Episode #13 - We Are All Stardust

In this episode, Stephen will talk about dust in our homes. What is dust, where does it come from and how are we able to keep it under control? These are all important questions that Stephen will explain and answer while keeping you entertained in the process.

The episode transcript is below.

Welcome to Your Healthy House. I’m Stephen Collette. In this podcast I explore your indoor environmental quality concerns and opportunities. We look at the facts and debunk the fiction. We will discuss examples you can relate to and the doable actions you can take in your own home or apartment. We will also look at the history of how our homes are the way they are and the future of healthy housing for everyone. I promise to make this fun and interesting for both of us.


Episode number 13 - We are all stardust. Hello, everyone. Today we’re gonna talk about particulate within your home, which is a fancy word for talking about dust. Now, I know you keep a clean house and you don’t have a dust issue, so let’s just pretend that’s true. And this podcast is for everyone else who may not be as clean as you. What I want to get into is just talk about how particulate impacts our health, where we find it within the home and how to reduce the dust load within our house in a safe and simple manner.


So, first off, what is particulate well, it’s anything that floats or moves within the air or water so it can be in a gas or a liquid. In this case, obviously, we’re focusing on the air in the house, and it can be things is large as something you can see, such as dust bunnies such as, Ah, smoke, tobacco smoke or something like that, or could be something incredibly fine down to the micron level. So when we’re talking about measurements of particulate size of dust size, we measured in microns, which is a is a short term for micro meters. And uh, for those of you is listening in the U. S. A micro meter is a 1,000,000 of a meter. Uh, and a meter is kind of like a yard. So I guess to translate micro meters into imperial Um, I think it comes out about really freaking small. And so what that means is, when we’re measuring down less than 10 microns, that’s the stuff where it’s really going to get into our breathing zone. So we want to start thinking about things like pollens. For example, they could be between 10 and 100 microns for to give you a sense of things, your hair could be around Ah, 50 to 100 microns, so that’s kind of really good sense of things. So start with your hair 100 microns and tobacco smoke could be down around 2.5, mold spores less than 10 microns. Silica sand, which we know in an industrial situation is, is a respiratory irritant, less than 50 microns, diesel smoke, one micron or less. Viruses are half a micron or smaller than that. And so all of these, dust mites less than one micron, dander less than 10 microns. So these are really small, these are super small, and what they do is they can get past your defense mechanisms. Your defense mechanisms that we have built in are our nose hairs and our nasal passage, which is wet. Same with her throat. Um, and those actually are capturing mechanisms to help remove the particulate. Now I used to ah, blacksmith as artist blacksmith, and sometimes we would actually use coal, more often we just use natural gas, but we would actually use coal, and you don’t really see the dust and from the metal and from the from the burning. But when you go to blow your nose it’s all black. And so even though you may not see your exposure, it’s actually there for sure. So this ultra fine dust, anything less than 10 microns is referred to his ultra fine dust or particular that can get past your nose here. That can get past your wet throat, and that could get really deep into your lungs. And your lungs are like a mash of these filia, hairs. And we think of our lungs sort of of hollow, right, that they’re just big air sacs that just, you know, filled with air and and and empty of air. That’s actually not true. They’re actually like a giant sponge like thing. If you want to wig yourself out, Google Uh uh images of what your lungs actually look like. But they’re kind of like a really porous open sponge when these hairs help process, uh, particulate and help expel it from our lungs as well. And so what happens is, if we get less than 10 microns, another term. There’s a lot of different short terms in the in particular, it uh pm 10 Particulate matter 10 microns or less. PM 2.5 would be 2.5 microns or less. So a lot of saying a lot of handles, um, it because there’s a lot of research going into this, and so we are coming up with more language on how to describe it. So what happens is this PM 10 gets into that can get into the lungs. The PM 2.5 and less than one micron as well can actually get directly into our bloodstream, which means it’s small enough just to be sucked up and absorbed into her body and moved to system. Now don’t freak out because that’s been happening since for 10,000 years. But what’s different about it, compared to 10,000 years ago, is what we’re breathing in for the last millennia. Sze We’ve been breathing in biological dust right. We’ve been breathing in pollens and danders and stuff that’s blown across the desert or across the savannas or in the in the wooded landscapes. And so those are what our bodies air used to processing. But now we have construction dust. Now we have the built environment, and so we have