Episode #4 Is My House Making Me Sick?
In this episode, Stephen walks through your home with you and explains some of the simple science going on to help you determine where you should be focussing your efforts, and where you don’t. When breaking down indoor climate, we look at air, temperature, moisture and electro-climate. By understanding these categories better, you can make better decisions.
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The transcript for the episode is below:
Stephen: Welcome to your healthy house. I’m Stephen Collette
Stephen: 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 you.
Stephen: Episode number four, is my house making me sick? I get this question a lot. People want to know is their house making them sick? Is there something going on that they can fix and resolve and hopefully see better health through their family? Of course, this is an important question. We have to look at the causes, not the effects. Illness is the effect, but we need to figure out if the house is actually making us sick. And by doing that, we need to understand the potential sources. So today we’re going to look at the indoor climate and this is broken down into four groups, air, temperature, moisture, and electro-climate. So I’m going to break down each of these sections and go into details. And by understanding these elements within each section, you can determine whether your home is in fact making you sick.
Stephen: The first section is called air, and this is oftentimes going to be mostly particulate or dust. So we are biochemical, electrical creatures who happen to breathe. And as such, the air we breathe in can contain dust. And that dust can be a variety of things. It can be biologicals like pollens, danders skin cells. It can also be, chemical because of the aerosols or the finishes rubbing off as we walk across the floor or rubbing the counter. It can also be just particulate. It can be construction dust, it can be skin cells, it can be, where from your clothes and all that particular, it’s in the air. It’s also going to be moulds and bacteria, which people are worried about. So this particulate, that creates a huge composition within the air that is completely invisible. We can’t see it when we’re looking at respirable particulate or dust that we can breathe in. We’re looking at very small, and to give you an example, your hair is about a hundred microns thick. And when I’m measuring with my laser particle counter that measures particles with a laser, I’m actually measuring from 10 microns down to 0.3 microns. And that’s really small. That’s the kind of particles that are at the smaller sizes are going to get past your nose hairs, they’re going to get past your wet throat and they’re going to get really deep in your lungs. The larger particles, those first two barriers are actually going to catch them. But when it gets really small below two microns below one micron for sure, that can actually go directly into our bloodstream. And that’s normal. I don’t want you to freak out and start power cleaning for the next three days straight.
Stephen: There’s particulate in dust everywhere inside, outside, no matter where we are. And that happens. What’s changed over the millennia is the composition of that particulate that we’re breathing in. There’s definitely more chemicals in it, more construction materials versus natural stuff. And that’s how we can be impacted. So the simple thing when looking at particulate is to clean your house. Like do you have a lot of dust? Do you have a lot of carpets, particulate levels I find are always going to be elevated depending on the number of kids, cats and carpets you have in the house, the more of any of those, the more dust you’re going to have. It’s just a force of nature. But the more we can have solid surface, the more we can keep pets out of bedrooms for example, and the more we can remove our shoes when we come in and enter the house, those kinds of strategies are going to dramatically reduce the dust that we generate.
Stephen: Forced air will create some dust for sure. Just having a creates a static ion imbalance. And so, radiant systems can be healthier as far as managing dust. So we just want to think about where’s the dust in the house? Are we actually cleaning it and can we keep it under control? So that’s going to be sweeping if it’s solid surface HEPA vacuuming. if we have carpets and and details like that, that’s one part of a, the air. The other part will be the biologicals. And I’m going to talk more about that when we deal with moisture. in the next section, movement, ventilation smell, that’s certainly part of the air in our indoor climate and people are going to call me because they have older issues. do you have an odor issue? When do you smell it? Is there a season you smell it? Is there a time of day you smell it? Is it every time someone puts on a bathroom exhaust fan? All those play a role when pressure’s definitely one that’s, that’s tricky. So you want to try to isolate that and figure out again what the causes. Atmospheric pressure also be an issue which is just altitude. Some people are really sensitive to that and they don’t realize it that whether it be altitude or whether it be a storm, a pressure coming in. I do have a few clients who have been sensitive to that, so they feel really unwell or more sensitive when a storm, when a low pressure’s coming in or a high pressure, that change really affects them. So trying to think about what’s going on outside as well.
