Green office + green home = poor health?

Green office + green home = poor health?

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Sick home/sick building syndrome is on the rise.

Energy Star home products like energy efficient windows and doors, and tightly sealed hi-tech buildings contribute to fewer hours spent in fresh air.

If you work in an office and have a modern home, for most of the day, you might be:

  • Sealed in your home while you sleep and while you get ready for work in the morning
  • Sealed in your car on the way to work
  • Sealed in your work building
  • Sealed in your car on the way home from work
  • Sealed in your homes again in the evening

More chemicals and toxins are found in:

  • Furniture
  • Flooring
  • Drywall
  • Wall coverings and coatings
  • Electronics
  • Clothing
  • Vehicles
  • HVAC systems

Thanks to advances in technology, our homes and buildings are more energy efficient. They keep hot air from leaking into our homes and offices during the warm months as we’re spending money to cool them. They keep cold air out and prevent the air we’ve just paid to warm from escaping.

What else happens?

We trap all of the coughs, sneezes, dust, toxins, gases and other harmful air contaminants in the house, vehicle or workplace with us.

Think about sleeping all night in a house with energy efficient windows and doors, then getting ready for work the next morning as your spouse, partner, kids or pets are getting ready for their days.

You then get into your car, roll up the windows and turn on the air conditioning or heater.

You park in the workplace garage, get into an elevator, then go to work in an office you share with dozens of other people and inhale not only what they’re exhaling, but whatever else is coming out of the air ducts, and electronic devices in the building.

You then get back into your home, drive home with the windows closed, and then finally enter your energy efficient home for the rest of the evening and through the next morning.

One way to improve your health is to work, play and live in better air quality.

The easiest way to do this is to occasionally open doors and windows in your home and office to let toxins out and fresh air in. Another way is to spend more time outdoors, which might include having lunch outside during workweeks, doing some yardwork or just taking a walk after dinner.

Humidifiers help, but…

Dry air, especially during the winter months when you’re heating your office and home, can cause a variety of health problems. These include dehydration, dry skin and itchy eyes.

Buying an office or home humidifier can help condition the air you breathe and reduce or eliminate some of these problems. Be careful, however, when using a humidifier. Don’t just plug in your humidifier and ignore it for days or weeks.

Get your ducts in a row

The air you breathe in a building or your home circulates through the air ducts (if you have central heating and cooling). Have you had your ducts inspected and cleaned lately?

HVAC companies recommend annual service contracts that not only include inspection and maintenance of your heating and cooling units, but also air duct cleaning. There’s no proof that regular air duct cleaning improves air quality, according to the EPA, but if you haven’t had your air ducts inspected and cleaned for years, it might be a good idea.

Tips for Improving Air Quality

  • Replace your home air filters every 90 days.
  • Have your home HVAC unit inspected to make sure it’s working properly if you haven’t done so during the last few years. Consider annual inspections.
  • Have your air ducts inspected and cleaned if you haven’t done so during the last few years.
  • Try a humidifier. Keep the humidifier filter and the water basin clean.
  • Add screens to your front door and one or two windows per floor so you can open your doors and windows to let stale air out and fresh air in.
  • Rotate the direction of ceiling fans twice each year.

–Clockwise in winter to push warm air down.

–Counterclockwise in summer to create a cooler airflow.

  • Clean ceiling fan blades every month or so.
  • Don’t clean mold stains on walls or tile with bleach. That only cleans the stain. To kill the roots of mold that live under surfaces, look for an EPA-approved mold removal product.

Talk to your employer about how it’s managing workplace air quality.

Get Outside More Often

  • Ask your employer to set up an outdoor lunch/break area.
  • Have dinner on your home deck or patio more often.
  • Make phone calls outdoors.
  • Bring your laptop outdoors.
  • Take a walk after dinner.
  • Exercise outdoors.
  • Offer to walk a neighbor’s dog.
  • Do more yard work.

Photo by Bruce Mars

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