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Triple Win Property Management Blog

Property Management Outsourcing Services: Example Tasks & Best Providers

Virtual assistants are becoming increasingly important in the property management industry for a number of reasons. First are the associated efficiencies. Property managers often wear many hats, juggling tasks like resident communication, lease agreements, maintenance requests, and advertising. A virtual assistant can handle many of these administrative and repetitive tasks, freeing up the property manager's time to focus on more strategic initiatives. Virtual assistants can also act as a communication "hub" between residents, property management companies, and service providers. They can field calls and emails, schedule appointments, and ensure everyone is on the same page. In the same vein, virtual assistants can help with tasks related to online advertising for vacancies, managing a social media presence to attract potential residents, and even creating basic property videos or photos for listings. It’s important to note that virtual assistants are not a replacement for in-house staff. Instead, they allow staff to focus on important tasks that add value, as opposed to time-consuming manual operations. In today's post, we'll provide concrete examples of how virtual assistants can help property managers, the pros and cons of using these services, and a brief directory of property management virtual assistant service providers. Note on language: In the interest of clear communication, particularly regarding legal matters, this blog post may occasionally use the term "tenant" in reference to residents. While "resident" reflects the valued community we aim to support, service provider agreements and other legal documents today typically use the term "tenant." For the majority of this post, however, we'll utilize the term "resident" to best represent the positive and collaborative atmosphere we aim to cultivate. What is outsourced property management? Outsourced property management refers to the practice of paying for a third-party company or product to handle certain tasks or operations for your property management company. This could include tasks such as tenant screening, resident benefits, renters insurance programs, rent collection, maintenance and repair coordination, lease enforcement, financial reporting, and more. Property management is in itself an outsourced service for real estate investors/property owners. Just as property owners often choose to outsource their property management to save time, reduce stress, and ensure they stay profitable – property management companies may outsource several of their services for the same reasons. Property management outsourcing services, whether PropTech products or fully managed solutions, allow property management companies to build efficiencies and focus on quality and growth. Outsourcing certain services can give residents more of what they need and investors more value for their dollar. Example property management tasks you can outsource to virtual assistants The number of tasks property managers can outsource has increased over time, as companies have become more comfortable with geographically dispersed teams, and as virtual assistants themselves have become more sophisticated (better communication skills, task automation capabilities, and access to information). Given that the benefits of outsourcing to virtual assistants are on the rise, here is a sampling of tasks that can currently be outsourced to virtual assistants. Outreach to homeowners for management Virtual assistants can be a property management company's secret weapon for improving homeowner outreach in a few key ways. Given that property managers often manage a large number of properties and homeowners, virtual assistants can handle sending personalized emails, texts, or even making phone calls to homeowners. As indicated above, they can also help manage the property management company's social media presence, posting updates, building trust, and boosting its brand presence to property owners. Property assessments While virtual assistants can't directly conduct rental property assessments, which typically involve a qualified professional inspecting the property's condition, they can provide valuable support throughout the assessment process by gathering and organizing property information crucial for the assessment (for example, details such as square footage, number of bedrooms/bathrooms, year built, major renovations, and past maintenance upkeep records). They can also compile relevant data from property management software or online real estate industry resources. Virtual assistants can also manage the scheduling of property assessors and ensure clear communication between the property owner, property manager, and the assessor. This involves sending appointment reminders, handling any cancellations or rescheduling needs, and keeping everyone informed throughout the process. Once any given assessment is complete, a virtual assistant can help process and organize the assessor's report. This might involve formatting the report, creating digital copies, and ensuring it's easily accessible to the property manager and owner. Creating and presenting management proposals Virtual assistants can be a highly cost-effective asset to property management companies when it comes to creating and presenting management proposals. For instance, virtual assistants can save a lot of time by gathering data on comparable properties in the area, including rental rates, vacancy rates, and recent sales. They can pull this data from industry reports, rental listing websites, or public property records. They can also compile details about specific rental properties under management such as square footage, amenities, maintenance history, and any unique features. This ensures the proposal accurately reflects the property's value and the services offered. In addition, virtual assistants can alleviate the hassle of creating or maintaining templates for management proposals, ensuring consistency in branding and formatting. This saves time and ensures a professional presentation. As far as actual proposal presentation is concerned, virtual assistants can handle the electronic delivery of the proposal to the client and schedule follow-up calls or meetings to discuss the proposal details and answer any questions. If the property manager is competing against other companies, a virtual assistant can help research competitor offerings and identify areas where your proposal can stand out. Determining property rent In addition to the market research capabilities mentioned above, virtual assistants can gather data on rental trends in the target area. This includes vacancy rates, as well as recent rental listings for comparable properties (similar size, bedrooms, amenities) and their advertised rent prices. They can find this information on rental listing websites, property management software, or public rental databases. Virtual assistants can also handle initial communication with investors to understand their rental expectations and any specific goals they might have (e.g., maximizing rent vs. filling the vacancy quickly). Creating and organizing property photos and marketing material Virtual assistants can be a game-changer for property management businesses when it comes to creating and organizing property photos and marketing materials. If professional photography is required, a virtual assistant can schedule appointments with photographers, and even perform basic photo editing tasks like cropping, and adjusting brightness and contrast. This ensures a clean and polished presentation of the property. They can also create file-naming conventions for these photos, in order to make them easily searchable for future use in marketing materials or listings. As far as marketing materials are concerned, virtual assistants can create or maintain templates for various materials, ensuring consistent branding and design across all platforms. This saves time and creates a professional look while delivering cost savings. Advertising the property Virtual assistants can be highly beneficial for property management companies when it comes to advertising their properties. For instance, virtual assistants can create and manage listings on various online rental platforms, ensuring accurate and up-to-date property information reaches a wide audience of potential tenants. They can also optimize listings with relevant keywords to improve search ranking. On the social media channel, virtual assistants can help create targeted ads with eye-catching visuals and compelling descriptions highlighting the property's best features. They can also schedule ad posts and track their performance to optimize future campaigns. In general, virtual assistants can create and manage a content calendar for property promotions. This can include scheduling social media posts, email blasts to potential residents, or even blog posts showcasing the property and surrounding neighborhood. Responding to inquiries Virtual assistants can be the first point of contact for prospective tenants who inquire about a property through listings, social media, or the company website. They can answer basic questions, schedule viewings, and qualify leads to ensure they are a good fit for the property. Likewise, when it comes to responding to inquiries from potential investors, they can assess the lead quality and guide the initial conversation. Vetting resident applications Virtual assistants can be a valuable asset in the vetting process for property management companies. For starters, they can handle the initial processing of rental applications, collecting and organizing applicant information, as well as lease agreements and supporting documents. This frees up property managers to focus on reviewing qualified applications. They can also manage initial communication with applicants. This might involve sending automated emails with application instructions, answering basic questions about