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Triple Win Property Management Blog

Is a Home Energy Audit Right for You?

What is an energy audit and what makes a good energy auditor? It’s eight days after tax day, and we’re here to talk about audits. But don’t worry, these audits are actually good, and not a result of not paying your taxes. We’re talking about home energy audits. ‍ A home energy audit (or assessment) is a review of your home’s energy usage to determine efficiency. A professional auditor will bring lots of fancy equipment to your home and conduct a thorough examination of every room. ‍ Who does an energy audit? Energy audits are conducted by professionals who are each certified as a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Rater by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) or certified as a Building Analyst by the Building Performance Institute. These certifications are important. You’re paying this person to do work on your home, and an audit can eventually pay for itself (when performed by a certified expert). ‍ How is an energy audit done? An energy audit is designed to provide a comprehensive understanding of how your home uses energy and how the construction impacts energy usage. Step 1. Initial Overview It typically starts with an auditor reviewing the layout of your home so they know where trouble areas may exist. Anything you can supply beforehand that might be enlightening, such as floor plans, will be helpful for the auditor. ‍ Step 2. Assessment An auditor will typically then have a discussion with the homeowner about any issues the homeowner has noticed. Things like unusually cold floors, areas of condensation, drafts, as well as appliance use will be relevant to the auditor. ‍ Often times, the next step will involve an inspection of certain appliances known as combustion appliances. They’re called combustion appliances because they require the burning of fuel to generate heat. Furnaces and water heaters are often the combustion appliances that are tested. Step 3. Air Leak Test Next, your auditor will locate drafts and air leaks with what is called a blower test. This involves an apparatus that fits on a door frame and, as the name implies, blows air. While the blower is running, the auditor will use a device, often an infrared camera, to locate areas of leakage. ‍ The audit may then conclude in the attic, where the infrared camera is again used to identify areas of leakage and insufficient insulation. Step 4. Report Delivered Finally, a report is put together by the auditor that details findings and provides specific and sequential instructions to fix the prevalent issues. That concludes what an energy audit might look like in your home. Remember that all homes are different and all auditors probably have different ways of going about the same tasks so your audit may differ from this process to a certain degree. ‍ What is the value of a home energy audit? The value of an energy audit can be tremendous or minor, depending on how energy-efficient your home already is. You’ll receive step-by-step instructions from a professional on how to improve your home’s energy usage. As we’ve detailed in previous #FilterEasyFix episodes and blogs, there is an incredible amount of money to be saved on your energy bills with some relatively easy home fixes. An energy audit will tell what fixes or repairs are most relevant for you. ‍ Should I have an energy audit done? Yes, probably. Many homes have energy issues, and most older homes have more significant energy efficiency issues. You can save more than just a few dollars by identifying trouble areas in your home and cleaning them up. Some problems you can address on your own, but others may require a professional. If you suspect your house could be more energy efficient than it is, then an audit is probably a good idea and will eventually pay for itself with the money saved on each bill. ‍ It's also worth noting that regularly replacing your home air filters will pay for itself by reducing your energy bills, preventing expensive repairs to your HVAC system, and potentially extending that costly system's lifespan. Sign up for Second Nature's subscription service today and that always forgotten to-do of replacing your air filters on time (or ever) will be permanently checked off your list.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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Give Your HVAC The Tune-Up it Needs Before Summer Hits

Keep your air conditioning running efficiently throughout the summer with some simple maintenance tips. Take care of your things, and they will take care of you. Always practice safety Clean your outside unit Check inside unit for damage and inefficiencies. Enjoy the fruits of your labor You wake up on Thursday and start your routine. You hit snooze on your alarm, go back to sleep, wake up again ten minutes later, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, feed the dog/cat/children, and leave. But when you get in the car, it won't start. Congratulations! Your car just ruined the rest of your day! Now you need to get it to an auto repair shop somehow and to figure out transportation. ‍ Take care of your things, and they will take care of you. It's never a great feeling to lose something that you take for granted and rely on. Although not every problem is preventable, regular maintenance sure helps. Simple things such as checking the car oil and brake fluid can make the difference between going about your day as planned and a trip to the auto shop with a crying wallet. ‍ This same concept applies to your HVAC system. Remembering to take care of your unit will make a big difference in energy costs and extend its lifespan. You can invest some time in routine HVAC maintenance each year, or you can invest in ice packs and fans until you can pay a professional to come and repair it. The choice is yours. Always practice safety. Before you dive in, you should shut down the power. Find the breaker box and turn it off. It's best not to take chances when it comes to electricity and moving parts. If you have a packaged system (one that does the job of cooling and heating your home), you also need to turn off the flow of the natural gas line before starting. Find the gas line, and you'll see the knob to turn. ‍ Clean your outside unit. Let's begin outdoors. On top of your HVAC unit, you'll find the fan cage. Remove this with a screwdriver or wrench to expose the inside. Now, you can remove any debris by hand such as leaves, pine needles, grass, dead squirrels, and other unwanted treasures. OK, maybe not dead squirrels, but it's not pretty. ‍ Next, remove the covers from the sides of the unit if there are any. If you'd like to be thorough, use the brush attachment of a vacuum and suck up any dirt that may have collected on the thin, delicate metal columns. Those are called fins. Then, grab a water hose and rinse the fins from the inside out to get everything else. You can access the backside of your fins through the top of the unit. By washing from the inside out, you're pushing gunk out of the system instead of into it. Be sure to let everything you have washed dry before turning on your system again. SN Tip: Do not use a power washer! Although they are great for deep cleaning, the pressure can easily damage your HVAC unit. If you need to deep clean the fins, there are cleaning solutions made just for that. After you clean everything, check the fins for any areas where they may be bent. It's a good idea to take some time and straighten these out, as it will help with efficiency, which can save you money. They make tools specifically for this task known as fin combs, but in a pinch, a butter knife can work as well. Gently wedge it in between and push the bent fins back into place. After that is complete, the fan cage can be put back in place and installed. Sorry ahead of time, because this may be a little tedious. SN Tip: Be exceptionally gentle when straightening your unit's fins. These are fragile, and too much pressure can cause damage. To prevent future debris and ensure adequate airflow, you should clean up the area surrounding the condenser. Trim nearby branches and vegetation as well as clear any other obstacles that could end up inside the unit. Ideally, you want your outdoor unit to have about two feet of space in all directions. ‍ One last thing to check is the insulation on your coolant line. Two different coolant lines exit your house and enter your unit. Don't worry about insulating the smaller of the two as it typically carries the warm refrigerant. The larger line should have insulation around it inside and outside the house. If you find that it is not in tip-top shape, you can buy new insulation foam at a hardware store. Cut the length you need and keep it in place with electrical tape. When your coolant line isn't insulated, you could have condensation inside the home and will definitely lose efficiency because it will collect heat from outside. By insulating the larger coolant line, you're taking care of your house and making your HVAC unit's work a little easier. And by regularly checking the insulation, you'll be sure to not run into those issues. ‍ You are now all done outside! Put away any tools that are lying around and get yourself a glass of water. ‍ Check inside unit for damage and inefficiencies. SN Tip: if you have a packaged system or don't have a furnace/AC inside, some of this doesn't apply to you. If that's you, you can skip to what matters here. Let's now continue this project inside the comfort of your home. But wait—did you remember to cut the power from the breaker? Just a friendly reminder. ‍ Start with a visual inspection. Check coils, pipes, and even the floor. What you will be mostly looking for is dust buildup, oil stains, and rust. You should clean any dust. If you notice oil stains or rust, that may indicate a leak—you don't want those. This leak could be from any number of things, including a coolant line. If you see a water stain, a severe problem is waiting to happen. See if you can find the source of the leak and seal it or replace the part if possible. If the conditions seem to be too big for your britches, this might be a job for an HVAC technician. It'll certainly be cheaper than waiting for something to break. ‍ If your HVAC system has a humidifier, close the bypass to the humidifier. Then turn off the humidifier itself. While it is helpful during the winter to stop dry air, it won't be beneficial or efficient to have this running with the scorching weather. ‍ With every HVAC maintenance session, it's essential to clear the drain pipe. Start by finding and checking the drain pan, located near the bottom of your unit. You want it to be clean and free of debris. ‍ Now for the good stuff. Open the drain pipe connected to the pan and pour some water directly in the pipeline. Make sure to have a bucket underneath not to leave a puddle on your floor. Flush out any dirty water and debris in the pipe with an air compressor. A wet/dry vacuum works well here too. Detach the pipe at a junction a foot or so down the line from the pan and insert the vacuum nozzle there. Plug the other side of the pipe that you disconnected from the pan with something airtight such as someone's thumb or a cork. Now turn on the vacuum and with the other end plugged, any dirt and grossness should be sucked out. Reattach the drain pipe and conduct a final check. Pour some water into the pan and examine if it smoothly flows away. Lots of issues can arise from maintenance neglect regarding this particular area. If water cannot properly flow through the drain pan, it will overflow and can cause significant water damage to your unit. Some HVAC systems are above the first floor, and that's the last place you want water damage. ‍ One of the simplest things you can do is to change your air filter. It will stop debris from entering your unit as well as help keep your air clean. A clogged filter will drastically diminish airflow and could damage your unit. The costs for repairs is not worth it. One inch thick filters should be changed every one to three months. Filters that are four inches and thicker are typically changed out every four to six months. It'll depend on your environmental circumstances and the quality of the filter that you use. If you are unsure, install a new filter and check to see how dirty it looks every month. If you would like some assistance to make sure that your filters are regularly replaced and on time, we might know of a handy subscription that will help! *Cough *Cough* ‍ Enjoy the fruits of your labor. ‍ Grab your sunscreen and shades, because you're all set for summer! Turn on the power (and natural gas) to your HVAC system now that you've done your part to make it clean and keep it happy. A happy HVAC system will gladly reward you with the comfort of cool air for months to come! Take care of your things, and they will take care of you. It is certainly more pleasant than the possibility of coming home to a humid inferno of misery and sweat. ‍ If you lack the right tools, don't have the time, or come across something concerning about your HVAC that seems to be out of your league, there is no shame in reaching out to a local HVAC professional. There is a lot of HVAC maintenance that you can do on your own, but some tasks are too big for the untrained. ‍ --- ‍ Wouldn't it be nice to regularly replace your air filters on time without any reminders, going to store, or struggling to find your size? Of course it would. Make the smart choice and consider giving Second Nature a try! With our air filter subscription, we automatically send you the filters you need when you need them. Go ahead and mark that to-do off your list forever. We dare you.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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How to Test Your Indoor Air Quality