more materials in our environment that we didn’t before and now we definitely have chemicals, and that’s something we never, ever had. And these chemicals, we purposefully spray them in the air. These air aerosols, right? Let a spray chemicals in the air. And so these particulates can be a combination of literally any of this stuff, because what happens if we have, like a chemical like aerosol? It’s actually going to bond with, say, a pollen, because the chemical sticky and the pollen’s also got some sort of sticky stuff to it. And now they’re a bigger particular, it floating around in the air. And then we’re gonna suck that in now. Maybe, hopefully, the bigger they get. Our capture system is going to stop them from getting in and getting past our defenses. But it’s possible they could also get in and wreak more than usual havoc because they’re two different things. And so we need to really think about our built environment, our living space, our homes and the dust that goes on within that simply because it’s an ongoing exposure to us. So how do we think about that? Well, it can be measured, and so I have a laser particle counter that measures particles with surprisingly enough. Ah, laser. It measures dust. And I can use this in real time to tell you how much dust is present in a space or a place minute measures from 10 microns down, 2.3 microns. And it shows me what’s present in a cubic meter of air, which is a big box. But, um, you know, I can put it in a cubic feet. Or litres, whatever. The industry standard, used cubic meters and so we can compare our dust, our particular environment and how it stacks up to sort of normal. Now, when we think about dust, we have this sense that it’s all kind of invisible, right? But it’s not actually true. Dust in the air, particular in the air is very similar to you sweeping the floor. When you sweep the floor, you have a large amount of really small stuff and a middling amount of middle sized stuff. I had a little bit of big stuff, and that’s actually the exact same breakdown of the particulate in the air. So we have a little bit of big stuff, middling amount of mental stuff, and we have a whole lot of really, really small stuff in the air, and it’s that really small stuff that we’re worried about so we can measure that. And we can compare this room to that room upstairs to downstairs, inside to outside and get a sense. And so when I’m measuring all at my particle counter measures six channels, they call it six sizes at the same time. And so when they come out the results, I can see basically this triangle. The larger size has a smaller number. The smaller size has the bigger number, and there’s this triangle of numbers. And depending if they’re all looking in that triangle, then we have a good sense that it’s relatively normal now, maybe elevated all across the board or maybe really clean all across the board. But I’m still going to see that triangle, that representation of how the dust sizes the rank out. Now what happens is sometimes we can see an elevated spike in one of those measurements. 2.5, let’s say 2.5 microns. Now that could be mold. That could be pollen that could be tobacco smoke, for example. All those could be, and that’s where it takes a little bit of art to the science. You have to look at the numbers and look around as well, the tools only as smart as the user, of course. And so I can try to put together a piece of the puzzle to figure out what’s going on within the house now by taking it outside on a nice late spring day. Yeah, probably gonna be pollen. That’s pretty easy. One, right? Uh, Or, of course, if there’s four inches of water in the basement and it’s been there for a month and 1/2 yeah, could be mold. So we need to use the tools to help us identify what’s going on. But you can get a good sense just using your brain. So, looking around your house, where do we find the dust? Well, we’re going to find the dust on horizontal surfaces. I realize you’re listening to a podcast hoping to learn something, and that’s not particularly rocket science. But it’s true horizontal surfaces. Now here’s what something really interesting. The smaller the particulate, the actual longer the dwell time or the hang time it has in the air. The larger the particle, the quicker it’s actually going to settle out onto a horizontal surface, and that could be as quick, as you know, minutes for things bigger than, say, 100 microns or, you know, 150 to 100 microns. They’ll settle out in minutes, Um, but it could take the ones that get trapped in our throats. They would be considered thoracic particulates particles, and they’ll be like around 10 microns, and they could take anywhere from, you know, 3 to 8 minutes to set a load. But the really, really small stuff, that respirable stuff they get right into her lungs that could take like ours to settle it. That’s kind of really interesting when we think about, and even some of them, when we look at a specified bors could take days because they’re so fine and so tiny that they literally are almost like butterflies. They just don’t look like they interact with the the way the air movement. They’re kind of their own little thing. And so those are the concerns because because if the really small ones settled out quickly, well, that would be awesome, because we’re not breathing them in. But unfortunately, those really small ones stay hanging in the air around our breathing zone, and that’s not ideal.

