate to manage their home’s indoor air quality. Typically, these systems only circulate existing indoor air, so you’re missing out on the benefits of circulating fresher, cleaner air.

What’s more, without regular servicing and frequent filter replacements, it’s easy for standard HVAC systems to fall short. This is especially true in older homes or in households where there’s a high volume of allergens like dust or pet dander. Adding standalone or integrated devices can help give your HVAC system some extra support. Air purifiers can effectively help filter pollutants while ultraviolet lights purify the air and help control pollutants like bacteria, mold and mildew.

Another common pitfall is humidity control. Too much moisture in the air can contribute to significant air quality problems. On the other hand, air that’s too dry can promote dusty, abrasive conditions that are hard on allergies and other respiratory conditions.

Improve fresh air ventilation

When it comes to upgrades that improve air quality, better fresh air ventilation is near the top of the list for many homeowners. Improved ventilation allows you to clear out stale, polluted indoor air and circulate fresh, outdoor air in your home.

Polluted air tends to stagnate at the ceiling, so one effective and energy-efficient way to create natural ventilation is with skylights that open. Sometimes called venting or operable skylights, when you open skylights in combination with vertical windows, you create natural airflow that can help release indoor air pollutants and bring in fresh, clean air to keep your home healthy and pleasant. This concept is known as the chimney effect. Warm air naturally rises and escapes from open skylights while fresh air is drawn inside through the windows. This practice can reduce your reliance on air conditioning, improving your home’s overall efficiency and keeping a lid on cooling costs.

Today’s skylights can also be automated to open and close at regular intervals or extend and retract shades to block light as needed. Many models, including those from Velux, can even connect to a smartphone app to combine convenience with a soothing mood booster that supports health and wellness.

Keep up with cleaning

Textiles like carpeting, rugs and window treatments can harbor a great deal of dust and dander that reduces air quality. It’s important to regularly clean and air out these decorative fabrics and surfaces, especially thick carpet that is likely to host dust mites and bacteria. Remember air quality while you’re cleaning, too, and opt for cleaning products with fewer chemicals. When possible, use microfiber cloths and natural materials like white vinegar and soap flakes.

Avoid adding to the problem

Burning a candle may make a room smell fresh and clean, but it’s doing little to help improve your air quality. In fact, you’re just masking unappealing odors while releasing harmful particles into the air. Similarly, smoking indoors traps those chemicals inside your home, which can wreak havoc on indoor air quality.

Watch for unexpected culprits

Many of the things that contribute to poor indoor air quality are obvious, but there are many others that may surprise you. For example, cooking food using gas appliances can emit hazardous chemicals and compounds, like nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, that contribute to poor indoor climates when not properly ventilated. Homes with gas stoves contain 50-400% higher concentrations of nitrogen dioxide than those with electric stoves, according to a report from the Rocky Mountain Institute, and the EPA found prolonged exposure to the gas can lead to asthma and other respiratory issues.

Similarly, when plastics are warmed up, they can give off potentially toxic fumes. Avoid leaving toys or other plastic items in direct sunlight. If you have heated floors or other heated surfaces, keep plastic away to prevent those heat-provoked emissions.

With proper upgrades, adjustments and care, you can enjoy a home filled with fresh, healthy air and comfortable surroundings year-round.

Learn more at whyskylights.com.

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Home Care

Base Bahay builds better homes… with bamboo

The organization is also a pioneer in bamboo construction, and particularly advocates for the use of Cement-Bamboo Frame technology, a combination of bamboo housing and conventional technology, which makes for a permanent and durable structure. According to Jorillo, this kind of technology is also more affordable, which makes it more accessible to low-income families in the country.

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As the Philippines’ infrastructure industry continues to turn to sustainable solutions, one humble building material remains underutilized: bamboo. And with September as World Bamboo Month, a pioneer in bamboo construction renews its call for architects, engineers, and developers to reconsider this highly resilient and locally available raw material to create “a better future today.” 

“By using local resources customized to local needs, we can improve local economies, aid in the pursuit of a cleaner environment, and make good quality housing available to everyone regardless of social status,” says Pablo Jorillo, general manager of Base Bahay Foundation, a socially oriented non-profit established in 2014 as an initiative of the Hilti Foundation. Base utilizes local, renewable raw materials to create sustainable and resilient housing solutions, providing training, planning, supervision, and quality control across the value chain.

Alternative building technology that enables partner network builds

The organization is also a pioneer in bamboo construction, and particularly advocates for the use of Cement-Bamboo Frame technology, a combination of bamboo housing and conventional technology, which makes for a permanent and durable structure. According to Jorillo, this kind of technology is also more affordable, which makes it more accessible to low-income families in the country. 

The Cement-Bamboo frame technology merges Philippine tradition and innovation with Latin American and European engineering and is accredited by the Accreditation of Innovative Technologies for Housing (AITECH). The abundance of bamboo in the country is what makes it an ideal housing material–specifically, the species called Bambusa Blumeana, or more commonly known locally as Kawayang Tinik, and Dentrocalamus Asper or Giant Bamboo.

