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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

How to check for bed bugs

Following these tips to check for the pesky insects while traveling and back at home.

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Bedbugs can make you itch just by thinking about them. These tiny, reddish-brown insects that feed on blood are notorious for infiltrating hotel rooms and luggage, hitchhiking their way back to a new home virtually undetected.

“Understanding what to be on the lookout for when checking for bedbugs is key,” said Danilo Del Campo, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Chicago. “If you’re able to catch the infestation early enough you can avoid bringing a problem home, which can save a lot of frustration. However, these insects are tiny and that’s not always possible.”

Although bedbug bites are not usually dangerous, bedbugs can come home with you, infest your home, and cause a great deal of discomfort and anxiety. If bedbugs are present in your home, you will likely find bites on your body. These bites sometimes turn into itchy, red or purple welts and are often found in zigzag clusters of 3 to 5 bites.

To find bedbugs before they find you, Dr. Del Campo and the AAD recommend following these tips to check for the pesky insects while traveling and back at home:

1. Store your luggage. 

When you arrive at your lodging, temporarily place your luggage in a tiled area, like the bathroom, while you inspect your room. There are fewer spots for bedbugs to hide in bathrooms, so you can check your room without worry.

2. Check your furniture. 

Bedbugs often hide in upholstered areas. Carefully inspect your bedding, mattress, headboard, and any fabric-covered furniture for:

  • Rusty or reddish specks of blood.
  • Tiny, blackish dots that look like dots made by a marker—these may be bedbug feces.
  • Whitish, oval bedbug eggs the size of apple seeds.
  • Shell-like bedbug exoskeletons.
  • Live bedbugs.

3. Check your room. 

Make sure to check the seams of fabric, in dressers, behind wall hangings or wallpaper, in corners, and in between cushions. If a credit card could fit in a crack, a bedbug could fit, too—they are that small. 

  • After you check your room, you can bring your luggage in.
  • Place your bags on a luggage rack away from the wall.
  • If you find signs of bedbugs, request a new room.

4. Check your luggage when you get home. 

After your trip, look at your belongings before unpacking to make sure no bedbugs came home with you.

  • Use a flashlight to check the contents of your bags, including the seams of your clothing—look closely at your luggage to make sure no bedbugs are hiding inside.
  • If you find signs of bedbugs in your luggage, wash your clothes on high heat and use a hand steamer to clean your luggage.

If you notice any physical signs of bedbugs on your body or experience blistering, a skin infection (bites feel tender or ooze discharge, such as pus), or an allergic reaction (red or purple swollen skin or hives), make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist.

You’ll rarely see bedbugs due to their small size, so many people mistake their bites for mosquitoes, fleas, spiders, or common skin conditions such as a rash or chickenpox.

“Unfortunately, bedbug bites can look similar to other insect bites,” said Dr. Del Campo. “A dermatologist will be able to help determine the cause of your bites and symptoms.”

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Home Care

7 Ways to reduce home energy costs

To help dial down your energy costs, consider these tips.

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When building your budget, utility bills – especially the electric bill – are likely one of your largest monthly expenditures. One of the biggest culprits: home heating and cooling, which account for more than half of the average household’s annual energy consumption, according to estimates from the Energy Information Administration.

In fact, 83% of homeowners are concerned about the impact of energy bills on their household budgets, according to a survey conducted by Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US (METUS), with 54% saying it cost “somewhat more” or “much more” to heat their homes this winter compared to last year.

To help dial down your energy costs, consider these tips from the heating and cooling experts at METUS.

Adjust the Temperature

While you’re sleeping or away from home, adjust your thermostat up 5-10 F in the summer or down 5-10 F in the winter, which can help lower annual heating and cooling costs if done consistently. A smart thermostat can monitor your energy use and behaviors then automatically adjust to make your home more energy efficient.