the property or application process, and scheduling appointments for viewings. Many property management companies use tenant screening software that virtual assistants can be trained to utilize, ordering credit reports, background checks, and eviction history reports efficiently. Approving a tenant application after review Virtual assistants can play a crucial role in streamlining the post-review approval process for property management companies. Once the property manager approves an applicant, they can handle initial communication with the new resident. This might sending a lease agreement electronically, explaining signing procedures, and collecting e-signatures. Virtual assistants can also coordinate move-in logistics, such as scheduling move-in property inspections, providing information on utility activation, and sending welcome packages with important building information and resident resources. Lease preparation Virtual assistants can help to streamline the process of lease preparation while minimizing the potential for errors. At a minimum, they can gather essential information from the approved application and property details to populate lease templates. This might include resident names, contact details, leasing terms, rent amounts, and security deposit details. Many property management companies use pre-defined lease templates with standard clauses outlining They can then handle initial communication with the approved resident about lease signing. This might involve sending the lease electronically, explaining signing procedures, and answering basic questions about lease terms and conditions. resident responsibilities, maintenance procedures, and lease termination processes. Virtual assistants can ensure these clauses are included in the lease agreement. They can also review completed lease agreements for any typos, inconsistencies, or missing information before sending them to the resident for review and signature. Lease renewals Virtual assistants can also help streamline the process of lease renewal, thereby helping to increase resident retention. For example, virtual assistants can monitor lease agreements and identify upcoming lease expirations. They can then create a timeline for initiating communication with residents about potential renewals, via personalized emails or letters to residents approaching the end of their lease term. These messages can express appreciation for their residency, highlight the benefits of renewing, and outline the renewal process. Virtual assistants can also track resident responses to renewal offers, flagging those requiring further discussion with the property manager. They can also generate reports on renewal rates, providing valuable data for analyzing resident retention strategies. Running tenant background checks While virtual assistants can't legally conduct background checks themselves, they can be a valuable asset in streamlining the process for property management companies. This might include managing the initial steps of collecting and organizing applicant information crucial for background checks. This includes details like full names, Social Security numbers (with applicant consent), and previous addresses. They can also help maintain standardized forms with clear instructions for applicants regarding background check consent. This ensures applicants understand the process and provide the necessary authorization for releasing information to background check companies. Organizing tenant records Virtual assistants can be instrumental in bringing order to record-keeping processes, from data entry and management to record-keeping and accessibility. They can handle the initial data entry of resident information from applications, including names, contact details, emergency contacts, lease details, and pet information. This ensures all crucial information is captured and readily accessible. Virtual assistants can upload and organize various tenant documents electronically. This might include lease agreements, signed addendums, rental history verifications, and maintenance request records. They can also create a filing system for easy retrieval of documents when needed. Note that virtual assistants should be trained on data security and privacy regulations to ensure the confidentiality of resident information – while virtual assistants can manage record-keeping tasks, the property manager should maintain oversight and ensure compliance with data protection laws. Invoicing and accounting Virtual assistants can handle a range of tasks related to recording rent payments, managing maintenance expenses, and categorizing various property management costs For example, virtual assistants can help set up secure online payment portals for residents to easily submit rent payments electronically. On the tracking side, virtual assistants can track incoming payments, reconcile bank statements, and ensure accurate records are maintained. Virtual assistants can then generate basic financial reports for the property manager, summarizing expenses and overall property income. This allows for better financial tracking and informed decision-making. Many property management companies utilize accounting software. Virtual assistants can be trained to use these platforms, automating tasks like data entry and simplifying record-keeping. Best property management virtual assistant services providers Identifying the "best" virtual assistant service provider will of course depend on your specific needs and budget. First, we'd recommend that you determine the specific tasks you want your virtual assistant to handle (e.g., advertising, resident communication, bookkeeping), then conduct research on different providers, and compare their services offered, pricing structures, and experience with property management. Also look to online reviews and ask potential providers questions about their screening processes, and data security measures. We're highlighting a couple of providers below that focus exclusively on property management, as well as a short list of solutions that include property management in their overall focus. Virtual Property Management Solutions VPM Solutions is a platform designed specifically to connect property management and real estate businesses with virtual assistants. Learn more Purple Powered Virtual Assistant Purple Powered Virtual Assistant (PPVA) specializes in providing virtual assistants specifically catered to the property management industry. They focus on connecting property management companies with qualified VAs as well as ensuring those VAs have the necessary skills to excel in the role. Learn more Honorable mentions Virtudesk Virtudesk specializes in virtual assistants for various industries, including property management. They offer a proven track record and a focus on quality service. Learn more MyOutDesk Known for their expertise in real estate and property management, MyOutDesk offers virtual assistants with experience in tasks relevant to the field. Learn more Wishup This company boasts a user-friendly platform, offers flexible pricing plans, and has a quick onboarding process for virtual assistants. Learn more Pros and cons of using property management virtual assistants Overall, virtual assistants can be a valuable asset for property management companies, boosting profitability, resident satisfaction, and business growth. However, careful vetting, clear communication, and training are necessary to mitigate potential downsides related to quality control, local regulations, legal issues, and retention. Pros of using virtual assistants in property management Increased profitability Virtual assistants can handle tasks like advertising and resident communication, freeing up property managers to focus on maximizing rental income and minimizing vacancies. Improved tenant satisfaction Virtual assistants can ensure timely responses to new tenant inquiries and manage resident portals, leading to a more responsive and efficient experience for residents. Streamlined bookkeeping and reporting Virtual assistants can assist with bookkeeping tasks and help generate accurate financial reports, allowing for better financial management. Support for business growth Virtual assistants can handle administrative tasks and marketing efforts, reducing the overhead costs of executing this work, and freeing up property managers to focus on growing their business and taking on new clients. Cons of using virtual assistants in property management Quality control challenges Ensuring the quality of services provided by virtual assistants can be tricky, especially for complex tasks like legal compliance or resident screening. Potential legal issues Data security and privacy become a concern when sharing property information with virtual assistants. Clear contracts and data security measures are crucial. Retention challenges Finding and retaining qualified virtual assistants can be difficult, especially for specialized tasks within property management. Maintaining resident satisfaction Reliance on virtual assistants for initial communication with residents might lead to impersonal interactions, potentially impacting satisfaction. Limited expertise Virtual assistants may not have in-depth knowledge of property management regulations or local real estate market nuances compared to experienced property managers. How PMCs are outsourcing services for better resident experiences Property management companies are always looking for new ways to generate value for themselves, their residents, and their investors. One of the quickest ways to scale and increase return on investment can be through property management service outsourcing. At Second Nature, we’ve pioneered the first-ever fully managed Resident Benefits Package. The goal is to make property management easier for PMs, residents, and investors – and drive value that benefits all three. We call it the Triple Win. Our RBP provides services that residents are proven to pay and stay for – and our team manages every part of the process so property managers can focus on what's important to them.