Learn how to measure air quality using an indoor air quality monitor and other useful tools. You’ve almost certainly heard us say at some point that the air inside your home can be up to five times more polluted than the air outside your home. It’s a striking statistic given how much focus is put on outdoor air pollution, and hopefully, one that will help shine some light on prevalent Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) issues that most people are not aware of. The actual amount of air pollution in each home in the United States is going to vary, and it’s going to vary a lot. There’s a wide array of risk factors that affect IAQ and which ones are relevant can change by state, county, or even by town. If you know these risks, you can probably estimate how much indoor air pollution affects your home. If you want some piece of mind though, you can always test your indoor air. At the very least, you'll know what you're dealing with. We did the research, and here are some ways to do just that. Purchase an indoor air quality monitor Test for mold in the air. Install carbon monoxide alarms Conduct a radon test. Purchase an indoor air quality monitor An indoor air quality monitor is exactly what it sounds like: a device that monitors the quality of your indoor air. IAQ is not something that enough people consider, so you’re probably in the majority if you had no idea that these products existed for consumers. They do, and they are the easiest option on the market today for consistently checking your Indoor Air Quality. ‍ What is it? An always-on electronic device that consistently tests and reports on the levels of pollution inside your home. ‍ What does it test? This varies by device, but almost all of them test for particulate matter, chemical pollutants, and humidity. Some will track temperature, carbon monoxide, its less harmful friend carbon dioxide, and even formaldehyde levels. ‍ Pro Tip: Particulate matter includes things like pollen and dust, and is essential to track because many IAQ issues are linked to it. ‍ How much do they cost? While some home air quality testers retail for a little over $50, the average starting price is more like $100. The top end price is north of $300, and many sell at the middle ground of around $200. It’s not a cheap device, but it’s not too bad for a one-time investment in home wellness. ‍ ‍How does a home air quality tester work? Many models have a display panel that will show you values and readings in real time right on the device itself. Others opt to show overall IAQ with an indicator light and share specific readings with your phone via a dedicated app. Most are smart home enabled as well and can pair with devices like thermostats to help manage your indoor air and energy usage. ‍ There are a ton of examples of good IAQ monitors you can purchase for your home. Here are just a couple. Foobot Price: $199 Measures: Particulate matter, chemical pollutants, humiditiy, temperature Features: Dedicated app to track readings and compare them to outside air, smarthome enabled, offers general IAQ reading with single light ‍ Awair Glow Price: $99 Measures: Chemicals (VOCs), temperature, humidity, Carbon Dioxide Features: Dedicated app to track readings, can turn on smart and non-smart devices with its external power outlet, night light ‍ Netatmo Price: $99.99 Measures: Humidity, air quality, noise, temperature Features: Dedicated app to track readings, smarthome enabled, offers general IAQ reading with single light ‍ Test for mold in the air. A common household pollutant that your indoor air quality monitor won’t report on is mold. Everybody has seen mold in their home at some point, probably on some bread that they forgot to throw away. That mold is easy to deal with. You just throw away the bread. What's less obvious and a greater threat to health is airborne mold spores that are polluting your indoor air. ‍ What type of home mold test should I use? Home mold tests are cheap, easy to use, available at most hardware stores, and almost entirely useless. So the answer is none. You should use none of them. ‍ A standard home mold test typically consists of a petri dish that you allow to sit in your home, along with a substance to create mold growth inside (usually something called potato dextrose). You leave the test out for a specified amount of time, and then you cap the petri dish and let it incubate for a specified amount of time. These times vary by brand, so follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. If mold grows, you have mold. If it doesn’t—well, you get the point. ‍ Spoiler alert: there is mold in your air. Mold spores are in the air just about anywhere you could go, including inside your home. Testing for the presence of mold is like testing for the presence of air. It is there, we promise. ‍ There are two critical questions to answer regarding mold in your home, and whether or not it is there at all is not one of them. The first is whether the amount of airborne mold spores found in your home is excessive. Since there is no official guideline from the EPA on how much mold is too much, this is usually done by comparing the concentration of mold spores floating in your home to the concentration of mold spores floating outside. It’s also a task for a professional. ‍ You should schedule one of these tests if you believe for any reason you may have a mold issue but aren't sure since you haven't seen any. Often times, there is a musty smell that is the calling card of larger than average amounts of mold. If you find that you're coughing or sneezing more than usual, that may be a sign of high mold concentration in your home as well. ‍ Professional mold removal service Moldman cites these eight reasons as the most common they see for mold inspections: ‍‍ “8 situations that warrant testing for mold: You are experiencing allergic symptoms, such as stuffy head, headaches, scratchy throat, runny nose and not sure why. You think you see mold but are not totally sure it is mold. You smell a musty odor but don’t see any visible mold. There have been plumbing leaks or water issues in your home or office. You want or need air testing after mold removal has been done by you or a professional to check whether mold levels have normalized. You are a buyer or seller in a real estate transaction and need evidence whether airborne mold levels are not normalized. You a landlord or tenant and need evidence whether there is a mold problem. You are looking for a general assessment of your indoor air quality to make sure your family is breathing high-quality clean air in your home." ‍ Pro Tip: If you see visible mold, you do not need to hire a professional to test your home. You’ve already identified that you have a problem the second you laid eyes on that nasty stuff. You can jump straight to hiring a professional for removal of the fungus. ‍ If an inspection discovers that you have a mold problem in your air, the most important question becomes “what is the source of the mold?” You cannot fix the problem if you don’t know where it is coming from, and the ultimate goal is to rid your home of large amounts of mold. Your inspector should be able to conduct this investigation also. ‍ It’s a common belief that there is a third important question, which is “what type of mold do you have?” Believe it or not, this is useless information an overwhelmingly large amount of the time. There are thousands of types of mold. Most people have heard of black mold, which is commonly believed to be “toxic mold.” The potential presence of this is the reason people often think that they should know the type of mold they are dealing with. ‍ The truth is that most molds, including black molds, do not produce toxins, and some species are capable of toxin production only under certain conditions. Even if you have toxin-producing mold, dangers are typically associated with ingestion, not inhalation. So it is highly improbable you will inhale dangerous levels of toxins produced by mold from the air in your home. This, coupled with the fact that the removal procedure for all types of mold is pretty much identical, gives virtually no reason to care what type of mold you may have. ‍ A professional mold inspection will be able to answer the important questions for you. For an average sized house, an inspection of your home will usually cost between $300 and $400. ‍ Install carbon monoxide alarms. Most Indoor Air Quality issues will have long-term and gradual effects on health. The presence of carbon monoxide (CO) is not one of those. Known as the silent killer, CO is tasteless, odorless, colorless, and it will kill you dead if you’re exposed to large amounts of it for too long. ‍ Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of fuel combustion, so appliances like gas dryers, gas burning stoves, and gas furnaces are risk creators. If you own any of these appliances, grabbing some carbon monoxide alarms from the store is a must. ‍ Even if you don’t own a gas dryer or stove, it can’t hurt to install these still. Carbon monoxide may not be a prominent danger in your home, but anything that burns gas creates CO. A lot of homes have gas water heaters that produce CO. And you can't forget about fireplaces. Any fire (wood burning or not) produces CO as well. In other words, just get a carbon monoxide detector. A few alarms is a small price to pay for complete assurance of safety from the silent killer. ‍ Many indoor air quality monitors measure CO concentration and can alert you if something is afoot. That’s great, but you can’t place one in every area of your home without spending around $1000, and they don’t typically come with a screaming alarm that you can always count on to wake you up in the night. This is why you need CO alarms. ‍ Your average carbon monoxide alarm costs about eight bucks at any local department or big-box store. There should be one within 10–15 feet of each sleeping area, and try to keep them out of corners if possible. Some are battery-powered, but many models plug directly into the wall, so the whole process can actually be as simple as opening the box, plugging it in, and boom: you’re protected. ‍ Pro Tip: Carbon monoxide is lighter than air and rises, so logic would indicate that alarms should be placed near or on the ceiling. This would make battery-powered models a more effective option because they could be installed at any height. Contrary to this belief, studies have shown no material difference in the readings of floor level and ceiling level alarms, so an electric model plugged right into the wall will do the trick. ‍ Conduct a radon test. Radon, like carbon monoxide, is odorless, colorless, tasteless, and completely undetectable without a purpose-built detection device. Unlike carbon monoxide, it won’t asphyxiate you, but it is dangerous in the long-term. According to the American Cancer Society, 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year are attributed to radon exposure. ‍ Radon can enter your home through cracks in your floors, foundation, walls, or areas around pipes. Because radon gas forms from the breakdown of natural uranium deposits in the soil, it usually enters at the lowest levels of your home and concentrates there. ‍ Image credit: New Jersey Education Association ‍ Short-term radon test kits can be purchased in any home improvement store or online, and National Radon Program Services at Kansas State University offers them at discounts. Unlike home mold tests, these things do provide some value by telling you how much radon is in your home. ‍ Pro Tip: There are also electronic radon tests that continuously measure concentrations of the gas. These, like carbon monoxide alarms, are plug and play and always on. They’re not cheap though, running north of $150 for many models. ‍ A short-term radon test is pretty easy to conduct. You simply place the test object provided in the package in the highest risk area of your home and allow it to sit for the duration of time recommended by the manufacturer, which is typically between two and seven days. ‍ ‍ Pro Tip: As stated above, the highest risk areas of your home will be the rooms closest to the ground or below the ground. Place your test in the lowest level of your home that people will spend time in. ‍ It’s a good idea to close windows and doors around the test area and then avoid using the area until the test is complete. This will help eliminate any external factors that can affect radon counts. After the test period is complete, you must mail the test to the manufacturer’s lab for analysis. Your short-term radon test is complete. ‍ There are also long-term radon tests, which remain in your home from 90 days to as long as a whole year. Radon levels can fluctuate with some significance depending on the weather and time of year, so a long-term test can help determine an average over several months to a year. ‍ The lab results will be able to inform you whether or not further action needs to be taken regarding radon in your home. If you find high levels of the gas, a professional inspection should be scheduled to identify trouble areas that can be sealed up. ‍ Pro Tip: When buying a home, radon tests are usually conducted along with other inspections. ‍ Like carbon monoxide, radon gas is not something to toy with. However, as long as you take some simple and easy steps and understand what you can and can’t fix on your own, you won’t be in any danger from either of these gases. ‍ --- ‍ There are a lot of threats to Indoor Air Quality out there. Luckily, there are ways to test for all of them, sometimes cheaply, and there are fixes for all IAQ problems. Remember to keep changing your air filter, as that can help quite a bit with particulate matter and mold. And if you struggle to remember, try a Second Nature subscription (did you like that segue right there?). We’ll ship you quality air filters when it’s time to change them, so you never forget again.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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How A MERV 13 Air Filter Can Help Decrease Your Risk of Illness