Look for Incentives and Rebates

Qualified homeowners may be eligible to save money on qualified home energy improvement projects. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) offers tax credits and rebates, including a credit of 30% (up to $2,000) for qualifying heat pump installation, an energy-efficient option to replace fossil fuel-burning furnaces. Other incentives under the IRA include offsetting costs of electrical panel upgrades and rebates for homes with energy usage reductions of 20% or more.

Switch to a Heat Pump

Among survey respondents, 54% ranked government incentives like the IRA as one of the top reasons they would consider installing a heat pump to replace a traditional air conditioner. Options like Mitsubishi Electric’s all-climate heat pumps use two units – an exterior heat pump, which replaces your existing air conditioning condenser, and an interior unit installed on your furnace – to deliver cost-effective, eco-efficient, year-round heating and cooling. These smart systems not only improve air conditioning efficiency on hot days, but also determine the best source of heat (gas or electricity) on cold days, so your HVAC system is always running at peak efficiency and comfort.

Have HVAC Systems Serviced Regularly

For best performance and efficiency, regular maintenance of your heating and cooling system is imperative. Keeping outdoor units free of debris and changing air filters are tasks most homeowners can handle on their own but bringing in a professional – usually in the spring and fall – can help ensure your HVAC system and all its components, including electrical and ductwork, are functioning properly.

Improve Your Insulation

Poorly insulated attics, walls, ceilings, floors and crawl spaces can lead to energy waste and increase costs by requiring more energy to heat or cool your home. Because air can escape through these spaces when your HVAC system pushes air through your home, adding insulation can help reduce losses and keep your home more comfortable.

Use Appliances During Non-Peak Hours

Rather than using your oven, stove or clothes dryer from noon-6 p.m., peak time for many electricity providers, consider doing so in the morning or later at night. Using these appliances outside of the peak timeframe, when conventional heating and cooling systems are often running full bore, can help lower energy costs. Some utilities may also offer plans that incentivize limiting energy use during peak hours.

Think Multi-Zone

Consider upgrading to an all-climate, multi-zone heat pump, which can seamlessly connect to multiple indoor units, revolutionizing the way you experience comfort in your home. By eliminating problematic hot and cold spots in your home, this system ensures personalized comfort tailored to individual zones and optimizes energy usage by directing it only to the areas requiring heating or cooling. Replacing an outdated HVAC system with a multi-zone solution can also help achieve cost and energy savings. By efficiently managing temperature in different zones, you can experience improved energy efficiency, resulting in a more sustainable and economical solution for heating and cooling.

Find more solutions for improving your home’s efficiency and increasing energy savings at MitsubishiComfort.com.

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Home Care

3 Tips to buy a new HVAC system for your home

Here are three tips that will help you buy a perfect AC unit and improve your home comfort.

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Choosing the right heating and cooling system for your home can be a tough task. InverterCool Inc. recommends three tips that will help you buy a perfect AC unit and improve your home comfort.

1. Understanding Your HVAC Needs:
– Size and Capacity: Understand how the size of your home and its insulation qualities impact the capacity of the HVAC system you need.
– Energy Efficiency: Learn about energy efficiency ratings like SEER2 and how choosing a high-efficiency system can save you money in the long run.

2. Latest Innovations in HVAC Technology:
– Smart Thermostats: Discover how smart thermostats can automate your home’s climate control, enhancing comfort while optimizing energy use.
– Inverter technology: Explore the benefits of inverter systems that improve efficiency and reduce sounds without compromising performance.
– Fault Detection and Diagnosis: Master how the FDD technology 7/24 detects and diagnoses the system faults automatically and helps to reduce the risk of downtime.

3. What to Look for in a Quality HVAC System:
– Durability: Quality materials and construction mean a longer lifespan for your system.
-Service: A good system installation equals optimal performance. Searching for the HVAC brand or companies who offer products coming with packaged installation and maintenance services.
– Warranty and Support: A solid warranty and reliable customer support are vital before and after purchase. If your AC units qualifies for incentives or the HVAC suppliers provide financial support is also good to reduce the investment burden.

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