“The bamboo pole, as a structural component, is selected according to specific requirements such as age, diameter of pole, thickness of skin, and must be free of cracks and insect infestation. The bamboo is treated in an environmentally safe and effective method to provide long-term resistance against insects and mold,” says Jorillo, describing Base’s method. “Aside from bamboo, we use cement, hollow blocks, and metal rods and clamps to build a Base Bahay house. The homes are built complete with plumbing and electrical connections”

Base Bahay houses go to communities being supported by their partner organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, which built over 300 houses for families who belong to the urban poor. So far, Base has been able to build 800 permanent homes using bamboo–the most any organization has been able to accomplish–and, together with a coalition led by the Hilti Foundation and Habitat for Humanity, plans to put up 200 more by the end of the year, and 10,000 by 2025.

Base’s efforts have impacted the lives of over 4,000 individuals in the past seven years, says Jorillo. They have partnered with local governments and non-government organizations to build communities in Iloilo, Quezon City, Samar, Tacloban, Sorsogon, Bacolod, Eastern Samar, Negros Occidental, and Batangas; last year, the organization even went international by building a community with Habitat for Humanity in Nepal.

Driving a sustainable industry model

Aside from providing sustainable housing structures, they are also working on creating a sustainable industry, by, first and foremost, involving homeowners from the very start of the construction process wherein the hours they spend building their houses count as payment.

To help the rest of the country’s housing ecosystem understand the benefits of bamboo, Base is offering this year a Continuing Professional Education (CPD) program for Engineers and Architects on bamboo construction. They are also working with the ASEP for the Philippines to have its own National Structural Code for Bamboo, using the International Organization on Standardization (ISO) new standard on structural design with bamboo poles as the jump off point of national design code.

On the supply chain side, Base has established a network of supply facilities for structural grade bamboo in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

Early this year, they also launched the BASE Innovation Center, a testing and research facility for constructing with bamboo and other alternative building materials, opening a whole new world of possibilities for the use of this species of grass.

“Our vision is to be a catalyst for the creation of more sustainable and disaster-resilient communities through our affordable housing technology solutions,” says Jorillo. “We believe that by providing the technology free of charge, NGOs and other professional entities can build these communities, and contribute to a future that is more sustainable for all.”

For more information on Base Bahay Foundation and ongoing projects, visit http://www.base-builds.com.

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Home Care

Top 3 ways to check for hidden leaks

Uncommon and hidden leaks are the ones that tend to sneak up on homeowners and wreak a lot of havoc.

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Photo by Dan Smedley from Unsplash.com

Four Seasons Plumbing, a family-owned and -operated plumbing company serving the Asheville and Hendersonville areas, understands the toll that slow leaks and difficult-to-spot plumbing issues can take on a home. This summer, the company is offering homeowners tips to identify leaks early and take action before they result in costly damage.

“Uncommon and hidden leaks are the ones that tend to sneak up on homeowners and wreak a lot of havoc,” said Max Rose, owner of Four Seasons Plumbing. “It often takes noticing a water bill that’s higher than usual or finding a visible puddle on the floor to begin asking questions, and there could already be a lot of damage by that point.”

Max and the team at Four Seasons offer these tricks to help identify potential water leaks:

  • Check your water meter: Start by turning off all appliances in the house dependent on water, such as faucets, dishwashers, washing machines, etc. After waiting for an hour, monitor any changes to the meter. If the meter continues to change, you may have a leak in your system that could require the attention of a licensed, insured professional.
  • Add food coloring to your toilet tank: Toilets account for a considerable amount of water usage in the home. By adding food coloring to your toilet tank, you can monitor the bowl to see if there is any seepage from the tank in-between flushes. A leaking toilet can run unnoticed, and it can significantly impact a water bill with time.
  • Look for discoloration on ceilings and walls: By keeping an eye out for any browning or discoloration on ceilings and walls, you can be proactive in identifying leaks before they become detrimental.

By intentionally setting aside some time to practice these few simple steps, homeowners can save themselves thousands of dollars in repairs in the long run. Leaks can go unnoticed for weeks, months, or even years, resulting in costly damage to a home’s structure.

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Home Care

Add storage and seating to your patio

According to landscape designer, Doug Scott, storage is something a lot of people forget about when designing an outdoor living space.

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Photo by Sonnie Hiles from Unsplash.com

Whether you’re grilling, gardening or simply lounging in the backyard, it’s important to have the tools, supplies and equipment you need close at hand. Unfortunately, finding a convenient place to store everything is a challenge many homeowners face.

According to landscape designer, Doug Scott, storage is something a lot of people forget about when designing an outdoor living space.

“Whether it’s gardening tools and supplies, outdoor furniture cushions, or a random collection of toys, almost everything we do outdoors comes with stuff,” Scott said. “And it’s not always convenient to go back inside and get those things.”

Scott has partnered with Exmark on a new Done-In-A-Weekend Projects video that shows homeowners how to build a dual-purpose outdoor storage bench that offers convenient on-patio storage. It also provides comfortable outdoor seating for family and guests.

“It’s really the best for both form and function,” Scott said.

While it’s possible to build the exterior of the outdoor storage bench from several wood options, Scott said untreated cedar is a good choice, for several reasons. It’s attractive and is naturally rot-resistant, so staining or painting the storage bench is an option, not a requirement.

The interior of the storage box is built from a combination of plywood, pine boards and decking board, secured with a combination of wood screws, wood glue and exterior construction adhesive.

Scott said the outdoor storage bench is a project that most folks can complete in one to two days, but he recommends enlisting the help of a friend or family member, which can cut the project time in half.

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