MERV 13 air filters can filter out bacteria and viruses that can cause infections. There is a lot of talk about viruses right now, and for good reason. Everybody is trying to do everything possible to stay healthy. Washing your hands with soap and hot water for at least 30 seconds, getting a vaccine if available, and avoiding sick individuals are all absolutely critical precautions everyone should be taking when any virus is afoot, even just the seasonal flu. ‍ There are other secondary precautions you can also take to protect yourself from sickness, one of which is upgrading your air filter to a MERV 13. MERV 13 filters are among the most effective air filters you can buy for your home and can actually remove some virus carriers from the air you breathe. How do they do this you ask? We’ll explain. ‍ Many viruses are transmitted via droplet nuclei To understand how an air filter can help decrease the risk of catching an infectious disease, you must first understand how an infectious disease, specifically an airborne one, is transmitted. When you sneeze, cough, breathe, or otherwise exhale air into the outside world, you are releasing tiny drops of water known as ‘respiratory droplets.’ These droplets contain particles within them, and when the moisture that forms said droplet evaporates, the particles within remain together and can suspend in the air for variable amounts of time. Some of those particles can be viruses, and this mass is called the droplet nucleus. ‍ Where do air filters come in? According to the CDC, droplet nuclei can range from 1 to 5 microns (also known as micrometers) in diameter and can contain viruses such as influenza, tuberculosis, chickenpox, the common cold, and more. They’re very tiny, and as mentioned, can remain suspended in the air for some time. Air currents, such as those from an air conditioner, can actually increase the amount of time they remained suspended in the air unless there is something to cut them off. Enter MERV 13 air filters. These MERV filters have success filtering very small particles out of your air, even smaller than a single micron. It will by no means catch everything, no filter will, but a MERV 13 will catch a significant number of particles between 1 and 5 microns, and a good number of ones even smaller than that. ‍ Show us the data! In standard testing, Second Nature’s MERV 13 ‘Health Shield’ filter successfully captured 50.2% of particles between 0.3 and 1 microns in diameter. That number spiked to 85.5% when particles between 1 and 3 microns were tested. According to the CDC, many droplet nuclei fall within this size range. Finally, our MERV 13 filtered more than 97% of particles between 3 and 10 microns in diameter, a size range that also contains a portion of droplet nuclei. ‍ Studies have also been done on air filtration’s effect on disease contraction, which you can read about here. ‍ Remember to keep washing your hands, avoiding sick individuals, and get vaccinated if that is an option. If you want another layer of protection, consider upgrading your air filter to a MERV 13. It can only help. ‍ TRY A MERV 13

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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Where Do Indoor Air Pollutants Come From?

Here at Second Nature, we talk a lot about indoor air quality. It’s an underrated issue that we try to bring awareness to because indoor air pollution in your home can actually be much worse than outside and have detrimental effects on your health. There are a handful of common indoor air pollutants that make up most of the pollution inside your home, and the first step to protecting your home from those pollutants is understanding where they come from and where they usually are in your home. To make that easy, we’ve got some educational (yet still interesting, don’t worry) information about indoor air pollution, followed by a list of common indoor air pollutants, where they come from, and what parts of your home are most vulnerable to them. We top it off with how to reduce indoor air pollution to keep breathing easy. What is indoor air pollution and is it really that bad? So, what is indoor air pollution? It’s a result of chemical, biological, and physical contaminants in the air inside your home. Sources of indoor air pollution can include cleaning products, insulation materials, or even activities like baking and cooking. These pollutants may cause allergies or lead to other serious health issues, such as respiratory diseases. The Environmental Protection Agency stated, “Indoor air pollutants have been ranked among the top five environmental risks to public health. The problems they cause can be subtle and do not always produce easily recognized or immediate impacts on health.” Poor indoor air quality can cause both short-term and long-term health problems. Short-term problems include headaches, tiredness, dizziness, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. These symptoms can usually be treated when the source of the pollution is removed from the home. Long-term symptoms are more severe and can include respiratory diseases, heart problems, and even cancer. ‍ Indoor air pollution is a serious health hazard, so understanding how to find pollutants and how to reduce indoor air pollution is essential. ‍ What are the sources of indoor air pollution and where do pollutants come from? The first step in understanding how to reduce indoor air pollution is to understand where these pesky pollutants come from. Let’s start with everyone’s favorite air springtime nuisance: pollen. ‍ Where does pollen come from? Pollen originates outdoors when it is released into the air by trees, plants,They exist in all homes and grass. Tree pollen is released during the spring, grass pollen occurs in the summer, and ragweed pollen is the worst offender in the fall. ‍ Pollen’s primary method for entering your home involves hitching a ride on your clothes. Pollen is everywhere during its peak seasons and it will stick to soft fabrics with ease. Once it is in your home, pollen can stay on your clothes or fall into crevices into your carpets or rugs, where it will wait to be resuspended and inhaled. ‍ Pollen can also grab a lift into your house on the back of your pets or just flow straight in through drafts around windows or doors. If you’re allergic to pollen, you can counter these issues by frequently washing your clothes, especially after you’ve been outside, as well as keeping pets out of bedrooms, and installing weatherstripping where necessary (and change your air filter!) ‍ Where does smoke come from? Unlike pollen, smoke isn’t going to cause a sneezing fit, but it’s objectively more dangerous to inhale. Smoke in the home can come from a variety of sources, most of which are easily removed by just avoiding them. Smoking cigarettes is an obvious one and something you should stop doing immediately for several reasons. ‍ Candles are a big creator of indoor smoke pollution as well, and they also are known to release nasty chemicals into the air in addition to just smoke. If you want to burn candles, opt for beeswax or soy candles instead of anything that contains paraffin to minimize nastiness. ‍ Finally, smoke can originate from wildfires that are hundreds of miles away. There are probably a lot of people who have never thought twice about wildfires, but smoke pollution from these gargantuan blazes is one of the most prominent sources of indoor air pollution that causes extremely serious air quality issues out west, especially in the summer and early fall. ‍ It can become so bad that evacuation is the proper response, but in less serious cases, keeping your home well-sealed and using the highest quality air filter possible are good protection options. Smoke particles are very tiny, so at least a MERV 13 is recommended. ‍ Where do dust mites come from? Dust mites are tiny, microscopic relatives of the spider. They don’t bite, but their waste and byproducts are very common allergens in your home. Dust Mites feed on dead skin cells (they’re kinda gross) and can be found in places where those build up. Mattresses and couches are extremely popular locations for dust mites to live. ‍ These pests can enter your home by hitching a ride on your clothes, you yourself, or really anything that comes and goes from your house. However, unless your home was just built yesterday, they’re already there. Any soft surface that you spend a lot of time in and around is vulnerable to being a dust mite home. ‍ The places you spend the most time in are the places most vulnerable to dust mites, as those are the places that collect the most dead skin cells. Mattresses are their first pick of surfaces to live on, with couches, clothes, and carpets close behind. Read about how to fend off dust mites in our dust mite blog. ‍ Where do bacteria come from? Bacteria can enter your home in pretty much every way possible and are everywhere all the time. They're in the air. They're on surfaces. They're everywhere. Airborne bacteria, as the name implies, are in the air and can enter your home through doors and windows. Humans are also couriers of these tiny disease-causing creatures. They enter with us on our clothes, hair, and worst of all, shoes. ‍ Once inside your home, the most common places to find bacteria are, not surprisingly, the kitchen and bathroom. Dish sponges, sinks, toothbrushes, and toothbrush holders are among the grossest places in your home, thus the most bacteria-friendly places. ‍ Obviously, cleaning your surfaces and sinks with an antibacterial cleaner will help get rid of these common indoor air pollutants. Taking your shoes off, and asking guests to do the same, when you enter your house can help keep certain bacterial pathogens out of your home as well. Where does smog come from? Smog is another pollutant that originates from outside your home and can affect your indoor air quality by entering through drafts, places of insufficient insulation, and open doors and windows. Smog (combination of the words smoke and fog) is actually a nasty witch’s brew of lots of different air pollutants (It is not actually a combination of smoke and fog). ‍ In the United States, smog is common out west and contains lots of tiny particles, as smoke particles from coal and emissions play a big role in its development. Because of this, using at least a MERV 13 air filter is the number one recommended approach to helping your indoor air quality against smog. ‍ Where does pet dander come from? Pets. Crazy, right? Yes, your little fur baby is likely causing indoor air pollution in your home. Pet dander is different from a lot of pollutants on this list as it originates from inside your home, so defeating it involves more cleaning than preventing. All furry animals produce dander, which obviously includes dogs and cats. The proteins in cat dander tend to be slightly more allergenic than those in dog dander, but both are potent allergens. ‍ Dander particles have jagged edges so they stick to soft surfaces very easily. Because of this, they’re commonly found on bedding, couches, and within the nooks and crannies of carpets. These places, along with any place your dog or cat spends a lot of time, should see regular cleaning. It’s also a good idea to use at least a MERV 11 air filter, as dander particles tend to be small. ‍ Where does mold come from? Mold spores are already inside your home floating through the air. They exist in all homes, typically at very low concentrations below what is harmful to people. Mold becomes a problem in areas with excessive moisture and humidity. These environments are where mold can become harmful to your health. ‍ Leaky pipes, bathroom and kitchen sinks, and showers are excellent starting points for mold issues. Basically anywhere where moisture can collect and stagnate. Old food is another one that everyone already knows. Much like dust mites, humidity also plays a factor in how conducive your home is to certain molds. Keeping the humidity in your home below 55% will make your house less appealing to mold and reduce indoor air pollution. ‍ Carpets and clothes are secondary places that can harbor mold easily. Never leave wet clothes around and keep baking soda and vinegar around to deal with mold in your carpets. You can also decrease the amount of mold spores in your air by using a good air filter. ‍ Where does dust come from? What even is dust? It’s actually a combination of a ton of different random little things, some of which are the indoor air pollution examples in this article and some of which are not. Small pollen grains, paper fibers, hair fibers, dead skin cells, and more can make up dust (Dust mites get their name because they are commonly found among dust, which contains the aforementioned human skin cells they feed on). ‍ Dust usually forms in your home, as its components are all sourced from different places in your home. It can settle on any surface, although it’s much easier to remove from hard floors than carpet. If you have allergies, it might be best to avoid carpet wherever possible, because of dust and similar pollutants ability to get stuck in it. ‍ Using a pleated air filter and changing it regularly is step one for dust. Step two is to get after the dust that has already settled. Dust with wet cloths that pick up particles. Do not, I repeat DO NOT, use a feather duster. No idea if anyone still has those, but they just throw dust into the air and do nothing to actually collect it. ‍ ‍How to reduce indoor air pollution caused by all these common pollutants You may have noticed that "Use a quality air filter" was mentioned about eight times above. That’s not just because we sell air filters (promise). Using at least a MERV 8 pleated air filter, and an 11 or 13 when necessary, is how to reduce indoor air pollution in your home, no matter what type of pollutant we’re talking about. Air filters are the most effective way to capture and remove airborne pollutants indoors. ‍Not sure what size air filter to get? Learn about air filter sizes and MERV ratings to choose the best filter to enhance air quality safety in your home.

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How To Safeguard Against Air Pollution

Here are a few ways to combat and protect against air pollution. According to a recent report by the World Health Organization, 1 in 8 people die from air pollution. Air pollution has also been linked to heart disease, strokes, and cancer. As a result, the organization declared, "Air pollution is the single greatest environmental health risk in the world today." ‍ Common pollution sources include smoke, pet dander, dust, and mold. Pollution levels vary from region to region, but they continue to pose a serious environmental risk. ‍ Reduce Use of Motor Vehicles Ride your bicycle or walk instead of driving. Take a bus or train instead of your car. Carpool. Refuel your vehicle at night, since hot temperatures and gasoline fumes produce ground-level ozone. Drive a fuel-efficient vehicle. ‍ Safeguard Your Home Don’t allow people to smoke indoors. Remove shoes at the doorway to keep from tracking mud and dust into the house. Wash your bedding weekly to remove dust mites. Dust regularly with a damp rag. Vacuum regularly to remove dust mites.