Building Biology Institute

Your Healthy House with Stephen Collette is sponsored by the Building Biology Institute, a nonprofit educational institution dedicated to creating healthy homes, schools and workplaces free of toxic indoor air, tap water pollutants and hazards posed by electromagnetic radiation. Through a combination of online learning and in person seminars, we offered professional certifications, including Building Biology, Environmental Consultant, Electromagnetic Radiation Specialist and Building Biology New build Consultant. For more information, visit our website at www.buildingbiologyinstitute.org


So where we gonna find it? Well, the horizontal surfaces. As I mentioned, we’re gonna find those on the floor, and that’s an important one. Start with. Because you have two types of flooring within your home. You have, uh, part surfaces, and you have soft surfaces and the hard surfaces like linoleum vinyl, solid wood, uh, laminate stuff like that tile. Those are all really great because we can actually see the dust bunnies. And I was dust bunnies are nature’s friends because the convicted of loop movement air movement within the house actually collects all the dust into little piles. Easy for you to pick up, and they’re too heavy to become respirable. They’re too heavy, become airborne. And if you suck up a dust bunny, I’m pretty sure you’re gonna notice. So again your defense mechanism kicks in and prevents it from getting deeper into your lungs. Great job. So I do recommend solid surface throughout the house simply because of that detail. Now, if you have carpet or soft surfaces, carpet has the same dust load as your solid surface. The challenge is its left in really alter? Fine, respirable particular. It’s left in single stuff. It’s not collected into clumps. And so that’s where carpet can be. A real allergen load, respirable irritants, respiratory irritant. And so we really want to take carpet seriously. Now I want you to imagine if you’re old enough to remember Charlie Brown and Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen. That is exactly what’s going on. You’re walking around and you’re seeing this dust cloud all around you. Well, that’s actually super true, okay? And so we need to think about that when we’re looking at soft surfaces like carpet now, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation recommends we vacuum our carpets aggressively, and they state in their research that that should be 10 minutes per square meter or about a minute per square foot. So if you want to put the podcast on pause right now and for the next six days, vacuum the rest of your house and come back. You can do that. But of course that’s insane. That’s a crazy amount of vacuuming. We can’t do that. We don’t have the time, The inclination, the point being No one does and the point being as no one’s ever really deeply thoroughly cleaned their carpets. And so we have this built up particulate load that impacts us every time we walk across the carpet because we’re stirring up that dust that ultra fine dust as we walk across the carpets. Now there was a long time ago, a carpet institute that came out and they said, Well, you know, carpets improve air quality because they take all the dust out of the air. Well, that one didn’t receive a whole lot of happy clicks and likes they got in a fair bit of trouble about that on ultimately pulled it back. But carpet doesn’t not improve the air quality. It definitely impacts it because the altar. Fine dust. So you want to think about vacuum cleaners? You wanna think about managing your dust in your house and so really good vacuum cleaner is going to suck up the dust. We want good suction, good sucking power when you’re buying a vacuum. But more importantly is you actually want to really create filter in your vacuum so it’s not exhausting the dust out the back end and Riera civilizing it so you can breathe it up while you’re vacuuming. So typically, what I recommend for homeowners and for tenants, where possible is vacuum more often with the vacuum that you have, so no price increase. But open a window, right? Let’s get the air circulating in there, right? If you’re stirring up the dust with a crappy old vacuum one of those filter queens, you know the ones with a chrome that you got from your grandma. Um, and you’re toting around behind you. Yeah, don’t work. It’ll capture the boulders within the bag, but everything else is an aerosolized, so open a window, get some air exchange in there, get some of that dust blowing outside vacuum more often, so that’s free. Where possible, upgrade your vacuum, so I would like to see a HEPA vacuum. That’s, Ah, high efficiency particulate arrester. That’s the top of the line filter for vacuum, and that’s going to capture the smallest of the small. So a hep of vacuum is really great. Now, if you can’t afford a hep a vacuum, then at least you know some sort of, ah, cyclone vacuum is definitely better than a bag vacuum. So the cyclone they’ve got those cops the way they spin around, actually throws the dust to the sides. That’s actually pretty decent because you’re not losing efficiency is the bank feels up. So when the bag fills up, um, it’s sucking harder, and