We know the summer months come with extra heat and humidity. When that extra warmth and moisture makes its way into your home, your indoor air quality can suffer. Here are the big three to watch out for during the warmest part of the year.
Heat + Humidity = Mold Growth
Problem: We all know that summertime is downright sticky in the South. When you combine hot air with high humidity levels, however, you get the perfect environment for mold growth. Mold can be tricky, too. It likes to hide in darker places, like under sinks, in walls, and sometimes even in air conditioning ducts. You may not see it, but one of the first signs that it is in your home is a musty smell. If ignored, mold overgrowth can cause severe respiratory symptoms, including coughing, itchy throat, and even severe distress for those who are allergic or have respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
Prevention: The best way to handle a mold problem is to never have one in the first place. The first step is ensuring that temperatures are moderate (the mid-70s) and humidity levels stay below 60% in your home. A properly working air conditioner should dehumidify your home as well as keep it cool. Some rooms, like the bathroom, need the extra help of exhaust fans to rid the space of excess moisture. In basements or even rooms that just seem to retain more moisture, a dehumidifier can help keep the space mold-free.
Next, target areas where mold is likely to grow during your cleaning routine. As you clean, double check for any signs of water leakage that could encourage growth. Fix these problems as soon as you possibly can! Mold can grow surprisingly quickly and is sometimes a pain to destroy once it has established a home.
Dust Mites Love Humidity
Problem: If you notice a sudden increase in sneezing, itchy eyes, or a runny nose while you are at home, it could be an increase in dust mites. These little mites just love humid environments, and their feces cause severe allergic reactions in some people. Here’s one disgusting fact: a teaspoon of dust can contain over 1,000 dust mites and over 250,000 fecal pellets! When your home is too humid, it creates an environment where these pests thrive and breed.
Prevention: The best way to control dust mites is to make your home as uninviting to them as possible. Start with a regular cleaning routine that involves vacuuming as often as you can realistically manage. Don’t just stop with the floors, however; upholstered furniture should be vacuumed as well. Dust mites also love beds and pillows – make sure you are washing your bedding on a regular basis and have protective covers for your pillows and mattresses. If they can’t get into the filling of both types of products, they can’t set up house there.
Next, try to maintain a humidity level of around 50% in your home. Again, an air conditioner that is in good shape should be able to keep a low humidity level throughout your home. If you need a little extra help, a portable dehumidifier might be the way to go. If you are having significant problems keeping humidity down, however, it might be time to contact an HVAC professional who will assess the situation and recommend a solution, such as a whole home dehumidifier.
VOCs + Heat = A Bad Combination
Problem: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that usually enter your home in the form of a solid or liquid, but evaporate into gasses relatively easily. These compounds often involve chemicals that are not safe for humans to inhale. Too many VOCs in a home can cause respiratory problems that range from minor allergy symptoms to severe reactions that can be life-threatening. While VOCs are something homeowners should be aware of always, heat can speed the off-gassing process. In other words, the hotter it is in your home, the more likely VOCs will release potentially dangerous chemicals into the air.
Prevention: While it is nearly impossible to eliminate all VOCs from your home (they are in everything from building materials to furniture to cleaning products), you can try to minimize their presence in your space. For example, start with switching to cleaning products labeled as “low-VOC.” The same goes for products used in typical DIY products like paint, solvents, and adhesives. When possible, keep these materials stored outside of your living space, like in a well-ventilated garage, shed, or workshop.
In your home, ventilation can help to remove any harmful gasses in the air. On nice days, open windows to help fresh air flow in. Run exhaust fans whenever you are doing home improvement projects that involve using potentially hazardous materials. Keep the temperature in your home cool – it’s comfortable for you and helps to minimize the off-gassing process.
The Bottom Line: Keeping your home at a comfortable mid-70°F with humidity in the 50% range helps to keep many of these problems under control. Add routine cleaning, proper ventilation, and a regular check for leaks into the mix, and your indoor air should remain fresh and healthy all summer long.