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How To Manage Your Pollen Allergy

These tips will help make pollen season much more tolerable. While springtime is beautiful, it can cause problems for people who suffer from hay fever or pollen allergies. Plants and trees release pollen during springtime to initiate the reproductive process with other plants and trees. Pollen can be carried by the wind for several miles. According to Pollen.com, “Allergic Rhinitis (commonly called hay fever) is a reaction caused by inhaling airborne particles, such as pollen. Out of the more than 67 million Americans who suffer from allergies, 24-40 million suffer from an airborne allergy, such as hay fever. ‍ Symptoms of a pollen allergy include: sneezing, congestion, nasal discharge, itchy or watery eyes, itchy nose or throat. Visit a doctor in order to determine whether hay fever is causing the symptoms. Doctors can recommend over-the-counter antihistamines or prescribe a stronger allergy medicine. There are also several ways to limit exposure to pollen. Try limiting the amount of time spent outdoors during peak pollen times. The pollen count is highest during 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so experts recommend limiting time spent outdoors during this timeframe. ‍ Visit the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology’s website to find out what the pollen count will be in a particular area each day. The daily pollen forecasts are calculated by time of day, temperature, rainfall, and weather forecast. Although pollen forecasts are not foolproof, it’s a helpful tool to help gauge the daily pollen count. ‍ WebMD.com recommends, “Avoid drying clothes on a clothesline. Take off shoes before going inside to avoid tracking pollen indoors.” Keep windows and doors shut, and rely on air conditioning instead. While limiting time spent outdoors during peak pollen hours will reduce exposure, it’s also important to limit indoor pollen exposure. Here are a few ways to do that: Keep pets outdoors during allergy season since they would track pollen inside. Change clothes after arriving home each day. Take a shower to remove pollen. Get a high-quality air filter. Air filters can remove up to 95% of pollen from indoor air. Vacuum and dust regularly to reduce the amount of indoor pollen. ‍ By following these simple steps, individuals can limit their exposure to pollen and make springtime a much more enjoyable season.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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Prepare your Fireplace & Chimney for the Winter

Winter is coming. By all, we mean people with chimneys. And by grave danger, we mean your energy bill could go up. If your first thought when you read chimneys was “pffft, who cares, I don’t even use mine,” well then this is definitely something you should read. You’re in more danger than anyone. ‍ You’re not alone though. A lot of people don’t use their chimneys anymore. That doesn’t mean that you can just ignore it. There’s a lot of heat to be lost through a dormant fireplace, and as we all prepare for colder weather, there is not a better time than now to get caught up on how to prep your chimney for the cold. ‍ Use a fireplace sealer A fireplace sealer is designed to seal your fireplace. Often a chimney balloon is what people use as a fireplace sealer, and these things are actually pretty neat. It’s literally a massive balloon that you shove up your chimney and inflate. It then holds your warm air in and keeps that frigid winter air out. You’ll have to measure your chimney’s dimensions to make sure you get a balloon that expands to the appropriate size. ‍ A balloon that’s too big won’t be able to inflate all the way, and a balloon that’s too small will just fall down the chimney. The bottom of the smoke shelf is a popular place to install your balloon, but chimneys with smoke shelves vary in width throughout them. This is why it’s crucial to know where you want to place your ballon before you purchase it so that you can measure that particular area. ‍ Once the balloon is situated correctly, make sure to create a reminder for yourself that it is up there if you intend to use the fireplace. Some balloons come with a card designed to be stuck near the fireplace as a reminder. If you purchase one that does not, just write it on a note card and glue it to your forehead so you won’t forget. We’re kidding, taping it to the fireplace will do. ‍ The reminder card will stop you from accidentally lighting a fire with the balloon still inside the chimney. If you happen to do this though, don’t worry too much. You’re not going to smoke yourself out of your house. You’ll just need a new balloon. ‍ Still want to use that Fireplace? That's Okay Some folks will still want to use their fireplace through the winter. After all, that’s the best time to build a fire. If you fall into this group, a chimney balloon is probably not for you. Continually having to deflate and inflate that thing would turn it into more a nuisance than anything else. Luckily, you can still stop your chimney from sucking the money right out of your wallet this winter. ‍ Make sure that the chimney is as close to sealed as it can get. Without a balloon, it won’t be completely sealed, but by making sure the damper is closed, you can cut off a decent amount of air flow. The damper is nothing more than a small flap inside your chimney flue that can be opened or closed to alter the flow of air and smoke in and out of your chimney. Keeping this closed when the fireplace is not in use will at least help with insulation. ‍ Make sure your chimney is capped as well. There are many different kinds of chimney caps available, but the general premise remains the same across most of your options. A typical cap is rectangular shaped with wire mesh sides to allow smoke and air through, but with a solid metal top. This prevents junk like debris, rain, snow, and even animals from getting in your chimney. Without a cap, Fall can be a problematic season for chimney owners with all the leaves and other debris that come down from trees. If you don’t cap your chimney, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise next time you open your damper. ‍ Be sure to inspect your chimney and fireplace, or pay a professional to do it. Cracks in the walls of the chimney are a great way to fail the insulation test, and there are other apparent dangers with a compromised chimney. Brick chimneys are the most at risk as the mortar between them can break down. ‍ A professional chimney sweep (like the guys in Mary Poppins, except not like that) is a great resource. Typically, we support DIY fixes, but we also understand how much of a pain it can be to clean a chimney. It’s also not something to slack on, as a dirty chimney can become a serious fire hazard. Having your chimney professionally inspected on a yearly basis before the winter is a good practice. Previously, we discussed the value of spending some money on adequately insulating your home. These tips remain relevant if you’re planning on using your fireplace as well. Making sure windows and doors around the fireplace are sufficiently sealed will cut down on the amount of heat that can escape your home. This may not save you a ton of money, but it will make the fire more enjoyable and effective at warming your home. ‍ Enjoying some time by the fire is always nice once the cold weather rolls in. If you love to do that, or even if you don’t, you should be aware of the potential impacts your chimney can have on your energy bill.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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How to Reduce Pet Dander and Pet Odors

Love your pets without worrying about their impact on home wellness. When you open your home up to lovable little furballs, you often adopt the pet odors and pet dander that come with them. Wondering what kills pet dander and odor? Fortunately, there's a lot of ways to help your house smell like normal people live there instead of doubling as a kennel. In this post, we’re sharing a few tips for how to reduce pet dander in your home and how to get rid of pet odor for good. How to Get Rid of Pet Dander Baking Soda: Man’s True Best Friend Baking soda is a fantastic neutralizer, which is why it’s top of the list for how to get rid of pet odor. Ever had anyone recommend you leave baking soda in the fridge to eat up weird smells? The same concept applies outside of the fridge, too! All you have to do is sprinkle it on your most pungent areas and it should absorb most of the smells, especially if you're dealing with pet urine. Then after a few minutes, vacuum up the baking soda. ‍ Now you may have heard similar claims with vinegar. So, does vinegar kill pet dander? While vinegar is also a great deodorizer but be careful using it if you have cats in the house. The smell of vinegar is similar to ammonia, which is similar to the smell of pet urine, which can attract them to continually mark or pee on certain locations. Dealing with cat dander? Learn proven tips to get rid of cat dander in your home and the allergies that come with it. ‍ If you want something more specific than baking soda or vinegar solutions, enzymatic cleaners are also a great way to target pet urine stains and smells. ‍ Keep Pet Accessories Clean Does your dog or cat have a favorite (conveniently machine-washable) toy? Do you use the same harness and leash every day on your walks? Is the dog bed completely covered with fur, dirt and other lovely doggy byproducts? ‍ Clean up! Clean out food and water dishes regularly. Throw toys, leashes, pet beds and other accessories into the washing machine (or wash by hand). ‍ Wash Your Human Accessories, Too When it comes to how to get rid of pet dander, along with odor, you’ll have to clean some human things too. If you let your pets onto the bed or couch, you're going to have to keep those areas clean too. Target the areas where your animal stays regularly and make sure they're vacuumed and free of pet hair and dander. ‍ Change Your Air Filters on a Regular Basis So not to be biased here, but changing your air filters consistently (especially if you have more than one pet) is a highly effective way to help deal with pet smells. If you have allergies or guests who may be allergic to your animals, it's also just the considerate thing to do in the long term. ‍ Because pet dander is microscopic, you’ll need an air filter with a high MERV rating to ensure it catches all those pesky particles. Not sure what size air filter you need? No problem. Check out our complete guide to air filter sizes. ‍ Brush Your Pet(s) at Least Once a Week Brushing is not only a way for you to further bond with your pet but also keeps the fur from flying and is how to reduce pet dander. Some sources recommend brushing your pet daily but it also depends on the length of your animal's fur - the general guideline is long-haired animals are best brushed daily (to prevent tangling and matting of fur/hair), medium-haired animals are best to be on a weekly basis and short-haired animals can go a few weeks but at least once a month is best. ‍ Clean The Dander Traps You may need to incorporate some new areas into your cleaning regime or restrict the areas that your pet plays to keep Sparky away from some of the more common pet dander trap areas. Follow these quick tips for how to get rid of pet dander: Do not allow pets near your bedding. Bathe your pet weekly, at least. Keep pets off of the couch. Vacuum soft surfaces (aside from the normal carpet vacuuming) like drapes, curtains, sofas, and stairs. Consider replacing carpet with hardwood floors or selecting a home that has more hardwoods than carpeting, as carpets are a HUGE trap for pet dander. ‍ We understand your pets are a part of the family and that you want to keep them around as long as possible. We also understand that you want to know what kills pet dander and odor the fastest. By implementing these tips, you can significantly reduce (if not eliminate) pet odors and pet dander from your home. Not only will your home be more pleasant without pet odor, but reducing pet dander improves your indoor air quality. If you or your family have allergies or asthma, you can reduce allergy symptoms and asthma triggers by fighting pet dander in your home. So, what are you waiting for? You know how to reduce pet dander and odor. Hop to it!