Stephen: The next section within your indoor climate of the four: air, temperature, moisture and electro-climate is going to be moisture. Now, we talked about in the mould podcast about how we need to manage liquid water and moisture in the home. And that’s really important. That hasn’t changed. It is one of the single largest things to protect yourself from biologicals. But also it’s really important just for a durability perspective within the home. If you’re gonna have moisture in your house, you’re going to have problems. But comfort and indoor climate also play a role with humidity. As human beings, we really like our relative humidity to be roughly between 45 and 50% relative humidity or RH. And that’s a ratio. Now, depending on where you live, you can have comfort and still be, quite outside that range. People who live in the u s southwest are very used to very dry conditions. Personally, I like it. It’s too dry. Those who live in more humid climates, especially along the coasts are going to be, more comfortable with, above those conditions. But if we can keep within 35% to 55% is the general range and the very, very sweet spot is 45 to 50%. Humans really prefer that comfort range as a whole, temperature with that does play a role and we’ll talk about that in a minute.
Stephen: Moisture content of materials so we can have humidity, humidity, but if we have damp clothes or damp materials, the comfort level drops dramatically. So we can’t let the humidity stay high for a long period of time. We can tolerate swings here and there, highs and lows personally. But if our building gets damp, if our basements get damp, that’s when most people notice then we’re going to have, discomfort issues. And the most important thing is just running for those who live in a climate that has a basement, is during the cooling season. When it’s hot outside, you need to run a dehumidifier for those in a slab on grade and in a tropical climate or a humid climate, the dehumidifier is common, whether it’s a whole house system or part of your air conditioner.
Stephen: We want to think about from an indoor climate perspective when we’re talking about moisture, the idea of the building being able to help us in the building, being able to reduce those swings when it comes to moisture in the air. And that can be done through materials that can safely absorbed moisture. So clay, for example, clay walls, clay plasters can safely absorbed some moisture hold onto it while the bathrooms, having someone’s having a shower in the bathroom and the moisture levels really high. And then once that shower’s done and things have dried out, the clay can safely release desorb, that moisture and that takes a highs and lows out. We can use different building materials, but they must, be designed for that. carpet for example in a basement can certainly hold a whole lot of moisture, especially when you have, a foam underpad, which looks and acts a lot like a sponge.
Stephen: But that’s not a really ideal condition because you have a really high likelihood of growing mould down there because of the dust that’s trapped within that carpet. So we want to think about our building materials and how we can use them to create more comfort with respect to moisture. The liquid water we’ve talked about that, in the mold podcast, that’s really important. If you have liquid water getting into the building, either falling from the sky or coming up through the ground and migrating through your materials, that’s a very big concern. It needs to be taken seriously. So you always have to manage those sort of things. Thinking about eaves trough, or gutters If you’re in the US; downspouts, window wells, grading, and you want to think about how to manage your some, if you have a, below grade basement, you want to think about some pumps, some pits and how to actually dry the dry, the rising water, the groundwater that could be coming up and impact in your house.
Stephen: The third section is temperature. And this is an interesting one because temperature people come to me and they’re like, I’m, I’m hot, she’s cold, she’s cold, he’s hot and all varies. But if we have 10 people in a room, I’m going to have 10 different descriptions of thermal comfort and thermal comfort. We don’t really get it right within our buildings. We have one thermostat on the wall and that thermostat measures air temperature at that location, which is typically inside wall, like as far away from the window as possible. The challenge is we don’t all react the same and there’s actually a lot more going on. So the basic physics of hot air rises plays a role within your house. So we have some colder feet and hotter heads, which is kind of where that analogy, those terms come from, is the fact that just hot air rises, that’s how we feel. But biologically we actually prefer warm feet and cool heads. We’ve all snuggled down in the winter time under a douvet and the air can be a little cool or crispy even if we’re camping and we feel really comfortable snuggled in under that douvet or sleeping bag and breathing in the cooler our bodies like that. But in a house, especially with forced air, it’s actually different. So we have hot at the top and cold at the bottom and that creates discomfort for those who walk across a tile floors. Certainly in the summertime that’s a very, very comfortable. But in the wintertime that same tile floor would be very, very uncomfortable. So surface temperature plays a role, as well. We also have temperature differences between the window, sort of, so how you’re facing within a room. So given a room and imaginary room with a window and maybe a wood stove or a fireplace at the opposite side, the temperature and a cold winter day, the temperatures on your body surfaces are going to be quite different. The side facing the window is going to be a little cooler than the side facing. The fireplace is going to be a lot hotter and that’s radiant temperature coming off, but that’s a temperature difference and especially those in cold climates will note that being near a window in winter is cold. on a hot summer day, quite the opposite. We don’t want to stand near, they went to a window. You want to close the blinds so that we’re not getting that radiant heat beating in and warming up the surfaces in our bodies. So that temperature variation front to back in that case creates discomfort. Then we’ve all experienced that out at a bonfire in the summertime. The air temperature is actually all the same around us. It’s a cold, crisp August night and the bonfires going and you’re standing close warming and you’ve got to turn around and warm your backside because there’s a temperature, there’s a radiant temperature difference. And so this stratification, whether it be a side to side or up and down, those create discomfort. If we add more moisture to the air, that temperature is going to feel different. Hot and humid is really uncomfortable for many people. We can tolerate more heat. If the air is dry, we can tolerate less heat if the air is moist and it’s the opposite. A downwards, cold and damp, is also uncomfortable. Cold and dry does feel more cold for sure for those who experienced it, but we can typically tolerate it. So the extremes of temperature also have to deal with moisture in the air as well.