Calendar icon April 29, 2024

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Property Management FAQs about Resident Experience

Resident expectations are changing. In today’s “experience economy,” residents and consumers alike are looking for experiences that make them feel taken care of, bring more ease into their lives, and set businesses apart. With these changes in mind, property management companies are developing innovative strategies to build better resident experiences – experiences residents will pay and stay for. Today we’re sharing a Q&A about the resident experience with Melissa Gillispie, the Director of Leasing & Property Management at JWB Real Estate Capital. Here’s what you’ll find in the article. ‍ Key Learning Objectives: Core tenants of resident experience Steps to improve resident experience How improving resident experience can save money for property managers Resident experience examples that have worked Resident experience examples that haven’t worked How to monitor resident experience Meet the Expert: Melissa Gillispie, Director of Leasing & Property Management at JWB Real Estate Capital Melissa started her career with JWB in 2013 and is currently the Director of Property Management. She is the licensed real estate broker for JWB and plays an integral role that has led JWB to manage over 4,900 single-family homes in Jacksonville FL, being the largest local rental management company in Northeast FL. Under her purview, JWB has delivered over 26 million dollars in cash flow to its current clients through exceptional management services. Melissa also sits on the Board for NARPM Northeast FL as the Membership Co-Chair. She won the 2022 NARPM Rocky Maxwell award for dedicated service and contribution to NARPM. She is married to her husband of 14 years and has three sons aged 11, 9, and 6. When she is not working, she can be found at the football and soccer fields cheering her sons on! Why should property managers pay attention to the resident experience? What steps can property managers take to improve the resident experience? Happy residents stay longer, take better care of the home, and provide better long-term stability and return on investment for clients. They also spread the good word locally and refer more renters to you. And happy residents are usually nicer, leading to happier staff! Residents (and customers in general) are increasingly driven by instant gratification. They expect immediate communication, results, and benefit. Due to this, we have to increase our speed to outcome for them and set great expectations so that we can "under promise and over deliver" – one of our JWB core values! Some key steps to improving resident experience include: A great lease signing experience with impeccable expectation setting. If everyone knows from day one, who is responsible for what, we can avoid tough conversations down the road. Timely communication. Knowing the type of communication each resident prefers. We have a field in our system called "preferred contact method" – if it is via phone, pick up the phone. If it is text, text away. It helps the resident feel like you're willing to customize their experience. Answer the phone! Like any place open for business, you need to be reachable during office hours. Solve their maintenance issues. Make it easy for them to report those issues to you. If I had to give just one: Clear communication is EVERYTHING. Clear expectations, timely responses, and thoughtful and respectful interactions make us a professional industry vs. a mom-and-pop one. How can improving the resident experience save property managers money? Do you recommend hiring a dedicated resident experience specialist, resident manager, or separate team? Improved experience saves TIME. Time is money. Fewer tough conversations, supervisor calls, upset people impacting employee satisfaction, etc. Great experience leads to retention, which saves money and increases revenue for the business. I think the idea of a dedicated specialist or team is great in theory, but many places want to scale back on staffing (employees are expensive!). I also think that putting the responsibility on one person/group of people in the organization is a mistake to some degree. This limits creativity and reach. At JWB, our approach is that it is every teammate’s responsibility to dedicate effort and time to a great client/resident experience. This allows a wide range of ideas to generate and gives the feeling of impact and satisfaction to every teammate for their contribution. Do you recommend using software or tools to help improve resident retention? Here are some of the best tools we’ve used. Automation: Implementing things that don't require a ton of person-hours will allow you to scale your business at a lower cost. The automation/technology investment is worth it in the long run. The Resident Benefits Package (RBP) by Second Nature: DO IT! Find a mail fulfillment house in your city and rely on them to send mass communications via snail mail. Partner with local businesses for discount codes. Text Magic and Call Fire are great automation tools for communication via phone and text. What are examples of resident experience initiatives that have proved effective? On the flip side, what doesn’t work? Residents need to see the value in any initiative. Knowing your audience/clientele and what matters most to them is important. Is it time savings? Money saving? RBP from Second Nature has been a game-changer. It meets a real need and serves a purpose. We also do a monthly resident newsletter. We send out automatic happy birthday emails to every resident on their birthday (we have been able to automate this completely, so 0 time for staff and 100% feel-good for residents). We do "get to know your city" marketing for new residents with mural maps, restaurants and grocery stores near them, etc. We include a magnet at move-in on their fridge with our contact information and after-hours information. These all create moments that show care and concern, and we sprinkle in love for our city. When you miss the mark on providing value or miss the need the resident actually has, that experience moment may fall flat. So we constantly focus on who our residents are and what will fill their cups. How do you monitor or measure the resident experience? We love surveys! We have maintenance and resident net promoter score (NPS) surveys. Every time a work order closes, the resident receives a survey to give feedback on the experience. We review that weekly. For positive surveys, we ask for reviews. Supervisors reach out for low scores to see how we can improve. For the NPS surveys: If they leave a high score, we ask for a positive review on one of our online platforms (Google, Facebook, BBB). If they leave a low score, supervisors seek feedback to improve. The key is DOING SOMETHING with the information you receive; otherwise, there is no value. Don't just let a low score come through and then do nothing. Reaching out shows the resident you pay attention, value the feedback, and want to improve. Reviews online are also a good way to gauge experience. Take those with a grain of salt, however. People are much more likely to leave a bad review than a good one, so it is a lot of work to win here! We ask for positive reviews anytime we have a great interaction with a resident – a phone call where we solve a problem, an email where they say thank you, or anytime someone pays on time or renews their lease – we ask. You don't get positive reviews you don't ask for! How do you use the information you receive in resident feedback or surveys? There is value to it. You can gather a lot of good information and start to identify trends in the data. We can pinpoint areas as a team to improve and celebrate the things we do well. I do think you have to take some of the responses with a grain of salt. You can't make everyone happy even when you try. View it as information to help make decisions vs. the end-all-be-all to measure your worth as a company. We survey on maintenance every time a work order closes, and we get about a 3-5% completion rate. For the NPS surveys, we survey 60 days after move-in and then every six months. We get a 10% completion rate on those. What questions should you ask if you are considering a resident experience survey? What’s a good sample size for a survey? Are there other tips and tricks to keep in mind? For our NPS survey, it is one question: “How likely are you to refer your friends and family to rent from us?” They score us 1-10, and then we allow an open text response field that is optional if they have more to say. For the maintenance surveys, we ask: “On a scale of 1-5, how satisfied were you with 1. the work order submission process; 2. Your maintenance coordinator, 3. The vendor who performed the work, 4. The amount of time it took to complete the work; 5. The overall experience?” Each star scale also allows for open-text responses (again, not required). I think a good sample size is when at least ¼ of your customers have had the opportunity to review. Until that point, the results seem to be all over the place. We track results monthly, quarterly, and annually, as well as by the property manager and maintenance coordinator, work order category, and property type (multi-family, single-family, condo, townhome, etc.). All of this helps us put together a comprehensive picture of where we stack up against ourselves over time. I think it is important to benchmark against yourself. Each business runs in a unique way, so I get less caught up in how other people are doing compared to me and more caught up in how I am doing compared to myself/my business three, six, or 12 months prior. Perspective is important when you are being vulnerable and asking for feedback! Easily Manage and Improving Resident Experience With Second Nature RBP As Melissa mentioned, the Resident Benefits Package (RBP) by Second Nature goes a long way to creating premier resident experiences. And as the country’s only fully managed RBP, it doesn’t take up your team’s time or bandwidth. We designed the RBP to solve headaches for property managers and help them deliver world-class resident experiences that delight residents and build long-term retention. Happy residents = happy clients = happy PMC teams. A triple win! At Second Nature, we’re all about building experiences that residents will pay for and stay for.

Calendar icon June 28, 2023

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Do I Need to Clean My Home's Air Ducts?

Is duct cleaning worth it & something you should do for your home? Do you need to have the air ducts in your home cleaned? It’s an age-old question, okay well not really, but it is a question that many homeowners probably don’t even remember to ask. Even still, we’re going to give you the answer. So, is air duct cleaning worth it? Keep reading to find out. What is duct cleaning? Duct cleaning is exactly what it sounds like, which is the cleaning of the inside of the air ducts that carry air to and from the heating and cooling components of your HVAC system. It involves physically removing dust, debris, and other contaminants from heat-ventilated systems, including any associated ducts. Sounds nice, but is air duct cleaning necessary? Is air duct cleaning necessary? It’s true that clean ducts can provide some health benefits and increase the quality of the air you breathe, but it’s not always a smart or necessary practice. There are certain situations where it’s necessary, but the EPA has clarified that there is no evidence that a light buildup of dust or particulate matter in the ducts has any impact on indoor air quality. This is because buildup usually remains in the duct and doesn’t get carried out of the ducts once it’s become stationary inside. Thus, duct cleaning is only really necessary if there is an excessive amount of buildup, or some other concern such as substantial mold growth or an insect infestation. Is air duct cleaning worth it on a regular basis? According to the EPA, there is no reason for regular duct cleanings. Duct cleanings should be scheduled only as necessary. For reasons described above, there are simply no proven negative effects of slightly dirty ducts. Is there a risk to not cleaning your ducts? There is very little risk to not cleaning your ducts on a regular basis. As stated, minor particulate buildup is not proven to have health effects or result in any increase in particulate matter in the air. Significant duct issues such as mold growth or infestation are typically the result of uncommon problems somewhere else in the home that need addressing, and certainly do not occur at a regular cadence that would require regular duct cleanings. Can I clean ducts myself? It is possible to clean your ducts yourself, but it is not recommended. It is an extensive job best done by a professional with professional level equipment. You simply cannot achieve the same level of cleanliness without professional level tools. You may also encounter mold, vermin, or other issues that are best dealt with by a professional. If I wish to have my ducts clean, what can I expect? You can expect a professional duct cleaning service to provide a thorough and complete clean in a manner safe for you, your HVAC system, and the rest of the home. This involves inspecting the system prior to beginning for any dangers. Next comes a vacuuming and brushing of the inside of the duct system, as well as HVAC system components, followed by a resealing of any access points used in the duct system. The price for a professional duct cleaning service will depend on the size of your home, but it’s typically between $300 and $500 Am I posing a risk to my indoor air quality if I don’t have my ducts cleaned? If you’re experiencing issues with indoor air quality, it’s unlikely that duct cleaning will present a long-term fix. Dirty ducts are the result of some other contributing issue that must be addressed, and even if dirty ducts are contributing to allergies or some other consequence of poor IAQ, clean ducts will only serve as a temporary fix until the root cause is addressed. So, Is Air Duct Cleaning Needed on a Regular Basis? No–you don’t need to have your air ducts cleaned regularly to maintain healthy air quality inside your home. Instead, reach out to a duct cleaning service if you suspect there is excessive buildup or mold impacting your ducts. If Clean Ducts Aren’t the Answer to Clean Air, What Is? Air filters. Replacing your air filters every three months helps improve the air quality in your home. If you have allergies or asthma or live near smoke or smog pollution, you may benefit from air filters with high MERV ratings and more frequent replacements. Not sure which size air filter you need? Learn about the different air filter sizes to make sure you choose the best option for your home.