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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Saving Money While Using Your Washing Machine

Improve the efficiency of your washer to save money. In the previous two installments of this series, we’ve looked at how changing your light bulbs and sealing your home from drafts can save you hundreds on your energy bill. Now, in part three, we will be tackling a third perpetrator of high energy bills: The washing machine. We’re doing this metaphorically, of course. Nobody is literally tackling a washing machine. That would be very difficult and hurt a lot, and it would have no impact on your energy bill. ‍ Your washing machine and its co-conspirators, the dryer and the dishwasher, drive up your energy bill with one key thing: heat. All these machines use heat, and they use a lot of it. Understanding why and what it goes to is step one in cutting down energy consumption from these appliances. ‍ A washing machine consumes an astounding amount of energy to heat water to the requested temperature. Even if your washing machine is pulling from your hot water heater, this can cost you quite a bit of coin over the course of the year. So we’d like to introduce to you our groundbreaking new lifehack that eliminates all of the unnecessary energy use that comes with using hot water: don’t use hot water. ‍ Most people have heard something at some point regarding energy savings and washing your clothes in cold water. What you probably don’t know is just how much energy you are saving. Roughly 90% of the energy used by a washing machine throughout a load cycle is used to warm the water. That’s a staggeringly high amount of energy use, and therefore charges on your electric bill, that can be eliminated with just the press of a button. ‍ There are other reasons to make this simple change as well. Hot water runs colors. Cold water is not nearly as likely to turn your white shirt pink. Warm water breaks down dyes in your clothes, stripping the colors from your reds and other brights and adding that coloration to your whites if you happened to wash them together. ‍ Make sure to use the proper detergent if you should decide to make the switch to cold water washing. Cold water detergents, such as Tide Cold Water, are specifically designed to initiate chemical reactions at lower temperatures, effectively removing the need for washing with warm or hot water. ‍ Your dryer is costing you money as well. Unlike the washer though, there isn’t a simple switch to flip here that saves you 90%. That doesn’t mean a few easy practices can’t make your home more energy efficient. If you have the opportunity and the time, not using your dryer at all will cut down most significantly on its energy use, obviously. Got a warm sunny day? Why not use a clothesline to dry your garments? And you can air-dry clothes inside with a drying rack. ‍ Eliminating dryer use altogether is obviously the most effective approach, but it’s rarely practical and sometimes impossible. When it’s time to turn on the dryer, consider using the fastest spin cycle available to minimize drying time. Also, consider doing it at night. Some power companies offer discounted rates for using electricity during non-peak times, and taking advantage of this is an easy way to save a couple of bucks. Just contact your power company to see if they participate in this practice. ‍ And if you’re in the market for a new washer and dryer, you can always find a set that includes energy-saving modes and a dryer that is ENERGY STAR Certified. Front-loading machines also consume less energy because they spin faster. ‍ Just like the washer and dryer, you can trim down energy usage from your dishwasher by targeting its use of heat. Dishwashers, believe it or not, are also serial offenders when it comes to the unnecessary use of warmth. Many of these machines use hot air to dry dishes, which unsurprisingly is one of the biggest energy draws for which they are known. Turning off this feature and allowing your dishes to air-dry is the easiest way to defeat this issue. It might take a little longer, but you can count the dollars you’re saving while you wait. Use a rinsing agent such as Jet-Dry or Cascade to avoid spots that heat drying is typically tasked with removing. ‍ Do you have any other energy-saving tips you'd like to share? Let us know on social media. We'd love to hear from you!

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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What Are The Germiest Places in Your Home?

What places harbor the most bacteria in your house? The answers might surprise you. So you want to know what the germiest place in your home is? (We’re assuming this since you were kind enough to click on our blog post). Well, the answer might surprise you. Most people associate germs with things they find disgusting, and as a result, would guess something like the toilet is the nastiest place in your home. It’s not, though. In fact, it’s not even close. Let’s get started with number one. Dish sponges Kitchen sink Toothbrush holder Bathroom faucet Countertops Remotes and controllers Keyboard Dog items ‍ Dish sponges According to a 2011 study conducted by the National Sanitation Foundation, dish sponges are the single germiest place in your entire home. It makes sense, too, if you think about it. Sponges are the perfect place for bacteria to live, breed, and party it up. Sponges suck up water and stay moist because, well, they’re sponges, and they hold plenty of food from scrubbing dishes for bacteria to eat. 86% of sponges within the sample tested by the NSF were identified as having mold or yeast, while 77% had coliform bacteria, which includes the dreaded E. coli. To clean dish sponges, you can soak them in water and microwave them, which is a prevalent cleaning method that will kill bacteria. You can also run them through the dishwasher on heated dry. You should clean your sponges after each use, as they soak up nasty bacteria like a, well, sponge. You should also go ahead and replace your sponges every two to four weeks to keep your kitchen sink area free and clear of nasty bacteria. Kitchen sink Many people would guess that the bathroom is the germiest room in your home, but the kitchen is certainly here to give it a run for its money. Kitchen sinks are harborers of food scraps, and you don’t typically dry them out after use, making them another appealing place for bacteria. According to the same study by the NSF, sinks were again frequently full of coliform bacteria and mold. 45% of sinks tested were positive for coliform, and 27% were positive for mold, which is a significant step down from the dish sponge, but still pretty gross. You don’t have to be too careful about how you clean a kitchen sink. You can scrub it down with some disinfecting spray and a towel or sponge, preferably an unused sponge. You can plug it and fill it with warm soapy water and bleach. ‍ Toothbrush holder This one is a little more surprising but starts to make sense as you think about it. Mouths are germy, and a toothbrush’s job is to remove food and stuff from your teeth. You then typically rinse your toothbrush but don’t actually clean it with anything other than hot water. So naturally, the place that holds these items is going to become a refuge for bacteria. NSF noted it as the third germiest place in your home overall, but with notably larger amounts of mold and yeast than what is found in your kitchen sink. Regardless of the specifics, you should clean your toothbrush holder more regularly. An easy solution to this is to buy a toothbrush holder that is dishwasher safe and run it through the sanitize cycle that many modern dishwashers come with. If that isn’t an option, you can always wash it out with soap and hot water and then wipe it down with a disinfecting wipe. That should do the trick. ‍ Bathroom faucet This one should be obvious. The three things you touch between using the bathroom and washing your hands are the flush lever on the toilet, the faucet handle, and the soap pump. All of those things are, as a result, very germy. Of these three things, the faucet handle tested positively most consistently for coliform and mold growth. This, in addition to the faucet spout itself, should be cleaned often. You may not have time to do so daily, but you cannot clean these too often. A simple wipe down with a disinfecting wipe or spray should send those bacteria packing pretty quickly. ‍ Countertops Lots of things make their way onto your countertops. Food scraps, water spills, and bags that have been at the grocery store can all be germ couriers that deliver coliform bacteria to the tops of your beautiful marble countertops. While these certainly aren’t the gathering place for bacteria that some other kitchen items on this list are, it’s still a good call to disinfect your countertops. Know how to clean your specific type of countertop, though. Some don’t stand up well to hard chemicals such as bleach, and you’ll need to opt for a soap and water treatment. Remotes and controllers Unlike the germiest places in your home, remotes don’t hold moisture or come in contact with food scraps, well, unless you are doing something very weird with it. They get touched by a lot of different hands, though, and they are very rarely ever cleaned. Hands are basically public transportation for germs, so anything that is frequently picked up is going to have some germiness. The NSF study noted that more than 50% of TV remotes and nearly 60% of video game controllers have measurable populations of yeast and/or mold. You know your kid is not cleaning his game controllers. Clean these things, people! A wipe down with a disinfecting wipe is just fine. Please do not put your TV remote in the dishwasher or the sanitize cycle on your washing machine. Take two seconds to wipe these handheld devices, and you’ll be glad you did. Keyboard This one may surprise you, but the keyboard on your desktop or laptop computer is one of the germiest places in your entire home. It’s worse than your toilet seat. Much like the TV remote, it’s touched a lot and virtually never cleaned, allowing it to become very nasty gradually. The NSF study identifies keyboards as the single germiest “personal item” in your home. 68% of keyboards tested in the study had yeast and mold on them. That’s a higher percentage than your toilet seat, your kitchen sink, your bathroom doorknob, and almost every other thing tested. Your keyboard isn’t likely to carry other kinds of bacteria, which are generally considered more hazardous to your health than mold, but a good cleaning is still always recommended. Keyboards are very hard to clean. A can of compressed air will help blow out debris and other grossness that gets caught within the keys. You can disinfect with a standard disinfecting wipe. Just be careful not to allow any moisture to seep under the keys, especially if you are using a laptop. ‍ Dog items They say a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s. A dog’s mouth is not cleaner than a human’s, and the stuff your dog puts their mouth all over ends up being pretty disgusting. Pet toys and bowls can be full of gross bacteria including dangerous infectious types like staph bacteria. You should clean your dog’s bowl regularly. Scrubbing with soapy water is really all that is necessary. Not all dogs love toys, but if your dog is a toy dog, clean hard toys, such as rubber chewables and stuff like that, with soap and water weekly. Soft toys can be run through your washing machine’s sanitizing cycle.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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Guide to Hydroponic Indoor Growing Systems

