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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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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

Tips to homeowners seeking a reputable contractor

Homeowners should proactively seek a contractor when their property is damaged due to a windstorm (e.g., hurricane, tornado) or fire. An unsolicited offer from a contractor with whom the homeowner is unfamiliar should be treated with skepticism.

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Contractor fraud often occurs after major natural disasters which impact large numbers of homeowners, with some contractors initiating contact with homeowners long after the disaster occurred. Unethical contractors frequently use flyers and door hangers to generate business. In Florida, there are contractors who solicit roof replacement claims door-to-door even when no storm has occurred. Homeowners, however, have ways to determine a contractor’s credentials and reputation.

“Disasters can bring out the best in people as they rush to help those in need. Unfortunately, disasters also attract predatory contractors looking to defraud and deceive disaster victims,” said David Glawe, president and CEO, NICB. “After most disasters, these shameful contractors use well-rehearsed, predatory practices to exploit stressed disaster victims when they are most vulnerable. As a result, survivors pay these bad actors who do little or no work.”

Triple-I and the NICB offer these five tips to homeowners in the market for a reputable contractor.

  1. If you didn’t request it, reject it—Homeowners should proactively seek a contractor when their property is damaged due to a windstorm (e.g., hurricane, tornado) or fire.  An unsolicited offer from a contractor with whom the homeowner is unfamiliar should be treated with skepticism.
  2. Get at least three written estimates for the work and compare bids—In the aftermath of a major natural disaster, contractors are in high demand.  The pandemic and supply chain disruptions also have put additional pressure on labor and building material costs.  Homeowners should solicit at least three written estimates from three different contractors.
  3. Check credentials, including licenses, references, and insurance—Reputable contractors will provide homeowners with their state and local business licenses, physical business address and telephone numbers, and references.
  4. Make sure your contract includes estimated construction schedules and prices for labor and materials—If a contractor requires full payment upfront for a job, homeowners should think twice about doing business with them. It is common, however, for a contractor to request some money upfront after signing a contract with a homeowner as the contractor needs to buy supplies. 
  5. Contact your insurer to make sure your policy is up to date— If a contractor offers advice on what a homeowners insurance policy covers, the property owner should have this interpretation double-checked by an insurance professional affiliated with the insurer who covers the damaged home.
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Home Care

Tips, tools to help customers save energy, money as temperatures rise

High temperatures bring higher usage for customers, which can translate into higher bills. But a few smart, simple tips can help energy users take control of their bill and save money.

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As the mercury rises today and over the weekend, Duke Energy is providing tips and tools to help customers save energy – and money – while trying to stay cool.

Duke Energy has sufficient resources to meet customers’ energy needs and continues to monitor its power plants, power lines and other equipment to help ensure customers receive reliable service during the heat wave.

High temperatures bring higher usage for customers, which can translate into higher bills. But a few smart, simple tips can help energy users take control of their bill and save money.

Low- to no-cost energy efficiency tips

High temperatures can lead to higher energy usage and bills as customers combat the heat. Below are some tips to help manage your energy use.

  • Change air filters regularly. A dirty air filter makes an HVAC system work harder, which uses more energy.
  • Set your thermostat at the highest comfortable setting. The smaller the difference between the inside and outside temperatures, the lower your energy usage and bill will be.
  • Close blinds, drapes and curtains during the hottest part of the day. Keeping your blinds, drapes and curtains closed will help prevent the sun’s rays from heating your house.
  • Use a ceiling fan in occupied rooms to supplement your air conditioning. Make sure the fans are set to operate in a counterclockwise direction to push cool air down into living spaces. Only use ceiling fans in rooms that are occupied; fans cool people, not things.
  • Grill outdoors. Using your electric oven and stovetop creates a lot of indoor heat. Help save energy by firing up the grill outdoors or prepare meals that don’t require cooking.
  • Turn off unnecessary lights. Be sure to turn off lights when you leave a room. Lights emit heat and cause your air conditioning system to work harder.

Track, manage your energy usage

Energy use typically spikes in the summer since air conditioning is one of the biggest energy users in your home. Customers can also easily track and adjust their usage during this week’s heat wave.

  • Customers with smart meters can check online to view their daily usage. Smart meters collect usage information by the hour, so checking spikes throughout the month – by day and even hour – can show what appliances and behaviors are increasing their bills. Video available here.
  • Duke Energy customers with smart meters also receive usage alerts through email and/or text halfway through their billing cycle, well before their bill arrives, with their current usage amount and a projection of what their final monthly bill could be.
  • Customers can also set budget alerts, so they know when their bill reaches a specific dollar amount of their choosing, allowing them to adjust their usage and help save money on their bill.
  • Customers without smart meters can sign up to receive high bill alerts for when adverse weather is projected to increase their electric bills by at least 30% and $30 compared to historical usage.

Other energy-saving programs, tips and guidance to help you manage higher energy bills that can result from increased energy is available at duke-energy.com/Summer.

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Home Care

Tips to fix those leaks

It is vital that homeowners know signs of leaks and how to begin repairing them.

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The professionals at Petri Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Drain Cleaning, a family-owned home service company serving Brooklyn and Manhattan in the US, are offering tips for recognizing and repairing leaks in homes.

“As we turn the page to spring, it is vital that homeowners know signs of leaks and how to begin repairing them,” said Michael Petri, owner of Petri Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Drain Cleaning. “This can cut down on the amount of water wasted per year, and it can also limit homes and appliances from incurring leak-induced damage that could lead to costly repairs.”

Petri said to ensure a home is free of leaks that could inflate water bills and damage property if not recognized, homeowners should follow the advice below:

  1. Check for toilet leaks – Place a couple of drops of food coloring into the tank and wait about 15 minutes. If color shows up in the bowl, then the flapper is probably bad or deteriorated. Most homeowners can replace the flapper themselves but can call a plumber if they are uncomfortable with making the repair.
  2. Clean the gutters – Most homeowners only think to do this once a year, but it should be done more often if the home is located under trees or if a storm has deposited debris. Clogged gutters can cause water to sit on the roof until it becomes too heavy and starts to leak through the home’s ceiling.
  3. Check the roof – Monitor and replace loose or damaged shingles on the roof, as these can be a common cause for leaks from the top of the home. Hidden damage from leaks can spawn mold and cause wood rot in the ceilings and walls of the house.
  4. Push rain runoff away from the foundation – By using downspout extensions, homeowners can keep rainwater flowing away from the home. This keeps rainwater from infiltrating through foundation cracks and getting into the basement.
  5. Inspect the home for leaks – Check the home’s plumbing lines frequently, look for any standing water on the floors or moisture on the walls and address any leaky faucets or toilets as soon as a drip or leak develops. Staying on top of minor drips can prevent them from becoming major leaks.
  6. Check irrigation systems – Homeowners should also perform a routine check of irrigation systems and hoses that may have grown icy or hardened through winter. Leaks can spring up from damages hoses and connectors.

Altogether, Americans waste 180 gallons of water per week or 9,400 gallons of water per year. But with these tips, leaks can be prevented and/or caught quickly.

“Leaks can happen anywhere at any time,” Petri said. “It’s important to stay aware and proactive, but if you see a problem, don’t hesitate to contact a licensed professional. A quick reaction can save thousands of dollars in damage and costs to both your home and, if applicable, your appliances as well.”

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