Calendar icon June 21, 2023

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Tips for an Efficient Home: Change Your Air Filter

Change your filters already! Learn how to change air filters and do it already! You had to know this one was coming. For our fifth and final installment of Second Nature’s Tips for an Efficient Home, we want to remind you to change your air filters. There aren’t many routine home maintenance practices that are forgotten with more regularity than the air filter change. You should replace air filters in your home at regular intervals multiple times a year, but we all know someone who hasn’t even looked at their air filters in years (that's been us too, once upon a time). How to Change an Air Filter in Your House Changing air filters is one of the easiest ways to keep your home efficient. It’s probably the easiest of any practices highlighted in this series. That’s because home air filter installation is as simple as opening your vent, taking out the old one, and putting in the new one, or at least it’s that simple (shameless plug inbound) when you use Second Nature. Why Changing Air Filters is Important Air filters do two things. They clean the air that circulates through your HVAC system, allowing you to breathe fresh air inside your home, and they preserve the health of said system by keeping particles and gunk from building up on it. Your system runs more efficiently with a quality air filter installed and will last longer as the result of reduced stress. ‍How to Choose the Best Air Filter for Your Home First, you need the right air filter. Skip the fiberglass and go straight to pleated. Fiberglass air filters is a bit of a misnomer since they are horrible at filtration. They do virtually nothing to keep pollutants out of your air. It’s better for air flow immediately, because it offers so little resistance, but detrimental to the long-term health of your system (and you!), as all the particles that pass through can build up on your HVAC coils and shorten the lifespan. This can result in costly repairs and even replacement. Pleated air filters are the best option for your health and your HVAC’s health. Their construction allows for much more effective and efficient filtration, which keeps that nasty stuff out of your lungs and off your system. Unless your HVAC is quite old (like really old), the more tightly wound construction of a pleated air filter won’t starve your unit of air flow. You've heard that last bit before. We're here to dispel that myth. You ready? Pleated air filters do not restrict airflow to your HVAC system! How does changing an air filter save you money? Great question. It does so in two ways. Efficient air flow through your vents minimizes the work your HVAC has to do to keep your home the desired temperature. An air starved system must run harder and longer to do so, which drives up your energy usage and ultimately your electrical bill. As your air filter catches pollutants, it begins to lose air flow efficiency as it becomes filled with dust, pollen, and any other clean air assailants it has vanquished from your home. It’s good that it’s catching these, but if you leave the filter in too long, the buildup of particle matter starts forcing the HVAC unit to work harder to get air. Now you have a system that’s struggling, thus producing higher energy costs. Learning how to change an air filter that’s dirty for a new one provides an immediate remedy to that and, as a continued practice, can boost the efficiency of your HVAC system by 15%. This boosted efficiency can extend the lifespan of your system as well, which will save you money years down the line in addition to the immediate benefits. How often is regularly? Glad you asked. The answer depends on many factors. Typically, we would recommend you do a new home air filter installation every three months, but certain elements can push this number down. If you live in a heavily polluted area, that filter will get dirty faster. Simply put, a dirty filter does a terrible job of filtering and needs to be changed. Add pets to the equation, and you might need to replace the air filter in your home every one or two months. It will depend entirely on your specific situation. Choosing air filters with higher MERV ratings is also beneficial for keeping your indoor air quality at a healthy level. Not sure which size air filter you need? Learn about the different air filter sizes to make sure you choose the best option for your home. If you want our opinion on your particular case, you can always ask! Tweet us Facebook Message us Email us ‍ And that’s how you can save 15% on your heating and cooling costs. Just swap out your air filters four times a year! If you’re interested in not having to remember this (another shameless plug coming in hot), we’ll ship high-quality, USA-made air filters right to your door when it’s time to change them.

Calendar icon June 21, 2023

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Resident Experience Management: How to Meet Expectations

Resident experience management is improving every resident touchpoint – from application to move-out – to drive an experience so good your residents never want to leave. Today, the role of the property manager is to proactively identify and meet residents’ needs, often before the resident knows they need it. It’s a new world, but it’s exciting, allowing enterprising PMs to stand out in a crowded industry. Solutions that drive value, like a resident benefits package or an investor benefits package, are taking a lead. At Second Nature, we build tools with those enterprising property managers leading the way, and we’ve put together a report on the latest trends and innovations in the space. In this article, we’re diving deep into how to improve the resident experience, why it matters, and the best practices in resident experience right now. For more details and insights from leading PMs, check out the 2023 State of Resident Experience Report. Why is Resident Experience Important? Related: State of Resident Experience Study The “experience economy” has changed both customer and resident expectations. Particularly after the pandemic, the modern consumer is accustomed to the ease of apps like Uber, Airbnb, and Amazon, and they respond to ease and convenience. The question that single-family and multifamily PMCs are asking now isn’t “What’s the most I can get out of residents for the least I can do?” Rather it's: “How do I create an experience so good that residents never want to leave?” Property management companies are redefining resident experiences to improve occupancy rates and help residents, investors, and their companies get a win. Investing in resident experience management strategies is one of the most direct ways to yield positive ROI and reduce turnover costs. According to DD Lee, owner of Skyline Properties Group in Atlanta: “The number one thing (our residents) look for is ease and convenience. They don't want complicated instructions. They just want simple; they want right now. They want contact-free; they don't want to talk to people. So everything we do from showings to moving in to the experience after they move in is all revolved around design for that expectation.” How to Improve Resident Experience Resident experience management is about identifying every unique touchpoint along the resident’s journey – from application to move-out. Property managers are now expected to make each touchpoint painless and convenient. Our 2023 State of Resident Experience Report discusses changing consumer expectations and the key steps to resident satisfaction. Here, let’s expand on each key resident touchpoint where PMs can focus on improvement. Move-In Move-in is the perfect opportunity to design experiences that make new residents say, “Wow” – to make them feel delighted, welcome, and truly at home. Our guide explores some of the best innovations for cultivating a unique move-in experience. One of the best is to offer a Resident Benefits Package (RBP) that folds in services like a move-in concierge, insurance, incentives, and more. Rent Payments Second Nature’s RBP has a credit-building service that reports on-time payments to every credit bureau, giving value to residents and helping them become more financially stable. Another service is the resident rewards program, which incentivizes on-time payments and supports great residents. Maintenance Requests Using an online resident portal for real-time maintenance requests has become a baseline expectation. PMs are going beyond that to ensure they use preventative maintenance and deploying strategies to improve functionality. One such resident experience strategy is an air filter delivery service. Changing filters on time can reduce HVAC requests by 38%, saving the property manager and investor hundreds of dollars a year. Pet Registration Property managers can proactively offer pet registrations or guarantees and even use that as a form of ancillary income. You get the extra pet fees to drive income, the investor gets an assurance that they won’t suffer because of pet damage, and the resident gets to keep their pet! Resident Concierge Services Concierge services are a top way to provide a VIP experience. Second Nature’s RBP includes a move-in concierge who can confidently guide multiple people daily to set up their utilities properly. Residents don’t have to deal with the headache of setting up new utilities – instead, in one phone call, they find out their best options and can even get help simplifying setup. Renewal Process PMs can proactively set up the renewal process, so it’s as easy for the resident as a click of a button. Assuming each touchpoint along the way has anticipated and delivered on residents’ needs – and surpassed their expectations – lease renewal should be straightforward and quick. Resident Communication Property managers aiming to improve the resident experience have found creative ways to improve and streamline resident communication. Great communication is necessary, whether through digital apps and automation, social media, on-site messaging, proactive team members, etc. Move Out When a resident is moving out – whether they chose to move or are delinquent – property managers can help make the process as smooth as possible. Anticipating the resident’s needs, keeping communication open, and deploying motivated team members all help deliver the final touch for residents. The move-out experience is their last impression and can impact your referrals, reputation, etc. Resident Experience Ideas and Examples Resident retention is a key success metric in the current economic climate. Keeping residents engaged and happy can go a long way to delivering a triple win: hitting your goals, their goals, and your investor’s goals. Our State of Resident Experience Report explores how resident experience management can deliver ROI, company growth, and happier investors. We also talk to several experts in the property management field to hear their best and most successful ideas. Here are a few key resident experience ideas that residents will pay for and stay for. Post-maintenance surveys and follow-ups Quick complaint responses and preventive maintenance Pet-friendly property management and insurance Resident engagement programs like a recycling drive, helping minimize waste productions, sourcing local, etc. Prioritizing safety and security and engaging residents in a proactive way to achieve that Each of these strategies helps deliver what “totally taken care of” feels like. Which is exactly what residents are looking for. How to Handle Difficult Residents Every property manager we’ve talked to has dealt with difficult residents at some point in their career. The best property management strategies prevent many of these issues through better resident experiences. The right strategy can help incentivize residents to cooperate, keep a property well-maintained, and make on-time payments. When you are facing a difficult resident situation, here’s how leading property managers advise proceeding. Make sure service promises are fulfilled One of the most important things that sets professional PMs apart from hobbyists or amateur landlords is the delivery of promises. Because you have a team and a plan, you can ensure that what you promise is what residents get. Being courteous, kind, and professional A lot of this is about hiring the right people. Get your core values in place and ensure that anyone you hire is bought in on those values. Finding people that the rest of your team enjoys working with is also important. Cultivating an environment of courtesy and respect goes a long way to ensuring residents are treated fairly. By not taking it personally Improving the resident living experience is all about seeing the human at the other end. When unhappy or troublesome residents aren’t taken personally, it puts us in a better position to take reasonable, effective steps to deal with them. Professional PMs can approach challenging situations without judgment but with clear boundaries and proactive solutions. Delegating This comes back to having the right team in place. If you trust your team, you can delegate specific complex tasks to them without spending all your time on every issue. Peter Lohmann, CEO of RL Property Management, shared that he keeps a delegation cheat sheet printed out at his desk. The steps to successfully delegating are: Outline the vision - “Comannder’s Intent.” Share resources. Describe your definition of done. Give a deadline or interval. Explain how and when they should keep you updated. Having paperwork to back your arguments Ensuring you have documentation of each issue with the resident is critical. Documenting interactions along the way helps protect you and your team. Setting and maintaining expectations Again, professional PMs know that setting and maintaining expectations is one of the top priorities for a happy and successful resident relationship. Knowing that today’s residents expect a certain level of convenience can put professional PMs ahead of the game. Building a Resident Experience Strategy with Second Nature We’ve only scratched the surface of resident experience management and the innovative and exciting ways we’ve seen property managers change the game in that space. The next step might be to explore our Resident Benefits Package and why property managers love it. Or, if you’d like to learn more about property management trends for 2023 – and the changing state of resident experience – you can download our free State of Resident Experience Report. The in-depth report includes advice and insights from some of the most innovative property managers in the biz, data on resident expectations, and key trends for 2023.