Indoor growing can be fast, easy, and fun with a DIY hydroponics setup. Last month, we gave you the ins and outs of how to start your own vegetable garden. Now, with summer heat in full swing, toiling in that summer heat can be exhausting. So why not move the garden inside? Move the garden inside? That sounds like a lot of dirt on the floor. Actually, there is no dirt involved at all! No soil in the garden? Do . . . do you not know how gardens work? Of course we do. We're talking about hydroponics. Ahhhhh yes, hydroponics. What's hydroponics? Merriam-Webster's dictionary officially defines hydroponics as "the growing of plants in nutrient solutions with or without an inert medium (such as soil) to provide mechanical support." In layman's terms, it's the process of feeding plants the nutrients they need with a water-based solution instead of naturally through the soil. Advantages of growing hydroponics A plant growing in a hydroponic system can grow around 30% faster than a plant grown in traditional soil. This happens because the plant does not need to expend energy in search of nutrients within the soil continuously. Instead, the nutrients are carried right to the plant, and that energy goes to growth. A hydroponic system can use as much as 95% less water than traditional soil-based growing methods. Since the system is enclosed, water used in the growing process is not exposed to the outside world, which reduces evaporation. Environmental conditions don't play a large role in the success of your crop. Since your plants are growing inside, factors like weather conditions and soil type won't impact the growth of your crops. You have a lot more control over the growing conditions. Disadvantages of growing hydroponics Hydroponics can be an expensive hobby. There are lots of different types of hydroponic systems (we'll get into those later), but top-end systems can cost more than $500 alone. Fortunately, there are more affordable DIY options. In traditional gardening, the soil stores nutrients that the plants can access on their own. In hydroponics, there is no nutrient storage. That means you're feeding the plants directly. If something breaks in your system or you forget, your plants will end up just like your Digipet. As long as you can ensure that your plants will receive the appropriate amounts of nutrients and light, you can set up a hydroponics system pretty much anywhere, including in the comfort of your own home. Pre-constructed systems are available for purchase online, which can become quite expensive, or you can have some fun and make your own. The choice is yours. Before we start though, here are a couple of terms you should know. Growth tray - Where the plants themselves will sit Reservoir - The bucket or tank that will hold the nutrient solution Nutrient solution - A mix of water and key nutrients plants need to grow and will be supplied to the plant roots Growing medium - the material that the plant will lay roots in (not present in every system) How do you build your own system? Building your own hydroponics system can be as simple or as complex as you would like. There are some really simple types of systems that require little effort to set up, and there are some really serious investments you can make. Deciding what kind of system is right for you is the first step. Since we're betting against most of you wanting to build a $5,000 hydroponics wonderland—because who has time for that?—we're going to focus on the smaller-scale systems that are best for building in your home. Wicking systems A wicking system is the most basic hydroponic system around and it's great for getting started in hydroponics. It has been called the "training wheels of the hydroponic world" and for good reason. It's easy to set up and use, making it the perfect system for first-timers. This system has seen some innovation, but the general concept is older than hydroponics itself. All you'll need are two containers, your plant of choice, a growing medium, and a wick (hence wicking). SN Tip: Growing medium is inert, which means it won't decay, and it provides no nutritional value to the plant. It exists to provide structural support, and that's about it. Common mediums include things like vermiculite or perlite, but just about anything that will give the plant support and allow it to root can function as a growth medium. Sand is another example. This wick does not have to be anything particularly specific. A piece of rope or string will work fine. You set up the system so that the reservoir sits below the growth tray. You then run your wick or string from the solution in the bottom container up into the growing medium in the growth tray, as pictured. SN Tip: The reservoir and growth tray can really be anything. As long as it can hold a solution, it should work. On a small scale, you can use bottles. Large plastic tubs will also work. Source: offgrid.com Fill the bottom container with the solution and the top with the growing medium and plants and you're done. Capillary action will move the nutrient solution up the wick and into the growth tray with consistency that will allow the plants to intake the nutrients and grow. SN Tip: Capillary action has a very sciencey definition, but all you need to know is that it's the movement of water or another liquid across a surface against gravity. The physical properties of water make this possible and it's what allows a wicking system to work. SN Tip: fill the bottom reservoir as much as possible in order to minimize the distance the solution has to travel. The advantage of the wicking system is that it's super easy to set up and maintain. The disadvantage is that it won't supply nutrients to the plants at the same rate as some of the more complex systems, so the variety of plants that can be grown in a wicking system is a little smaller. Plants that don't "drink" as much, such as smaller plants like lettuce or different types of herbs, grow best in a wicking system. SN Tip: Wicking systems also don't require the use of a water pump to deliver the solution to the plant roots, making it a "passive system." Those that do require a pump to move the solution to the plants are referred to as "active systems." Deep Water Culture (DWC) systems A DWC system is a little bigger and a little more complex than a wicking system, but all in all, it's still relatively simple. This system differs from a wicking system in that it submerges your plant's roots in solution 24/7 instead of a growing medium that is supplemented by the nutrient solution. ‍ Image: offgrid.com Because of this, it is critical that the aquatic environment the plants live in is properly managed. pH and oxygen level management are quite important with the DWC. An oxygen pump is necessary to ensure that oxygen levels remain sufficient. Setting up a DWC only requires one reservoir and does not need a growth tray. The reservoir is filled with a nutrient solution, and the air pump is installed to ensure the appropriate amount of dissolved oxygen. SN Tip: Smaller DWCs are harder to manage because it's challenging to keep nutrient concentration, dissolved oxygen, and especially pH levels consistent. The plants themselves are suspended above or on top of the liquid solution in net pots. Net pots are simply pots with holes in them that allow roots to sit underneath the pot and submerged in the solution. There are several different ways to install the net pots in a DWC system. You can float them, where you attach a flotation device to each pot and allow them to rest on top of the solution. The second option is to suspend your plants in the air above using a brace or a roof with holes in it. The actual process of doing this depends on how you construct your reservoir, but the image below will show you a good example. Image: aquaponicsexposed.com Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) systems An NFT system is among the most popular hydroponic systems. It's an active system that requires a water pump to run, but other than that it is set up very similarly to a wicking system. Image: offgrid.com Like the wicking system, an NFT has both a reservoir and a growth tray. Unlike the wicking system, a pump is used to move the solution from the lower reservoirs to the growth trays (or upper reservoirs), where it flows across the tray and drips back into the lower one. The system also requires an air pump to ensure the water is properly oxygenated. NFT, like any active system, requires a little more maintenance because the water does not reach the plants naturally. You're dependent on your pumps to keep the plants receiving the nutrient solution. If a pump goes out, your entire garden is at risk. Thankfully, this isn't common (pump technology isn't particularly complex), but it is something to stay aware of. Other systems An ebb and flow system and a drip system are similar to NFT systems, with the lone difference being how the solution is supplied to the plant. An ebb and flow system uses a pump to flood the growth tray the plants reside in periodically, draining it shortly thereafter. It's like an NFT except it doesn't push the solution through continuously. A drip system is also similar to an NFT, but instead of filling the upper reservoir with nutrient solution, the solution is trickled from drip lines on top of the plants in the growth tray, where it then percolates through a growth medium and falls back into the reservoir. SN Tip: Because of the recirculation of these systems, pH and nutrient amounts can change frequently, so consistent monitoring is recommended. How do I manage pH? pH is an absolutely critical element of a functioning hydroponics system. A pH level that is all out of whack can cause plants to die from insufficient nutrient uptake or, believe it or not, too much nutrient uptake. For anyone who didn't pay attention in eighth-grade science class, pH is a measure of the acidity of a liquid. The scale runs from 0–14, with lower numbers being more acidic and higher numbers being more basic. For reference, battery acid has a pH of 0, water has a pH of 7, and drain cleaner has a pH of 14. The reason this is so critical is that the solubility of nutrients changes at different pH levels, which affects the ability of the plant to absorb these nutrients. If the plant has trouble absorbing nutrients from your solution, growth will be stunted, and the plant will eventually die. If levels are too high and the plant absorbs higher than acceptable amounts of nutrients, it can die from poisoning. You can have the coolest hydroponics setup in the world, but if your pH is off, all your plants will still die. SN Tip: There are multiple ways to test your pH. The easiest and cheapest are pH test strips, which are extremely quick and easy to use and available at any gardening or pet store. You simply dip the strip in the solution, swish it around for a manufacturer-specified amount of time, and then match the color it turns to the color on a corresponding table that comes with the test strips. As you'll see below, many plants prefer a slightly acidic nutrient solution. It's necessary to continually test your solution to ensure it remains at the right pH. If you find it needs adjusting, you have a few options. The easiest is adding "pH up" or "pH down" chemical solutions. These are readily available at the store or online. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for how much to add and be sure to check your pH frequently. What can you grow in a hydroponics system? You can grow just about any type of fruit, vegetable, flower, or herb. Ideal growing conditions will vary by plant, and some are more suited for specific system types because of it, but almost anything can be grown with hydroponics. Hydroponic lettuce and hydroponic tomatoes are some of the more common items to "plant" in your system. Lettuce, in particular, is one of the best plants for beginners looking to dive into the world of hydroponics. The leafy green is easy to grow, will grow in a wicking system, and can be harvested in just one short month. Fruits like strawberries and the aforementioned tomatoes (a tomato is a fruit, deal with it) have a slightly longer grow time, but are good starter crops as well. Below you'll find some popular plants and key details needed to succeed at growing them. Lettuce pH range: 6.0-7.0 Grow time: 1 month Difficulty: Easy Tomatoes pH range: 5.5-6.5 Grow time: 2 months Difficulty: Easy Strawberries pH range: 5.5-6.5 Grow time: 2 months Difficulty: Easy Spinach pH range: 6.0-7.0 Grow time: 1.5 months Difficulty: Easy Bell peppers pH range: 5.5-6.5 Growth time: 3 months Difficulty: Easy Hydroponics is a fun way to grow your own fruits and vegetables from the comfort of your own home. It can get complex and expensive, but it doesn't have to be if you don't want it to be. Simple and easy systems exist that will allow you to enjoy fresh homegrown produce at your dinner table. You know what else you can make simple and easy in your home? Air filters, with Second Nature. Never forget to change your filter again.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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What is an OEM Filter & Do I Need One

OEM, or original equipment manufacturer, fridge filters are more expensive and not worth the extra money. What is OEM OEM stands for original equipment manufacturer. In the world of refrigerator water filters, an OEM filter is a water filter manufactured by the same company that made your refrigerator. What is a replacement filter? The manufacturer of your refrigerator is not the only place you can purchase your fridge filter from. In fact, there are companies that make replacement filters of equal or higher quality that you can sometimes get for a better price. Do you need OEM? In truth, no. Fridge manufacturers would like you to believe that you do, but there are replacement filters available that are totally compatible with your refrigerator. And not only are they compatible, but they’ll often cost you less and offer higher quality filtration for your drinking water. Take a look at the chart below that pits OEM filters against comparable offerings from Second Nature. ‍ Maytag UKF8001: $49 Second Nature's It Matters: $39 ‍ Try It Matters ‍ Why alternatives are easier In the case of Second Nature, replacement options are easier than tracking down your OEM fridge filter because you only have to buy it once. You select what you need only one time, and it’s shipped to you automatically for each scheduled changeout of your refrigerator water filter. Pricing is also simplified with Second Nature's subscription service. You pay $29 or $39 depending on which brand you'd like, and that's it. No variation in price based on size or type of fridge filter. ‍ But will replacements offer the same quality? Absolutely. It Matters by Second Nature will filter more than 99% of lead from your drinking water. It's certified to meet NSF 53 and 42 standards, just as your higher-quality OEM options are. You can depend on It Matters to remove the same contaminants that your OEM will, including chlorine, lead, turbidity, asbestos, and VOCs.

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What Does MERV, MPR & FPR Mean?

