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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog

The Air you Breath

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been talking about energy efficiency and the need to reduce the air exchange in your home to increase efficiency. To make your home as efficient as possible, this is a very important step to take. The less warm air that is allowed to escape in the winter or the less hot air that is allowed to enter the home in the summer means that you spend less conditioning the air in your home. One thing that needs to be addressed is the effect that reducing the air exchange can have on the air in the home. Having a "tight" home means that the air that you pay to condition stays in the home, but it also means that anything in the home that reduces air quality stays in as well. So while we are talking about keeping the home efficient and potentially improving the air outside, let's consider some of the things that can make the air in your home less than desirable to breathe. None of this information is intended to scare you away from making your home more efficient, but there are some things to think about when you do.

VOC's- What are VOCs? VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds. What does that really mean? The EPA defines a VOC as an organic chemical that is contained in a number of products that have either short term or long term health effects. Not all organic compounds have known health effects, but the effects range from eye, nose, and throat irritation, to damage to liver, kidneys and the central nervous system; some are suspected as carcinogenic in humans. These VOC's are found in a number of items that are found throughout the home ranging from paints to home cleaning products. And the levels of VOC in indoor air are much higher (as high as 10 times) compared to outdoor air. VOC can be found in a number of solids as well. You know that smell that new carpet has? That is the smell of VOCs being released into the home. So what can you do about it? I am sure that if you have been to the hardware store recently, you may have seen paint and other products that are labeled as "Low VOC". These products contain fewer of these chemicals and are, in turn, safer to use. Always follow the label instructions to reduce your risk. The biggest thing that you can do is to eliminate the use of these compounds in your home altogether. There are products that contain no VOCs, including paints and carpets. These products are often bio-based and are safer to use than other products for many other reasons beyond the lack of VOCs.

Radon- If you have been following this blog, you may already know some of the basics of radon. But just to make sure that everyone is on the same page, let's talk about radon. Radon is a radioactive gas that is the natural decay product of Uranium deposits in the soil. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Radon comes into the home through the lowest level of the home. As a gas, it can enter the home through any crack or hole in the foundation that is present. As you reduce the air exchange in a home, you are also increasing the home's ability to retain this dangerous gas. I think that it should be clear that I am not against making your home "tighter", but I do want to make you all aware of the potential danger presented in this gas. The good news is that there is a simple solution here. Tests can be done for radon. Tests are very inexpensive and can be done by either a professional or by the homeowner. Kits to test your home can be purchased from a number of places, including your local hardware store. Testing is easy and fixing the problem is relatively inexpensive as well. You can get a professional to come in and install a mitigation system in your home for between $800 and $2000. For more information on where to purchase test kits or for information on mitigating your home, please call the U of I Extension office in your county.

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