Calendar icon May 18, 2023

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Benefits of Outsourcing Property Management Services

Property management services have changed in leaps and bounds over the past 5-10 years. And property management outsourcing services have grown along with it. While the traditional approach to property management simply provided the basics – maintenance, rent collection, etc. – entrepreneurial PMs saw a massive gap in that value proposition and have transformed the real estate industry. Now, property management services are increasingly seen as a way to generate value for residents, real estate investors, and property management companies. PMCs are delivering resident benefits like credit reporting, renter’s insurance programs, pet guarantees, and more. And each of these services acts as a value add for everyone involved. But that can also add extra burden and cost to your property management business when your team is already spread thin. One of the best ways to offer value without overextending your team is to outsource some of those PM services to PropTech products, contractors, or a fully managed solution. Today we’re going to talk about this option in more detail. Whether you’re just getting started in property management or a seasoned pro, we hope you’ll find something here to help. Key Learning Objectives: What is outsourced property management? What services add the most value to the resident experience? What property management services are most easily outsourced? What are the costs associated with outsourcing PM services? What are the benefits of outsourcing PM services? What is outsourced property management? Outsourced property management refers to the practice of paying for a third-party company or product to handle certain tasks or operations for your property management company. This could include tasks such as tenant screening, resident benefits, renters insurance programs, rent collection, maintenance and repair coordination, lease enforcement, financial reporting, and more. Property management is in itself an outsourced service for real estate investors/property owners. Just as property owners often choose to outsource their property management to save time, reduce stress, and ensure they stay profitable – property management companies may outsource several of their services for the same reasons. Property management outsourcing services, whether PropTech products or fully managed solutions, allow property management companies to build efficiencies and focus on quality and growth. Outsourcing certain services can give residents more of what they need and investors more value for their dollar. What property management services can property management companies outsource? Advances in technology and innovation within the property management industry have given PMCs greater flexibility in terms of outsourcing key services. As a property manager, you may outsource for a range of reasons. Maybe you’re still building up your team and need cost-effective expertise in a certain area. Maybe you have core products you want to focus on and want certain services to take less of your time. Maybe your investors or residents are asking for out-of-scope services that you can offer for an additional fee. Overall, outsourced property management services can help PMCs save time, reduce stress, and maximize the profitability of their company. So, what are some of the most commonly outsourced property management services? They can be grouped into a few categories: A single-family property management software and integrations that enable all kinds of business operations. Maintenance and repair. Many PMs outsource things like plumbing, HVAC, and other contractor work. Resident benefits and ancillary services. Property managers often outsource value-driving products like an RBP and other services that investors want, and residents will pay for. Let’s dig into the services that might be included within each of those larger categories. Rent collection Third-party payment processing companies can handle the actual collection and processing of rent payments for the PMC. The property management company will provide the payment processing company with the necessary information and details about the residents and the property, including lease terms, payment due dates, and amounts owed. The process may involve various payment methods, such as online payments, credit card payments, ACH transfers, or other payment options. Some popular outsourcing solutions that help collect rent include Buildium, Propertyware, and AppFolio. Second Nature provides a fully managed service that helps ensure your residents pay rent on time. Repair and maintenance Many PMCs outsource repairs and property maintenance. We’ve spoken with experts like Bob Preston, who run their own maintenance companies separately as another source of income and an added value to their clients. When a property management company outsources repair and maintenance, it typically involves hiring third-party contractors or service providers to handle the actual repair, upkeep, and maintenance tasks required for the property. Outsourcing repair and maintenance can offer several benefits for property management companies. You can access a broader range of specialized skills and high-quality expertise, which may not be available in-house, and save time and resources by avoiding the need to recruit and manage in-house staff to handle repair and maintenance tasks. Marketing and advertising Marketing isn’t everyone’s strong suit, and that’s okay! When a property management company outsources marketing and advertising, it typically involves hiring a third-party marketing or advertising agency to handle the promotion and advertising of the rental properties. The agency will work closely with the PMC to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy that aligns with the property's unique selling points and target audience. The marketing agency may use a variety of advertising channels and mediums to promote the property, including social media marketing, search engine marketing, online advertising, email marketing, print advertising, and other marketing channels. They may also create engaging content and visuals, such as videos, images, and virtual tours, to showcase the property's features and amenities. Legal Most PMCs outsource their legal services to a third-party law firm or attorney to provide legal advice and representation on various matters related to the property or properties. Legal services that may be outsourced can include lease agreements, evictions, compliance with local and federal laws and regulations, dispute resolution, and other legal matters that may arise in the course of managing the property. Outsourcing legal services helps minimize legal risks and liabilities, ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations, and protect the property investor’s interests. Accounts and finance Many PMCs outsource to an accounting firm or financial service provider to handle the financial management and reporting. The outsourced firm will work with you to manage financial records, provide financial reporting, and ensure compliance with accounting standards and regulations. The accounting and financial services that may be outsourced can include bookkeeping, financial statement preparation, tax planning and compliance, budgeting and forecasting, and other financial reporting and analysis. Overall, outsourcing accounts and finance can help property management companies to operate more effectively and efficiently and achieve their financial objectives while minimizing financial risks. Insurance PMCs often work with a third-party insurance broker or agent to provide insurance coverage and manage insurance-related issues for the property or properties. The insurance coverage that may be outsourced can include property insurance, liability insurance, workers' compensation insurance, and other types of insurance coverage that may be necessary or recommended for the property. Another way to outsource insurance is to find a service that provides a renters insurance program like Second Nature’s. Ensuring that residents have insurance coverage is a priority for 90% of property managers, but only 41% of residents maintain compliant coverage. At Second Nature, our renters insurance program has 100% compliance. You can learn more about our coverage and fully managed Resident Benefits Package in our 2023 Resident Experience Report. Safety and security Many PMCs outsource to a security company to provide safety and security services. The security company will work closely with the property management company to assess safety and security needs, design and implement safety and security protocols, and provide safety and security personnel and equipment as needed. Security services that may be outsourced can include security personnel, security systems and equipment, safety training and education, emergency response planning and execution, and other safety and security-related services. What are the costs associated with outsourcing PM services The cost for a PMC to outsource some property management services can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the scope of services required, the complexity of the work, the location of the service provider, and the level of expertise required. Some service providers may charge a flat fee, while others may charge an hourly rate or a percentage of the property's rental income. The cost for outsourcing property management services can range from as low at $1 per property per month to much as hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, depending on whether it’s a full-service tech solution, simple maintenance services, a Resident Benefits Package, etc. It's important to note that while outsourcing property management services can come with a cost, it can also provide benefits such as increased efficiency, reduced workload, and access to specialized expertise. Before outsourcing any services, it's important to carefully consider the potential costs and benefits and to choose a service provider that offers high-quality services at a reasonable price. How outsourcing property management services benefits you Outsourcing property management services can have a massive impact on your return on investment per door and per client. Outsourcing also helps with scaling when you can’t afford to run every service in-house. With the ability to outsource, you can offer more value to your clients without skyrocketing your operating costs. You can also drive secondary sources of revenue through outsourcing. Not convinced? Let’s go over some of the real-life benefits we’ve seen PMCs leverage with outsourcing select services. Cost savings Outsourcing property management services can save property management companies significant costs associated with hiring and managing in-house staff, as well as investing in technology and infrastructure. Outsourcing can also help to minimize overhead costs, such as office space, equipment, and supplies. Let’s think even bigger. Outsourcing value-generating services like a Resident Benefits Package has multiple benefits: boosting resident satisfaction, incentivizing on-time payments, and reducing vacancy rates. Talk about a cost-saving win! Increased efficiency We’ve seen PMCs use outsourcing to streamline their operations, reduce administrative property management tasks, and increase productivity. This can free up time and resources for property management companies to focus on core business functions and strategic planning. Instead of using your own team for time-consuming tasks, you can outsource them. Access to expertise Outsourcing property management services allows PMCs to access specialized expertise and skills that may not be available in-house. This can include legal, accounting, marketing, and maintenance expertise, among others. Outsourcing can also provide access to the latest technology and software, which can improve efficiency and effectiveness. Better risk management Property management inherently involves risk. You’re managing people’s lives on the one hand (residents) and investments on the other (owners/investors). Outsourcing can help better manage risks associated with property management, such as legal liabilities, compliance issues, and safety and security concerns. This can help to protect your company from financial and reputational damage. Improved resident satisfaction You can more seamlessly and reliably improve resident satisfaction by providing better maintenance and repair services, more efficient rent collection, and faster response times to tenant concerns and requests. This can help to increase tenant retention and attract new tenants. Higher employee satisfaction Outsourcing services to a third party is a direct way to impact your employees’ satisfaction. How? Outsourcing helps reduce workload, gives access to better training and development, improves working conditions, and provides a better work-life balance. Often, outsourcing means that your employees get to focus on the core functions that they love instead of getting bogged down in tasks they don’t love or don’t feel equipped for. How thousands of PMCs are outsourcing services for better resident experiences Property management companies are always looking for new ways to generate value for themselves, their residents, and their investors. One of the quickest ways to scale and increase return on investment can be outsourcing property management services. At Second Nature, we’ve pioneered the first-ever fully managed Resident Benefits Package in order to support PMCs with just that goal. Our RBP provides services that residents are proven to pay and stay for – and our team manages every part of the process so property managers can focus on strategy, growth, or work-life balance. We’ve helped thousands of property managers transform their services and their operations with a customized RBP providing services they couldn’t do alone. Our goal is to make property management easier for PMs, residents, and investors – and drive value that benefits all three. We call it the Triple Win.