Stephen: Finally, the fourth of the indoor climate sections is electro-climate. And this is one people are less aware of. But as I said in the beginning, we are biochemical, electrical creatures. And so for, we do operate, we do have electrical signals passing from our brain to robotics to make our nerves and fingers and toes move. But we simply don’t operate at 110 volts or at a high frequencies. And so those exposures are again, haven’t been with us except in the last, hundred years for low frequencies and even less than that for high frequencies. And so our bodies aren’t biologically adapted to those. And so we do experience physical stress, with those. The electro-climate are relatively straight forward. There’s direct current, DC current and us from batteries, but it’s also from a magnetic field from the earth. We understand how that works and we understand that birds and butterflies have, have cells in their brains that have a magnetic component and that’s actually how they can, migrate. And research has shown that we also have, those magnetic cells within our brains as well. And so we are sensitive to it. We just don’t remember or can’t dig it up. I suppose that’s probably why some people are better at directions and others, maybe they just have the those little magnets lined up in a little more in tune.
Stephen: Alternating current is what we have in our homes. And again, that’s relatively new since a hundred years. And if you remember your high school physics, there are magnetic fields and electric fields generated with a current flow and the presence of electricity on a wire and those fields are a high potential radiating out. And so some of us are sensitive to those. overall it is a burden and we want to reduce those and you’re going to find those with some wiring errors. A neutral to neutrals are really common, so you can still have your wiring, but these errors can create fields that you may not be aware of. Old two-wire wires within homes are going to have more of that greater fields because the field is a high-potential looking for ground. And so the closer you can bring ground to these fields, then biologically you are a ground because we don’t have a lot of electricity. So those fields that hopefully are no longer drawn to you because you’re closer than earth oftentimes, or you’re standing between the light fixture above you and earth. And so the field is drawn to you and not to earth. So having three wire wires, grounded wires, all of that really dramatically reduces. And then making sure that you have, any wiring errors in your homes, resolved.
Stephen: High frequencies is the last part of electro-climate. and that’s in the microwave range. So we have the electrical magnetic spectrums, really complicated. There’s a lot going on in the visible spectrums within there. There’s x-rays in the ionizing gamma rays and the ionizing and the non-ionizing weak, and high frequencies like microwaves, that cook our food. We can also have, Bluetooth smartphones, Wi-fi, smart meters, cell phones, all operate in the high frequency range and they are a potential health concern for sure. So we need to think about our exposures and we need to think about, how we can minimize them. I’m not telling you with Wifi or with any of these to get rid of everything. Cause then you wouldn’t be able to listen to this podcast and hopefully they, you don’t want to do that. But we need to understand that there are potential concerns and we’ll go into much greater detail. But in your own home, when you’re thinking about, is my house making me sick? When we look at the electoral climate, are we surrounded in our bedroom with all our smart stuff on and our cell phones on and electrical appliances all around us. Can we minimize that? Can we turn everything off? That’s going to help for sure. It’s gonna reduce your burden because when we go back to moisture is, are you running a humidifier in the wintertime and maybe it’s too much and it’s getting huge humid in your bedroom then own that could be a problem.
Stephen: When you think about temperature, is it too hot, too cold? Is it too much strain or too much temperature difference? Because your attic hatches leaking air out out your, closet a ceiling. And so we’re getting temperature differences. Maybe you’ve got a lot of dust. Do you have carpet in your bedroom? When was the last time you vacuumed under your bed? That’s a question I ask people and I get that donut look and people really freaking out. So you want to think about those kinds of things. And I use a bedroom as an example because it’s a really great place to focus and that’s the place where we’re trying to heal ourselves from all the stupid, dumb things we’ve been doing to ourselves over the day. And so if you wanna make one room healthy, you should always start in the bedroom. But when you’re trying to find concerns, obviously you want to look everywhere in the house, top to bottom, inside and out. And this is just a quick overview. We’ll definitely go into more detail in other episodes, breaking down each of these and helping you create your healthy house. Thank you.
Stephen: If you enjoyed this 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’d like to learn more about me, Stephen Collette, and what I do, please check out my website 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 am your host, Stephen Collette. Thanks for listening and enjoy your day. Cheers.