it’ll actually pulled a small stuff right through there. So cyclones are good idea. If we can upgrade to a HEPA vacuum high efficiency particular restaurant, that’s gonna make a huge difference in the, uh, dust loaded in the house. Now you can buy like a $200 HEPA vacuums, and you can buy $1000 hep a vacuum. What’s the difference? Well, the difference is basically you’re paying for seals and gaskets. So in the $200 HEPA, a bunch of the year goes through the filter, but not all of it. On the $1000 unit, all of the air goes through the filter, and when something goes wrong with the red light comes on, anything stops working. So you’re paying for gaskets and seals and better quality. So it’s gonna work. and are better than nothing. Um, so that’s something to keep in mind now. The best thing to do is, of course, get rid of the carpet and where we can do that and price that and afford that. We want to see healthier, solid surface going in something with zero VOCs, something that’s durable gonna last a long, long time, and it’s healthy and natural so but that’s really how to manage the dust in your house on the floor. Now, when we step up from the floor, the next thing that’s gonna hold a lot of dust is actually your furniture. So we want to really think about the furniture we want to think about. Ah, your couch is your beds. Stuff like that chairs. There’s a really interesting story I did of Performance Hall, right, Ah, theater to go see plays and music They had some air quality concerns with their patrons and the people who were paying. so I went in and looked around and realized they had never cleaned their duct work, which will talk about. But I sat down up in the balcony and I noticed the dust. And so I asked them. I said, When was the last time you cleaned your seat cushions? And the general manager? Lovely person Looks at me with that glazed doughnut look like you should clean the cushions. And of course, that had never, ever been done. And this was like a, you know, a 60-year old building. And so this what happened was as everyone was coming in to see your performance, they were all sitting down on these super dusty cushions and was like, Poof, poof, poof, poof! And so all this cloud of dust was coming up in the exact same time. And, of course, everyone starts getting irritated at the beginning of the show. So I think they hired a summer student, actually, and it was a Summer students job to go on vacuum all the seat cushions, which probably was a pretty miserable job Maybe so. Same with your seat cushions. Same with your betting beds. Same with your couches. All the soft cushion stuff should be vacuumed and ah, you know, polar cushions off. Get in there under the cushions. Tried to a really deep in thorough job, vacuuming everything. So that should be done every couple of months, depending on how much kids, cats and carpets you have in the house, how much dust you’re actually generated, right? The next spot that would typically be. It’s an in between. It involves furniture and carpets. It’s actually under your bed. So how often do we actually clean under our bed? And I know the answer. It’s not very often, and so for most of you under the bed is a filthy place. It’s just filled with dust and cats and old storage and you name. It’s underneath there, and if we’ve got carpet, it’s even more. And if we have a king sized bed, it’s even more cause you can’t get under there. So we really want to clean that because that’s in her breathing space, right? That’s in our healing space in her bedroom. So getting under their people talk about having Ah, carpet in the bedroom because they want the warm and fuzzy. But they don’t think about the fact that you almost never vacuum underneath your bed. Yeah, you can send that little Roomba and they’re they’re super cute. They’re not really doing a lot. They’re tracking your data and selling it online. Um, but, uh, the only thing that’s really good for is picking up the hair balls from the dogs and cats under there. So, um, really think about how to clean that effectively and sometimes just blocking it off for making drawers or some sort of captain’s bed toe actually prevent, uh, sort of the accumulation of underdog of dust under there would be great. The next thing and the place that you might not think about is actually on top of your kitchen cabinets on top of your upper upper cabinets. And Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation years ago did air quality inspections trying to assess from just looking, in particular some of the air quality concerns within the average home. And they did this by actually taking samples of the tops of people’s kitchen cabinets. Because the grease in the air creates a sticky surface and nobody ever wants to clean on top of their kitchen cabinet, so I can get really dusty and dirty up there. So it was a really interesting study. They were able to really use that data accurately and come up with some real sense of what was in people’s air. So I do recommend you clean up there, but here’s a really great trick. Once you’re up there scrubbing away tunes Rockin Margarita in your hand once you’re done, giving it a really good clean, lay down some newspaper across all