Between the heat, humidity and mosquitoes, Floridians spend a lot of time inside their houses during the long summer season, with windows shut and the A/C cranking. That’s even more true for folks who work from home.
It feels good to be inside, but it isn’t necessarily the healthiest setting. A sealed environment that lacks fresh air and isn’t sufficiently cleaned presents several health risks — some minor, others significant.
If you have allergies, accumulated dust can make them worse. Dust mites and pet dander can trigger asthma attacks. Mold exposure can be particularly harmful to people with weakened immune systems due to treatments for cancer or certain autoimmune diseases like lupus.
Here are 10 ways you can make your home a healthier place to breathe:
Thorough, Regular Cleanings
Vacuuming and dusting are tedious chores, for sure. But it’s the best way to control allergens like dust and pet hair that can cause respiratory problems.
Carpets should be vacuumed once a week. If you have the option of getting hard-surface flooring instead, do it. It’s easier to get clean.
Same with window treatments. Blinds are better than curtains because they’re easier to clean. If you do have curtains, try to clean them quarterly. And don’t forget bed sheets. People are better at keeping them clean than they are drapes, but keep in mind that sheets can accumulate a surprising amount of dust.
Clean Those Fan Blades
Drapes aren’t the only place where dust accumulates without much notice. The tops of fan blades capture a lot, but who’s looking at the tops of their fan blades? (The reason fan blades capture so much dust is static electricity.) They also can be difficult to reach and clean.
Still, it’s worth the effort. Use a sturdy step stool and try using one of the many specialty brushes designed to clean fan blades without a lot of effort.
Use and Maintain Your Vents
Modern homes are built with several features intended to improve ventilation.
Your bathroom fan, for example, not only helps get rid of unpleasant odors, it also reduces the amount of water vapor during hot baths and showers. That controls humidity, which helps limit the growth of mold.
Kitchen fans also help vent humidity out of the home, along with smoke and other potential respiratory irritants produced while cooking. These fans are particularly important if you’re cooking with a gas stove, which produces carbon monoxide, an odorless and potentially deadly byproduct from using gas.
Speaking of Gas Stoves …
Stoves and other appliances that use gas aren’t inherently dangerous. But they need to be serviced regularly to ensure the fixtures aren’t leaking and are connected properly.
And every home needs to have a carbon monoxide detector, even if you don’t have gas appliances. Cars accidentally left running in garages have been known to kill the occupants of a home. CO2 detectors are cheap and easy to install.
Switch Out A/C Filters Regularly
The type of filter in your air-conditioning unit can make a huge difference in the air quality inside your house.
A/C filters have a MERV rating (minimum efficiency reporting value) to help consumers understand how well the filter captures dust, pollen, bacteria and other particles. The higher the MERV rating, the more effective (and expensive).
Most households don’t need an exceptionally high MERV rating on their filters. But if someone has a respiratory condition such as asthma, a better filter may be worth the money.
Remember to change your filter every few months, especially during the summer when your A/C is working overtime.
Open Windows While Painting
Paint, lacquer, thinners and many household cleaners contain volatile organic compounds, chemicals that can cause headaches and dizziness when inhaled in sufficient quantities.
Open windows and use fans when you’re painting or using strong household cleaners. And look for products — especially paints — that are labeled as low-VOC.
Buying a Home? Get a Radon Inspection
Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas that — like carbon monoxide — is odorless and tasteless. But it can increase the risk of lung cancer. If you’re buying a home, be sure to ask for a radon inspection.
Consider the Air when Getting a Pet
If you or a family member has allergies, consider breeds that are less likely to cause allergic reactions. Dogs as large as poodles and as small as a Maltese are hypoallergenic.
If you’re considering a bird for a pet, think again. A respiratory infection called psittacosis can be spread by inhaling dust from dried bird droppings. Though rare, the disease is serious.
Open Windows when You Can
It’s not practical in the summer, but Florida has many months when the weather outside is just splendid. Take advantage of it by opening your windows and letting the fresh air in as much as possible.
You might need to make an exception, of course, when pollen is bad.
No Smoking Indoors
While it may seem obvious, some people still smoke inside their homes. Cigarette smoke is packed with harmful chemicals that cause all types of diseases. You shouldn’t smoke at all. But if you must, don’t light up indoors so others don’t inhale secondhand smoke.