Calendar icon May 17, 2023

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How to Get Rid of Indoor Odors & Bad Smells

Got a foul odor in your home? You've come to the right place. Do you ever walk into your home and get hit by an extremely unpleasant scent? If you do, and you don't have a pet skunk, you can look to indoor odors as the source. We promise you there are SAFE ways to reduce or eliminate odors in your home. It's essential to attack the odors head on, rather than mask them with candles or spray. If you need a quick fix to make your home smell fresher, here are some tips: Change your air filter(s) on a regular schedule. The air in your home cycles through your air filter(s) multiple times per day. If your filter is not clogged or saturated, it will do a great job of capturing contaminants and pollutants that can make your home stink. Simmer a bowl of vinegar on the stove. This neutralizes odors rather than masking them, like burning vanilla or cinnamon do. Steam clean soft surfaces like drapes, curtains, and sofas. These items often get neglected in the cleaning process. Steam cleaning them is effective at eliminating dirt, dust, and, most importantly, odors. Deodorize your stinkiest rooms by placing a mixture of 3-parts water, 10 drops of citrus oil, and 1-part vodka in a decorative bowl. This is especially effective in rooms with strong foot or body odors like mudrooms and laundry rooms. If you, anyone that lives in your home, or any of your guests/visitors smoke, do so outdoors. We cannot stress this enough. Do. Not. Smoke. In. Your. Home. Cigarette smoke clings to all porous surfaces, including walls. Pets can add all sorts of smells to a home. Keeping up with their hygiene will go a long way in keeping your house smelling fresh. If you have a garbage disposal, avoid discarding carrot, onion, or potato peelings down it. Not only can they block up your disposal, but they cause a horrible stink when they begin to decay. Often times, your garbage can will begin to stink. A simple fix for this is washing it out with white vinegar and water to eliminate any leftover odors. If your laundry basket is filled with stinky clothes, consider sprinkling some washing soda onto the pile until you get around to doing the laundry, as this will neutralize the smells. Those are some of the basic things you can do to freshen up the scent in your home. Now, if you feel like you may need even more information on how to eliminate home odors, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a complete guide to all things indoor odors and how to deodorize your home: What is an indoor odor? Dangerous odors Why does my room smell? How to get rid of home odors Clean your cleaning supplies Using an odor eliminator Maintain your pet’s hygiene Wash laundry Ventilate Keep flooring and surfaces clean Clean your kitchen Keep your bathroom clean Change your air filter ‍ What is an indoor odor? An odor that's inside, duh. Ok, this is a true statement, but there's actually more to it because science, ya know. Some odors are caused by low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air that humans can detect. A VOC is a chemical that can turn into vapor in room temperature conditions, and can potentially be harmful at certain levels. ‍ Dangerous odors First things first, if you notice any of these smells, it may be a sign of something more serious: ‍ Fishy smell or burning rubber smell This could be a sign of an electrical wiring malfunction somewhere in your home. The first place to look would either be appliances, a wall switch, or an outlet. If you do find that the smell is coming from your home's electrical wiring, it would be best to call an electrician. If the burning smell is strong and you can't find the source, we would recommend leaving the house and calling 911 in case there is an electrical fire in your home. ‍ Sulfur or rotten egg smell Typically, if you're smelling either of these odors, it's a sign of a gas leak in your home. The best thing to do in this situation is to leave your home, call 911, and then call your gas provider so that they can send someone over to fix the leak ASAP. ‍ Musty smell Mold is usually the culprit behind musty smells in your home. Most of the time, you should be able to handle mold on your own, but if it does turn out to be more of a problem, professional help may be necessary. How do you get rid of the musty smell in the house? Tackle the mold, of course. If you're looking for ideas on how to remove mold from carpet, look no further than this link right here. ‍ Why does my room smell? There are a lot of different reasons to ask "why does my room smell?" Here are a few different sources or indoor odors that you should investigate first: Pets Mold Dirty clothes Carpets Kitchen Bathroom ‍ How to get rid of home odors How are we going to get rid of these odors? Well, the answer isn't buying several different air fresheners and setting out a huge bowl of potpourri, although a little potpourri never hurts. Instead of deodorizing a room using air fresheners that release chemicals into the air and only mask odors, we want to remove odors at the source. You might ask, how do we do that? Look no further, we've got nine tips coming right at you to help remove indoor odors in your home. ‍ Clean your cleaning supplies Before you tackle those odors, make sure the supplies you use are free from odors themselves. ‍ If the same sponge you used in February is still sitting beside your sink, it's probably a good idea to find a replacement. Depending on usage, sponges should be replaced at a minimum of once a month to ensure that you're not cleaning your dishes with unwanted bacteria. To make sponges last longer, run them through the sanitize cycle in your dishwasher to temporary stop bacterial growth. ‍ Biodegradable sponges are also a more environmentally-friendly option! ‍ Towels can also smell pretty bad if they're left damp for too long. Make sure towels are laid out to dry after use, so mildew doesn't have a chance to grow. If your towels do smell like mildew, throw them in the washing machine with either one cup of white vinegar or one cup of baking soda, no detergent necessary. We recommend washing towels once a week to make sure they always smell fresh and never need to go through the vinegar or baking soda treatment. ‍ Lastly, keep regularly replacing the bag or emptying out the canister in your vacuum cleaner to keep it on the nice smell list. Rinsing it out with soap and water should also help remove some of the dirt that it has been collecting over time. Blockages from hair or fur should also be cleared out. If your vacuum has an air filter, make sure to follow the manufacturer's cleaning guidelines! ‍ Use an odor eliminator There are plenty of things you probably already have in your home that can naturally clear odors from the air. Some of the best odor eliminators are coffee grounds, tea, vinegar, oats, and baking soda. Leaving a bowl of any of these odor absorbers out in a room that's due for a little freshening up will help clear out the less-than-pleasant smells from the air. ‍ Baking soda is probably one of the most useful tools in eliminating odors from your home. Instead of masking odors like air fresheners and candles, baking soda absorbs and neutralizes them. It has a reputation for being one of the best carpet deodorizers. Sprinkling it across any carpeted areas and allowing it to sit there for a few hours will have your carpet smelling fresher in no time. ‍ Another place you should put baking soda? On your mattress! Your mattress is a trap for sweat, dirt, and dead skin. Definitely not the ideal things to sniff while trying to fall asleep. Just let it sit for several hours, then vacuum it up, and voila, you have many future better smelling nights of sleep ahead of you. Mattress covers are also great at keeping your mattress from collecting all of that nasty stuff. Especially if you have allergies, mattress covers can be a savior. ‍ Pet accidents? Baking soda's got your back there too. Here's how to eliminate urine odor from your carpet: First, place a layer of paper towels down on top of the wet spot. Then add a layer of newspaper to absorb as much of the urine as possible. Next, sprinkle about ¼ cup of baking soda evenly over the affected area, and let it sit out for awhile. Overnight or around 8 hours would work, but the longer it's left out, the more effective it will be. After the baking soda has had time to neutralize the odor, vacuum it all up. ‍ Baking soda and vacuuming is also effective in neutralizing odors from your pet’s bed. ‍ An alternative to this method would be to mix together one cup of vinegar, one cup of water, and two tablespoons of baking soda. If you have a spray bottle, use that to spritz the urine stain with this mixture. Bam! Odor removed. ‍ Maintain your pet’s hygiene We know you love your fur babies, but their odors? Not so much. It's important to maintain your pet's hygiene to keep them and your home smelling fresh. Bathing your pets once a month should be the minimum, but a more ideal timeline would involve scheduling a bath for every one or two weeks. Yes, if they cooperate, cats too (*shudder*). If you need help with this, consult our blog about reducing cat dander for some kitty bathing tips. Other grooming techniques include regular brushing and nail clipping. Especially if your pet spends time outdoors, their fur and nails can harbor dirt and other unpleasant things from the outside world that can contribute