the surface. You won’t see that newspaper from back down on terra firma. But what will happen is the next time you want to go clean it I really got to do is roll up that newspaper imported in the recycling bin and lay down a new set of newspaper across the top. So that came from a homeowner. That trick, I think it’s a really great idea. I’m all for lazy, and I think that’s a great solution. So get up there, give your cabinets, are really good clean, and then lay down some newspaper on top, and that will help you in the future. Ah or More importantly, maybe you could get your significant other to do that cleaning. Once they’re done, lay down the paper and then you’ll promise to clean it from here on in. So where’s all this dust coming from? Right? Well, we track it in certainly, and kids and animals definitely track it in, but it’s also coming through our building. It’s actually coming through your walls and your floor through infiltration, our home’s air, not 100% airtight. We want to make them as airtight as possible for energy efficiency and for air quality. Now we do have air leakage leaving our home as well. That’s called ex Filtration Have infiltration coming in, exfiltration going up. And so, with his infiltration, the air is coming through your walls through the cracks around electrical outlets. Light switches, stuff like that, and you don’t vacuum your walls very often, so they’re kind of dusty. And so, as we’re drawing, that area in the air comes in through there, pulling in particulate and just adding into the mix. So we think about, uh, air ceiling for energy efficiency, which is true, but it’s a really great idea to seal up your house, make it as airtight as possible also for your air quality, and reduce the amount of time that you need to clean. Now, some people also need something more than just that. Some people need air filtration. So furnace filters for the furnace filters we want to think about, you know, again really, really high grade furnace filters to capture the smallest of the small. And that’s really good idea. Um, I like something over on Merv. 10. So Merv is minimum efficiency reporting value. And so we want to see a one. A two twenties of stops. A furnace fan. That’s your fibreglass three for a buck that stops the mice from getting wedged in your furnace. Fan, we want to see, like a happens. A 17 out of 20. Aah! Brick walls 20 out of 20 because nothing gets through. All right, so I want to see something over a 10 reelect. I like the three m Phil treat filters I have no affiliation with. Um uh, I really like to fill treat filters there anywhere from 11 to a 13. Depending on what color and the price points really accessible. A HEPA filter on your furnace. It’s a lot of money. You have to modify your ductwork, the filters air expensive. You’re looking at over $1000 so it’s a big decision. You need to be really sick. Before I recommend something like that, you can have a portable HEPA air cleaner in your house. Air filter on. I really like those for people who are sensitive or definitely for renters. And so you can actually clean the air within a space or a couple spaces, depending on the size you get. You can roll it around with you as well. So I really like those, Um, but again, that’s never where you start. If you’re starting with filtration and you’ve got a leaky old house, you’re using that HEPA filter to filter the outside air. That’s ridiculous. We need to reduce the air leakage. We need to contain the vessel. First, the vessel being your home, the more we can air seal it, the easier it is to contain. The more we can contain it, the easier it is to control it. The more we can control it, the easier it is to clean it all right, and it has to be done in that process. If you don’t, you’re throwing money out the window. So think about air sealing your home. Think about then how to control it by cleaning properly and managing the stuff going on in the house, you know, taking shoes off. You know, keeping the dogs the out of the bedrooms, making those strategies that we can reduce. Ah, the exposure to the particular coming in the house. Um And then once we start cleaning, it could be way more effective. So getting rid of the carpet first makes cleaning way easier and reduces your dust load. So those kind of strategies when we’re dealing with particulate, we are all stardust, everyone. We all came from the stars. We’ll end up back in the stars at the end. So while you’re thinking of all this dust and freaking out while you’re scrubbing your, uh, tops of your kitchen cabinets, remember, it came from the stars ultimately, and it will go back there in the end. Thanks for listening. And we’ll catch you next time. Cheers.


If you enjoy the show, please leave a review and subscribe to the podcast, and you will be doing your part to help others create their own healthy homes. If you would like to learn more about me, Stephen Collette and what I do, please check out my Web site at www.yourhealthyhouse.ca Music for the podcast is by Brian Pickett of Voodoo Highway Music. Audio Technical Support is by Mike Pickett. Editorial support is by Eric Rosen I’m your host, Stephen Collette. Thanks for listening and enjoy your day. Cheers.