Air filters are rated by several different metrics and systems, depending on a variety of factors. Second Nature makes filters easy by breaking these ratings down and utilizing one standardized metric-MERV. What is a MERV rating? MERV ratings were established by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) in order to aid consumers understanding of what type of air filter will best fit their home’s needs. ‍ MERV is the worldwide standard rating system for air filter quality. The MERV, or Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, tells the consumer how effectively a filter can catch household contaminants such as dust, pollen, and pet dander. The higher the MERV rating (anywhere from 1 to 16), the more and smaller particles are filtered from the air. ‍ MERV Ratings. Typical Applications 1-4 Residential Window Units 5-8 Better residential, commercial & industrial 9-12 Superior residential, better commercial, hospital labs 13-16 Hospital, general surgery ‍ It is important to keep in mind that MERV indicates the minimum ability of a filter to catch airborne particles. Over time, a filter begins to fill with dust and dander, therefore increasing its ability to stop contaminants from passing through. However, the higher the MERV, and the more a filter has already caught, the harder it becomes for your system to draw in air. A high MERV rating may seem like a good idea to a homeowner who wants to ensure they are breathing fresh air, but it is important to make sure that your HVAC system is capable of handling the restrictive properties of a high MERV filter. Home air filters with higher MERV ratings also need to be changed at a higher frequency due to their higher efficiency and particle-catching abilities. Simply put, they catch more contaminates over a shorter period of time. ‍ MERV vs FPR FPR, or Filter Performance Rating was developed by the Home Depot, based on independent lab test results comparing MERV ratings. It is used strictly in Home Depot stores and does not correlate directly to MERV ratings. ‍ MERV vs MPR MPR, or Microparticle Performance Rating, was created by 3M to rank their filters’ ability to catch the smallest airborne particles. MPR is helpful when comparing one 3M Filtrete filter to another, but it does not directly translate to MERV. ‍ MPR vs. MERV vs. FPR The chart below shows the associated values for each of Second Nature's filter types. MERV MPR FPR Essential MERV 8 MPR 600 FPR 5 Essential+ MERV 10 MPR 1000* FPR 7* Health Shield MERV 13 MPR 1500 - MPR 1900 FPR 10 *approximate values

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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The Complete Guide to Air Filters

From sizes to types to qualities and more, here is everything you could ever need to know about air filters. The world would look different without air filters. Air wouldn’t be as clean, HVAC systems would be blowing up all over the place, and I, the author, would be unemployed. Thankfully, we have air filters, though, and if you’re new to the world of air filtration, you’ve come to the right place. Here at Second Nature, we’re not experts in a lot of things. We don’t know anything about movies, nobody here can teach you quantum physics, and the meaning of life is still a mystery to us too, but air filters? We’ve got that. What is an air filter? An air filter is a semi-permeable shield that stands between your HVAC system and the air inside your home. It looks like this: What does it do? It filters air. As your HVAC system pulls air from your home to cool or warm it, the filter intercepts that air in your ductwork. It acts as a barrier for anything carried by the air that you don’t want in your home. This includes things like dust, mold spores, pollen grains, pet dander, and a bunch more junk. That stuff gets caught by the filter and clean air moves on without it. Why do I need one? Because Indoor Air Quality is an increasingly significant problem in the United States. According to the EPA, the air inside your house can be significantly more polluted than the air immediately outside. This is because of the concentration of pollutant sources and the fact that air can stagnate inside a sealed building. An air filter helps remove pollutants and particles that would otherwise freely float about inside your home. Not only does this make the air you breath most often cleaner and safer, which promotes personal health and home wellness, but it also keeps gunk from reaching your HVAC system. HVAC breakdowns can occur because of particle buildup on the actual coils of the system, and breakdowns are costly to fix (assuming they can be fixed at all). We can all agree that being without A/C in the winter or summer sure would suck. Yes, A/C is used to heat and cool your home. It stands for Air Conditioning. It’s quite literally conditioning your air to be warmer or cooler. You’re welcome. So I just buy one and leave it in there? Nah, you got to change that filter. A filter will eventually fill up with gunk and become less permeable, allowing less air through and forcing your HVAC to work harder. This can, at best, drive your power bill up and, at worst, burn out the motor, which again will cost you thousands. Second Nature recommends using a pleated air filter (you can read more about what that is below) and changing it every three months. As stated by the Department of Energy, this will keep your HVAC system running smoothly and can actually lower your power bill by 5–15%. Oh, and did we mention the health benefits? So what does this all get me? Well, a healthier home for starters, which in turn delivers a healthier you. Filters catch allergy inducing pollutants like pollen and dust, but they also catch pathogens like bacteria if you’re using a sufficient quality filter. According to a NAFA Foundation Report, a filter with a high MERV rating can significantly reduce the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as influenza, rhinovirus (common cold), and tuberculosis. According to the study, upgrading from a MERV 4 filter to a MERV 13 filter can cut the risk of contracting influenza almost in half. Just from using a different air filter. So pick a quality filter and get started protecting the air in your home.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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Everything You Need to Know about Lead in Drinking Water

Lead is often the number one concern for homeowners about their drinking water. What is lead? Lead is a naturally occurring metal that is toxic to humans and animals. Before the breadth of the risk of lead exposure was known, it was commonly used in a lot of household materials including pipes, which lead was a seemingly great material for because of its malleability. Lead cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled when dissolved in water. ‍ How does lead enter my drinking water? The most common way that lead enters your drinking water is through your pipes. Lead pipes that carry water into your home will suffer from corrosion over time, which will release some of the contaminant into the water it is carrying. This corrosive effect can be increased by certain factors, namely the acidity of the water. Acids are generally corrosive materials, so more acidic water will result in more corrosion. ‍ Lead pipes, being the hazard that they are, were banned from use in the construction of new plumbing systems in 1986, but many plumbing systems in the US pre-date the ban, thus still including components that contain lead. A 2016 survey found that around 30% of water systems around the United States still contain some amount of lead components. What are the effects of lead in my water? According to the EPA, lead can be a health hazard even at very low levels of exposure, particularly in small children. Lead accumulates in the body over time, so even exposure to a very low concentration can result in health effects if it continues for long enough. ‍ Infants on a formula diet consume large amounts of water relative to their body mass and are at higher than average risk of exposure to higher than acceptable concentrations of lead. The EPA lists the risks associated with lead exposure in children as follows. Behavior and learning problems Lower IQ and hyperactivity Slowed growth Hearing problems Anemia ‍ How do I remove lead? ‍ Lead can be removed via filtration, which can be done in a number of ways. If you get water from your refrigerator, you’re already drinking filtered water, although there’s a good chance your current filter does not capture material amounts of lead. A lead filtering refrigerator water filter will be certified to meet NSF 53 standards, which denotes that the filter has been certified to remove a contaminant with a health effect. That contaminant doesn’t have to be lead, but it usually is. ‍ This is the case with It Matters by Second Nature, which is certified to meet NSF 53 standards and removes more than 99% of lead in your drinking water. ‍ Try It Matters ‍ Can I test for lead? Unfortunately, it’s not enough to just know whether or not your home’s plumbing system contains lead. Water can come in contact with lead pipes prior to ever reaching your home, but you can get a definitive answer as to whether or not you should be concerned about lead with a test. ‍ Some information about your area’s general exposure is available online, but a test is the only way to get an exact answer for your home specifically. DIY tests can be purchased online and provide some insight for only around $20. Rarely are these tests super reliable though, because of a lack of precision in the design and user error. A State certified laboratory, on the other hand, will test a water sample for you and deliver much more precise and insightful results.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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How to Get Rid of Cat Dandruff or Dander