to home odors. ‍ Your cat's litter box can also be the source of a less than pleasant stench. Make sure that you're scooping it out at least once a day. About once a month, you should more thoroughly clean the litter box. Soap and water should do the trick as the scent of harsher chemicals can cause your kitty to avoid using the litter box altogether. Since litter boxes are often scratched, creating an ideal home for bacterial colonies, aim to replace them annually. ‍ Keep your cat’s litter box in a place in your home that is well-ventilated so that odors don’t intensify and can naturally dissipate. ‍ Last but not least, don't forget about your small animals! Your guinea pigs, hamsters, and gerbils need their cage cleaned out at least once a week to keep their living environment clean and odor-free. ‍ Wash laundry Do you have a hamper overflowing with sweaty clothes somewhere in your home? If you do, it's probably time to get a load of laundry going. That hamper is a breeding ground for bacteria and all the unpleasant smells that come along with it. ‍ Since there is a lot of moisture concentrated in laundry rooms, it is very easy for odors to become trapped in the room. To keep your washing machine smelling fresh and free from mildew and mold, keep the door open between uses. This is especially true for front-loading washing machines. When the door is closed, the humid and airtight environment is the ideal environment for mold growth. So, to clean out your washing machine, pour either one cup of white vinegar or one cup of bleach into it, and then run it for one full cycle. ‍ A lot of newer washing machines will do the work for you with a self-cleaning function, but the vinegar or bleach still help. Be sure to pick one or the other and never mix vinegar and bleach, this creates a toxic chlorine gas. Never mix vinegar with any chlorine product to avoid creating this toxic gas, or actually just never mix chlorine with anything. That's probably your best bet. ‍ We're also just going to go ahead and mention those shoes. You know the ones we're talking about, the shoes that you've worn every single day for the last 6 years and are practically glued to your feet at this point. We've all got 'em, and odors? They've all got 'em. ‍ Even though shoes bring in dirt, allergens, and yes, even C. Diff and E. Coli, only half of Americans will take their shoes off inside their homes, and less than 25% will ask their guests to take them off. Leaving your shoes at the door will for sure help leave odors at the door as well. ‍ A trip through the washing machine should be enough to have your shoes smelling fresh again, but first, a little baking soda might come in handy. Three tablespoons of baking soda in each shoe overnight should help to neutralize odors before washing them the next day. If your shoes are made from materials like leather or suede, or have embellishments, machine-washing them most likely isn't the best idea. We'd recommend spot cleaning these shoes with a damp cloth instead. Always use your best judgment, but we'd say most sneakers are typically safe to be thrown into the wash! ‍ Wash shoes inside of a pillowcase so that laces don't get tangled, and throw in a load of towels as well to muffle any loud noises. Only air-dry sneakers, however, as the heat from a dryer could cause damage. ‍ Try to limit wearing your shoes to every other day, and stuff newspaper inside to absorb any lingering moisture or odors. ‍ Ventilate Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate. Proper ventilation is vital in ensuring that odors don't intensify. Make sure that you're opening windows and using fans generously so that any odors don't remain stagnant in one place and can naturally dissipate. If it's pollen season or if you live in an area that has a lot of smog, windows should remain closed. Other than that, outdoor air quality is typically better than indoor air quality. That's why letting in outdoor air will improve both the air in your home and circulation. Special attention should be paid to the ventilation of the kitchen and the bathroom where odors have a tendency to accumulate. ‍ Keep flooring and surfaces clean Start off by dusting the surfaces in your home from the top down. For harder surfaces like shelves and cabinets, a damp cloth or duster works better to actually remove the dust instead of just moving it around to a different place. For walls and painted surfaces, a dry sponge will be more effective. ‍ Next, make sure that you vacuum your home thoroughly. Vacuum it again. And again and again. Keep vacuuming. Vacuum until you can vacuum no more. How do you deodorize carpet? You vacuum. This is because carpets are a magnet for pet hair, dander, mold, dirt, and dust, none of which smell particularly rosy. ‍ For hardwood floors, regular sweeping and mopping should be enough to keep them odor-free. If you do notice any particularly strong odors, mopping with one part vinegar and one part water should do the job. ‍ Clean your kitchen Kitchens are a major source of all the smells. Smells like bacon, freshly-baked cookies, oooh and homemade pizza...sorry got a little carried away there. Unfortunately, your kitchen doesn't always smell this good. Cooking smoke, spoiled food, an iffy-smelling dishwasher, and the garbage disposal could all be contributing to kitchen odors. So, how do you keep kitchen odors at bay? ‍ The first place you'll want to keep an eye on is the fridge. Often times, food can spoil without you even knowing it! Make sure that you're keeping tabs on expiration dates and throwing out food accordingly to avoid discovering last Thanksgiving's mashed potatoes in January. Your nose will thank you. If your fridge smells, but there's no rotten food in sight, keeping an open container of baking soda in your fridge will do wonders to absorb the odor. ‍ Leaving the exhaust fan on while cooking is a good way to keep the space well-ventilated and as odor-free as possible. Grease from cooking will typically spread to the stovetop, counters, floors, cupboards, lights, and other surfaces nearby. A good wipe-down with a natural cleaning solution should be enough to reduce grease buildup and resulting odors. Vinegar, like baking soda, is one of those products that just about cleans anything. ‍ If you notice a funky scent coming from your dishwasher, the culprit is probably the food that can get trapped in your dishwasher's filter, causing odors to occur over time. Cleaning out the filter regularly with hot water and soap is one way to prevent this from happening. Now for the odor? Place one cup of white vinegar on the top shelf of the dishwasher and run it once on the hottest setting. Then leave the dishwasher open to air dry and minimize the scent of vinegar afterward. Adding a drop of your favorite essential oil into the vinegar before sending it through the dishwasher can also keep your dishwasher smelling fresher. ‍ Now, on to the garbage disposal. Garbage disposal odors can be the result of food scraps that didn't grind properly and are starting to rot or even a buildup of bacteria. Don't worry, this is typical and pretty simple to get rid of. Just cut up a few lemon or orange slices and put them through the disposal. This also works with a cup full of baking soda and a cup full of vinegar as well. ‍ If you find that your trash can also doesn’t emit the most pleasant odor out there, baking soda will be your savior once again. Among other things, baking soda holds the title for best trash can deodorizer. Just sprinkle some in either the can itself, or the liner, and a fragrance improvement will be well on its way. Washing your trash can with water and vinegar is also an alternative method. ‍ Keep your bathroom clean Some hot spots to hit here are toilets, sinks, and showers. Where there's water residue, there's always a chance of mold. Keep your toilet clean by cleaning it at least once a week with toilet bowl cleaner. Pouring half a cup of bleach or vinegar into the toilet, then letting it sit for around 30 minutes before flushing is another way to keep your toilet odor-free. You can clean sinks and showers with bleach, or to keep things more natural, you can use a paste made from baking soda, lemon juice, and vinegar. ‍ Around once a month, pour a mixture of half a cup of vinegar and half a cup of baking soda down all drains. This will help to both neutralize odors and reduce clogging. ‍ So how do you keep your home odor-free? Basically clean. Shouldn't be too hard. That's what kids are for, right? ‍ Oh, wait. One more thing. ‍ Change your air filter Have you ever smelled an air filter before? AMAZING, better than lavender. Just kidding, we've actually never smelled an air filter before. Hold on one second. ‍ ok, after further research, air filters smell like... air? Do with that tidbit what you will. ‍ Anywho, regular air filter replacements are a necessity in keeping your home smelling nice and pretty. Your air filter traps all kinds of particles like dust, mold spores, and dander that would otherwise contribute to an unpleasant odor in your home. To keep your filter working as efficiently as possible, you should replace it at least every three months. If you think it's time for a replacement, we happen to deliver some super cool filters straight to your door. Well, there you have it, our guide to indoor odor busting. Now go grab that baking soda and a bottle of vinegar, no odor will stand a chance against you. Oh, and don't forget to sign up and get your first shipment free!

