Lesson Twelve – Gab Learns Allergies
Spring is here (if you watch the video, you can tell from our clothing), and that means allergies are here too (noooo!) We vaguely know why we react the way we do when spring rolls through, but what can we do about?
What are the main contributors to seasonal allergies?
To start, let’s backtrack to winter allergies – because allergies aren’t just a spring thing!
The main contributor to winter allergies is dust! Because we generally keep our windows closed during winter, or at the very best only open them once a day, it means that the dust that is naturally generated stays inside and gets breathed in and the natural buildup causes those wintertime sniffles and sneezes.
While we can reduce it, dust isn’t something we can completely irradicate because it comes from so many places! Dirt, pollutants from cars, soot in the air or from the clothes dryer, fur from your pets, and even the skin on your body. It comes in through windows, doors or air leakage points in your home, but it comes from the things inside your house as well.
During the warmer months our allergies are typically set off by pollens, which makes us sneeze, sniffle and itchy our eyes and throat. And it can be hard to control these because some days there is more pollen floating around in the air than others. An allergy forecast can help with this (if it is accurate enough), you can measure how reactive your allergies are going to be for certain times of the year, and various pollens. But keep in mind, the same things that trigger your allergies in the winter are still around, and they’re just triggered further by the addition of pollens.
From a home perspective, why do we get the difference in allergies?
In winter we tend to keep our windows closed, which means we get a buildup of dust which sparks allergies, but in the summer also if our windows are open, outdoor pollen and pollutants are welcomed in and add to the list of allergies. While in spring/summer our windows tend to be open much more often further exacerbating our allergies from pollen in the air, and the types of airborne pollen changes depending on what is growing in the area.
How do we prevent this without relying on an endless supply of antihistamines?
The simple answer (which has been said time and time again on Gab Learns) – build tight, ventilate right. As counterintuitive as it may be, because it seems like we’d be trapping pollen and pollutants inside the house, but you are actually preventing any more from coming in. And to be clear, pollutants are everywhere – it doesn’t mean you or your house are dirty, it’s just some people are more susceptible to them than others.
After closing up the house and preventing heaps of new pollutants from coming in, the next solution would be to install a balanced ventilation system to remove the stale air, and to bring in the fresh air. A balanced system filters the incoming air to remove the pollutants and contaminants, however if you can’t get a balanced system (they can be expensive), you can achieve similar results with a purifier system. If this isn’t available for you either you could even number 8 wire it by purchasing a box fan, and taping some filters on the outgoing side. This will suck the air in and purify it through the filters before pushing it out. Here’s a video and here’s another article.
If you have a child or someone that suffers from bad allergies – what can you do?
Again, removing the pollutants from the room is the priority. Placing a filter system in the bedroom would help in a pinch, but most systems are a bit noisy – which if in a child’s room might interfere with their sleep (and the parents)! But when it’s necessary, it’s a needed sacrifice to keep windows closed and filter on for days that have high pollen or dust in the air, and windier days that will transfer pollutants inside.
Ideally, though, you would be able to renovate your house so that it can be closed and ventilated properly on those pollen-y days, or move to a new one with a proper filtered ventilation system.
Are pollens/pollutants exacerbated with air temperature or various temperatures throughout the day?
Sure, most of us prefer when it’s hot rather than when it’s cold – but as we’ve already learned, varying temperatures do exacerbate things such as condensation, and these things lead to mould! If you suffer from allergies, you will likely already be a bit sniffy, sneezy, watery eyes then adding mould will only exacerbate the problem. Having that filter system operating well will help to remove the mould spores if there are any.
Is there a system that measures the amount of pollutants in our home?
Not exactly. There is lab testing you can do which requires you to send a sample away to a lab to test the number of mould spores, and there are various devices that measure temperature, humidity, CO2 (ppm). Without any device or measurement tool you can always wait for a sunny day and look at the dust particles floating in the air – if there are lots in the air, then there is a lot in your house!
TIP: When you are looking at a house to either rent or buy, check if there is a balanced pressure system as the home will generally perform better than a home that uses windows for ventilation.
Is there a difference between old vs new homes in terms of building performance?
Generally older homes are more air leaky; they have less control of the air coming in which typically means there will be more dust and pollutants able to find their way inside. Newer homes may be more airtight, but if they’re still ventilated with windows, there won’t be much of a difference.
The best way to find out how air leaky your home is to conduct a blower door test, and if you find that the house is good and airtight, you’ll be able to really benefit from a proper filtered mechanical ventilation system.
To summarise – before the warmer months arrive, or if you are already battling with allergies, try some of these systems to help take the edge off by alleviating pollutants from your home and hopefully reducing the symptoms of allergies!