Learn how to get rid of cat dander in your home and reduce allergy symptoms. Calling all cat lovers. Does your skin frequently turn red when Whiskers scratches or licks you? Do you ever feel your eyes start to water when Abraham Linkitten falls asleep anywhere remotely close to you? ‍ If any of these questions have you nodding in agreement, we’re here to inform you that this is not just you crying from cuteness overload, and in fact, you might be one of the 3 in 10 Americans who suffer from a pet allergy. ‍ We know that finding a new home for Leonardo DiCatrio is not an option, so with today’s blog post, we’re going to talk about how to get rid of cat allergies and reduce cat dander in your home so you can comfortably cuddle with your cat all day long. ‍ Why do you have a cat allergy? What is cat dander exactly? How to get rid of cat dander STEP 1: Make sure your cat is healthy STEP 2: Groom your cat STEP 3: Clean your home STEP 4: Change your air filter ‍ First, let's start with the basics: ‍ Why do you have a cat allergy? Contrary to popular belief, the main culprit behind your allergies isn’t your pet’s fur, it’s their dander. (Other animals have dander too, so learn how to reduce pet dander for your other furry family members.) When you feel that familiar tickle in your throat, it’s the reaction of your immune system playing things safe and trying to fight off allergens. Every cat produces dander, so having a non-shedding cat or one deemed a “hypoallergenic animal” will offer little relief for your allergy symptoms. So when it comes to how to get rid of cat allergies, we need to talk about how to reduce cat dander. ‍ What is cat dander exactly? Dander refers to the microscopic pieces of dead skin that animals with fur or feathers shed into their surrounding environment. You might be wondering, “What does cat dander look like?” but it is so small that it can’t be seen by the naked eye. Since its defining characteristics are being tiny and lightweight, dander has no problem remaining suspended in the air for long periods of time. Its rough edges allow it to easily latch onto the surfaces in your home, especially those that are softer like bedding and upholstery. ‍ Since cat dander can glide through the air and hook onto clothing without much difficulty, it can even spread to places where no cat has been before. ‍ One of the reasons that cat dander is a major allergen is because of a protein called Fel d 1, which is commonly found within the skin, urine, and saliva of cats. Research shows that male cats produce less of this protein than female cats, so if you’re a first-time cat owner, it may be in your best interest to adopt a Mrs. Sparkles instead of a Mr. Sparkles. ‍ Siberians, Balinese, and Russian Blues are low shedding cats that would all be good options for those with severe allergies because they produce less of the Fel d 1 protein. ‍ My cat has dandruff Cat dander vs dandruff, what’s the difference? Cat dandruff is the visible white flakes of dead skin that can be found in your pet’s fur. If you find a large quantity of dandruff in your cat’s fur, it can be a sign of a medical problem. Dander, on the other hand, is microscopic and completely normal for cats to shed. Both dander and dandruff contain the Fel d 1 protein that is responsible for your allergies. ‍ Want to know how to get rid of cat dandruff? Keep reading and follow the same first two steps to reduce cat dander in your home. How to get rid of cat dander & dandruff So, what are we going to do about all of this? Don't worry, we've got four easy steps for you to help significantly reduce dander in your home. This way you can stop sneezing every four seconds and fully appreciate the companionship of your furry pal. Here’s how to get rid of cat dander: ‍ STEP 1: Make sure your cat is healthy If it seems like your cat is producing more dander than they should be, a trip to the vet may be in order. A skin test can help you find out whether your cat has problems like mites, yeast, or fleas that cause excess dander production. Obesity and diabetes are also conditions that will cause your pet to produce an abnormal amount of dander. Check with your vet to figure out the best treatment plan for your furry friend if they are suffering from any of these ailments. ‍ You know what they say, you are what you eat. If your cat follows a healthy diet, their overall well-being will improve. Give your cat food that is packed with natural ingredients and especially high in omega 3 fatty acids. Meat should always be near the top of the ingredient list. A healthy cat will help reduce cat dander in your home. ‍ In addition to reducing dander, omega 3 fatty acids help keep your cat’s coat healthy, strengthen their immune system, reduce irritation and dryness of the skin, and prevent joint pain. ‍ STEP 2: Groom your cat Bathing your cat is the first step to having a well-groomed pet. We know, we say “bathe your cat”, you hear “start an apocalypse”. ‍ If your cat is extremely opposed to water, abort bathing and skip over this section for other grooming ideas. ‍ If you are an allergy-sufferer and are wondering exactly how often to bathe a cat, it’s recommended that you bathe your cat once a month at the minimum, but every one or two weeks would be ideal. This is one of the best ways to remove cat dander from your home. Don’t bathe your cat more frequently than that, however, because overbathing will most likely irritate your cat’s skin, causing them to produce even more dander. ‍ If possible, start bathing your cat when they're just a kitten so that they'll be more used to the concept by the time they're an adult. ‍ To make things easier for you, we created a step-by-step tutorial on how to approach this aspect of grooming your kitty. Don’t worry, this won’t be Mission ImPAWsible (sorry, couldn’t resist). ‍ How to bathe a cat (without getting scratched) to reduce cat dander: Bust out the laser pointer and tire out your cat before the big event. This will help keep them as calm as possible. Playing with your cat near the site of bathing may also reduce their anxiety in this environment. Make sure the sink or tub where you’re planning on bathing your cat is equipped with non-slip material like a bath mat. A wet towel or an old t-shirt also works great for this purpose. Have your cat shampoo and conditioner on hand. We recommend using a natural cat shampoo with oatmeal and aloe vera to soothe your cat’s skin and keep it moisturized. Create a mixture of water and shampoo (about 1 part shampoo and 2 parts water) to make it easier and quicker to rub the soap into your cat's fur, as well as rinse it out. Bring your cat to the tub/sink and if you don’t have any assistance, use a harness with a leash. Strap your cat into the harness and then wrap the leash around the faucet. Slowly massage shampoo into your cat’s fur. Then make sure to thoroughly rinse it all out because any lingering chemicals will potentially irritate the skin and lead to increased dander production. Using conditioner can also further moisturize your cat’s skin to keep it from drying out. Dry off your cat with a towel, or if they permit, a blow dryer on the lowest heat setting. Start your very own cat bathing business because that went so well! Nice work, we’re proud of you. ‍ How to groom a cat without water to reduce cat dander: We understand that for some cats, water is public enemy number one and bathing is completely out of the question. If that’s the case, we have some alternative grooming solutions to keep your furry friend happy and your allergies at bay: ‍ Damp cloth Dander-removal spray Brushing ‍ If your cat is as “allergic” to water as you are to their dander, try using a damp cloth instead to gently wipe down their fur. Add cat dander removal spray to the mix and this is a surefire way to reduce the amount of dander in your home. All you have to do is spritz the cloth a few times and then move it first in the opposite direction of the fur, and then the same direction. This should be enough for the spray to do the trick and reduce dander buildup on your pet’s skin. ‍ In addition to other grooming methods, it is also recommended that you brush your cat’s coat about three times a week to remove fur and dander that would otherwise become airborne. If your pet has longer fur, it would be best to do this daily. ‍ Remember, grooming your cat regularly is also how to get rid of cat dandruff and keep your kitty sparkling clean. ‍ Grooming your cat regularly can also help remove any dust or pollen that may be lingering in your cat’s fur and contributing to your allergy symptoms. ‍ STEP 3: Clean your home When it comes to how to get rid of cat allergies, it’s not just your furry friend that needs cleaning. You can reduce cat dander by giving your whole house a wipe-down. We’re talking leave no hardwood unswiffered, no carpeting unvacuumed, no counter unwiped, no filter unreplaced- you get the gist. It’s time to bring out that all-purpose cleaner and get down to business. ‍ Clean all fabric Softer surfaces like bedding, couches, drapes, curtains, and rugs are all going to be hot-spots for dander. We recommend throwing your drapes, rugs, and couch covers (if you have them) in the washing machine a few times a month to get rid of as much of the allergen as possible. Lint rolling your drapes and couches at least once a week can also be effective if washing them is too much of a hassle. ‍ Wipe down surfaces The second step to cleaning your home is to eliminate as much cat dander as possible from every surface in sight. The best way to tackle this is with either a soapy rag or a natural all-purpose cleaner and towel. Counters, walls, doors, and cabinets are all fair game for prime dander hideouts, so a quick wipe down is extremely helpful in keeping your home as allergen-free as possible. ‍ Make sure to pay special attention when cleaning the places your cat visits the most. This includes all of your cat’s toys, their bed, and on top of that one kitchen cabinet (we don’t know how they get up there either). ‍ Don’t let your cat into your bedroom This is easier said than done, we know. Keeping your cat out of your bedroom will at least keep the source of the allergens out of your sleeping environment. If you currently sleep with your cat and feel your allergies acting up at night, consider purchasing a pet bed and placing it in a different room. If you or your cat are against this idea, make sure that all of your bedding is machine washable. ‍ Vacuum the carpets Cat dander can easily become lodged within the fibers of your home’s carpeting, and the constant influx of people and pets walking around will uproot that dander straight back into the air. Vacuuming at least once a week is essential in keeping your carpet and home as dander-free as possible. ‍ Clean the litter box Your cat’s litter box can be a goldmine for allergens, so it’s best to be extra careful when cleaning it out. If possible, keep your pet’s litter box in an area of the house that you don’t frequent, like the garage or basement. Wondering how to clean a litter box? Scrub it down with a natural detergent or some baking soda, then rinse it out with warm water. Just make sure to thoroughly clean out any remaining soap residue. ‍ STEP 4: Change your air filter Where there are cats, there should be regularly replaced air filters. This is the final and most simple step (also our favorite) for how to reduce cat dander and keep your home as dander-free as possible! Since dander is commonly airborne, it will often have a presence within your air ducts, resulting in your HVAC system redistributing the particles back into the air in your house. The only way to break this cycle is by using a high-quality air filter that will trap these small particles before they can even think about making you sneeze. An air filter with a MERV rating of at least 11 should be a staple in every pet owner and allergy-sufferer's home. However, our Catch All filter (MERV 13) would be better suited for pet owners that have more severe allergies. We recommend replacing your filter every three months at the minimum to ensure that it’s operating at maximum efficiency. If you have more than one pet in your home, changing your filter every 1 to 2 months will likely be better for your home’s air quality. ‍ If you find that you need to adjust the frequency of your filter changes, we know of a great subscription service with a convenient custom scheduling option. Try it out right over here. Now you know our best tips for how to get rid of cat allergies, dander, and dandruff. Taking preventative measures in your home will go a long way in managing your allergy symptoms. Regularly grooming your cat, cleaning furniture and flooring, and replacing your air filter are all simple steps that you can take to reduce the amount of cat dander in your home. ‍ Cats regularly rate our boxes 5/5 stars. ‍ Now, what are you doing? Groom that cat, vacuum that floor, and change that air filter.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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Everything You Need to Know About Chlorine in Drinking Water

You might be surprised to learn what the actual number one concern is with chlorine. What is chlorine? Chlorine is technically a naturally occurring gas that can be found on the right side of the periodic table, but with regards to practical applications in water, it’s used to disinfect water in a process called chlorination. It’s common knowledge that this is used in swimming pools, but it’s also done in your drinking water to prevent you from drinking nasty microbes that will make you sick. How does chlorine get into my drinking water? Unlike lead, it’s put there on purpose. Chlorination is part of the water treatment process that makes water safe for people to drink. It can be done at different points in the process, with a variation of chlorine-containing compounds, and the goal is, as mentioned, to deactivate pathogens in the water that can make you sick. What are the effects of chlorine in my water? Chlorine can actually be an extremely dangerous material, but it isn’t dangerous in your drinking water because of the low concentrations it exists in. According to the CDC, water with a concentration of chlorine of 4 parts per million is safe to drink. Believe it or not, the primary concern with chlorine is actually the effects it has on taste and odor. Chlorinated water can have a metallic taste to it that you may find unpleasant, and an odor to go with it. This comes from what’s known as residual chlorine, which remains in the water as it travels to your home in order to protect against pathogens it may encounter along the way. How do I remove chlorine? Chlorine can be filtered out. It doesn’t need to be for health reasons, but you may find it tastes better with a filter that removes high amounts of chlorine, something you can do with an activated carbon fridge filter. A refrigerator water filter certified to meet NSF 40 standards will remove the taste and odor of chlorine. Each Sip by Second Nature, for example, will filter out more than 50% of chlorine, not completely removing all of the disinfecting material, but capturing enough residual chlorine to improve taste and odor. ‍ Try Each Sip

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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Can Air Filters Protect You From the Flu?

Studies suggest they can. We know that air filters help your indoor air quality. We know that they filter allergens like pollen and dust out of the air and that they protect your HVAC system from exposure to lots of crud that can cause breakdowns. But can air filters help fend off sicknesses as well? ‍ Obviously, air filters aren’t going to make you immune to sickness, but can they filter pathogens like the flu virus out of the air? The answer may surprise you, or it might not, depending on how much you know about air filters. ‍ The experiment So can air filters actually decrease your chances of catching certain infectious diseases? Well, yes, according to a recent study from the Illinois Institute of Technology. The study, which was prepared for NAFA by Dr. Brent Stephens of the aforementioned institution, set out to determine the effectiveness of HVAC filter filtration on the probability of an individual contracting infectious diseases. The study can be found here, but it’s a ton of reading with lots of words, so we’ll summarize it for you. ‍ The experiment used a risk of transmission equation known as the Wells-Riley Model to test air filters of different MERV ratings and their respective ability to remove droplet nuclei from the air. ‍ Now, what on earth does any of that mean? ‍ MERV: rating scale from 1-16 that grades the effectiveness of air filters. An 11 is solid. Droplet nuclei: Droplets are little particles of moisture that you expel through your mouth and nose when you breathe or cough. These droplets contain particles within them, some of which are pathogens. As the moisture evaporates, the particles within remain together suspended in the air. They form the droplet nucleus. This is commonly how airborne diseases get transmitted. Wells-Riley Model: This is just a math equation used to determine the risk of infection based on a number of factors such as the number of infector individuals, exposure time, and other things. ‍ Dr. Stephens used this model and some assumptions about the particle size of droplet nuclei to test the effectiveness of HVAC filters against these pathogen carrying particles and the subsequent effect on the risk of contraction. The tests were conducted in three hypothetical environments (office building, school, hospital) with three different infectious diseases per environment (Influenza, Rhinovirus, Tuberculosis). ‍ The Results The results of the experiment backed up the idea that increasing the MERV rating of your air filter can result in decreased risk of contraction of the tested infectious diseases. Below is the chart from the experiment, which illustrates the decreasing risk of Influenza in a school environment. ‍ ‍ The chart illustrates that, if no filter at all is used, there is a 32.3% risk of contraction if one person with the flu spends eight hours at a school of 35 people. Eleven people would be expected to contract the flu virus based on this. It’s worth noting here that if you use a filter, but it is a garbage one like a MERV 4 or fiberglass, the risk level does decrease, but minimally. ‍ However, opting for a MERV 13 filter cuts the risk level by about two-thirds, resulting in seven fewer people getting sick under the exact same circumstances. Below are the charts for Tuberculosis and Rhinovirus (common cold), which follow similar trends but with less risk in general, as they are less contagious diseases than Influenza. The trend holds true in the office and hospital setting also. You can see those charts here. ‍ Source: Wells-Riley & HVAC Filtration for infectious airborne aerosols, NAFA Foundation Report ‍ So should I use a better filter? You should. Using a MERV 13 filter will not make you immune from the flu or other viral infections, but, according to the study, it can decrease the odds of you or a family member catching it in your home. MERV 13 filters, such as Second Nature’s Health Shield, are about the most effective filters against small particles you can buy short of the HEPA variety. The experiment projects a MERV 13 filter will catch about 87% of droplet nuclei that pass through. A MERV 4 is only expected to catch 11%. So yes, you should opt for a better air filter.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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