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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How Will Dirty Air Filters Impact My HVAC System?

These are things every homeowner should know. Dirty and clogged air filters reign havoc on your HVAC system. They will not only waste money on energy costs, but they will cause damage (sometimes irreparable damage!) to your HVAC system. Here are some ways a dirty or clogged air filter impacts your heating and cooling system: ‍ A dirty air filter is one of the most common reasons for HVAC system failure. A dirty filter restricts the air flow into your HVAC systems air handler. This restricted air flow places additional strain on the air handler fan motor and could, over time, burn out the motor and cause your system to overheat and ultimately fail. Filter replacement is a small price to pay to extend to life of one of the biggest financial investments in your home. A dirty air filter makes your fan motor work harder and consume more energy. One of the easiest and quickest ways to reduce your energy bill is to replace your air filter. A dirty air filter makes your heating and air-conditioning systems and your ducts get dirty faster. This can lead to costly HVAC cleaning expenses or a need to replace your HVAC unit or HVAC components sooner than you expected. If the heating and cooling coils are caked with dirt and particles that would normally be trapped by the air filter, the system will work harder and be more prone to freezing over or burning out. ‍ Your air filters are a vital part of your heating and cooling system. An HVAC repair STARTS at around $600 and an exhaustive repair (short of a replacement) can easily reach $7,000. A new system, if the damage is irreparable, starts at around $10,000. Air filters are a nominal cost when compared to the cost of repairing or replacing your home's heating and cooling system.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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How Do I Know What Air Filter To Buy?

Pleated filter? Fiberglass filter? Electrostatic filter? Which one is for me? Pop quiz. What is the best way to rid your indoor air of pollutants like mold, pollen, and bacteria? Napalm your entire home Walk around the house waving a disinfecting wipe through the air Vacuum the air with a shop vac Purchase the right air filter ‍ If you chose D, you are correct. If you chose any other option, then we need to have a separate conversation. ‍ An air filter plays a critical role in keeping the air in your home clean. In fact, it’s the most important item to your home’s air that you can purchase, and since your indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than the air outside (and no one likes breathing pollutants), you need a high-quality air filter. ‍ There are a lot of different varieties of air filters that you can purchase. Given that the average person ranks air filters right around different types of cement and how cardboard is made on the list of things that interest them, it’s not surprising that many don’t know what makes a quality air filter “quality.” ‍ Luckily, all you have to do is read this one article, and you’ll have the answer to that question. Then all you have to do is sign up for Second Nature once, and you’ll never have to think about some air filters ever again. ‍ What type of air filter should I get? Filters can only be made so many ways. For home filters, you have three options. You can buy a pleated filter, you can buy a fiberglass filter, or you can buy a washable reusable filter. Each type has its disadvantages, and two of them have their advantages, so let’s take a closer look at what those are. ‍ Pleated Pleated filters get their name from their filter media, which is the material inside the frame that is responsible for the actual filtering. A pleated filter’s media is folded like an accordion to maximize surface area. Previously made of cotton, the pleated filters of today are built with synthetic polymers that allow for effective filtering while minimizing the impact on airflow. ‍ The advantages of pleated filters include their high filtering efficiency. High MERV filters are almost always of the pleated variety. The pleated filters work to capture an extremely high percentage of large particles and a much higher number of small particles than competing filter types. ‍ Pleated filters are low effort and high functionality. The only thing you ever have to do is remember to change them out, and they’ll keep pulling gunk out of your air. ‍ Fiberglass Fiberglass air filters are the cheapest on the market, sometimes costing less than a single dollar. There is a reason they are so cheap, and it is because they are garbage. Yes, fiberglass filters are garbage. Fiberglass filters are the weakest option and are recommended by the National Air Filtration Association only as “prefiltering” devices because of how ineffective they are. Simply put, they are bad at their job. ‍ There’s a myth that fiberglass filters are better for your HVAC system because they allow for more airflow. While they do allow for that, advancements in HVAC and filter technology have made the difference immaterial. The extensive amount of pollutants they allow to flow through can actually make them more dangerous to your system than the pleated variety. ‍ The reason why fiberglass is often recommended is that people don’t remember to change their filter. As a pleated filter loads with pollutants, it can eventually decrease airflow to a critically low amount. Fiberglass doesn’t do this because of how woefully ineffective it is at actually catching particles. So as long as you’re regularly changing your filters, there is not a single advantage to the fiberglass option. ‍ Washable Electrostatic Washable electrostatic filters are metal-frame filters that are designed to be washed and reused instead of replaced. The price range for these is wide, with the most expensive ones entering the $90 range. ‍ The advantage with these filters is their longevity. While they do eventually wear out, they can be reused for multiple years before that happens. The disadvantage is that you do need to wash them routinely and let them dry completely before reinserting. This can eat into your busy schedule as they don’t dry instantly, and if your washable filter doesn’t fully dry, mold growth can be a real issue. ‍ Washable filters also do a poor job collecting large particles. Because static electricity is really the only filtering mechanism they use, they struggle to attract the larger particles that are more difficult to pull with a charge. Thus, washable filters tend to work in reverse of fiberglass as they let larger particles through and filter out smaller ones. ‍ What quality of filter should I get? After you know what type of filter is right for you, you need to know what rating is right for you. Filters can be rated on three separate scales. The scale used by us at Second Nature and the official folks at the National Air Filtration Association is the MERV scale, which stands for minimum efficiency reporting value. ‍ The MERV scale runs from 1-16. Second Nature offers filters rated at MERV 8, MERV 11, and MERV 13, which are our Essential, Essential+, and Health Shield, respectively. Anything below an 8 is something that probably shouldn’t be in your home. Anything above a 13 is not necessary except for maybe in an extreme case, which is why we offer the range we do. ‍ Other filter scales include FPR and MPR, which stand for Filter Performance Rating and Microparticle Performance Rating. FPR was a scale developed by The Home Depot for the brands that it sells. The scale ranges from 4-10 and includes a color code for each range. MPR was developed by 3M and, it ranges from 300 to 2800. The scale is based on the filter’s ability to capture particles under 1 micron in diameter and is only found on 3M Filtrete filters. Here we have provided a conversion chart with MERV vs. FPR vs. MPR so you can understand what you’re getting if you decide to purchase from somewhere that rates their filters with one of those less popular scales. Deciding on what MERV rating is right for your home is a decision that must be made based on a handful of personal factors. ‍ Are you an allergy sufferer? More than 50 million Americans have some type of allergy. Allergies are everywhere, and if you’re among the millions of Americans who suffer from them, your filter can help you keep those nasty allergens out of your home. ‍ The severity of your allergies will help determine just how critical filtration is for your home. If you have a significant allergy to something that is prominent in your area, you’re going to want to increase your indoor air quality with a Second Nature Health Shield filter (MERV 13) or equivalent level. More minor allergies or allergies to something that doesn’t exist in massive quantities around your home may allow for a drop down to a Essential+ filter (MERV 11). ‍ Do you own pets? Owning a dog or a cat introduces a whole new threat to your indoor air quality: dander. Dander is small flakes or bits of skin that fall off your furry friend when they shed, and some people are violently allergic to it. ‍ If you are among that group, a Health Shield air filter is a must. Pet dander is small, and a MERV 8 filter is likely not sufficient for you allergy sufferers out there, and that fiberglass nonsense certainly is not. Essential+ and Health Shield will both be effective versus pet dander. If you’re allergic, get the MERV 13 Health Shield. If you’re not allergic, but you own pets, the Essential+ will work well for you. ‍ Do you live in a polluted area? Air outside your home will become air inside your home. It is inevitable. No matter how much weatherstripping you install or how well-sealed your home is, there will be particles floating around outside that will get inside. This is particularly important to remember if you live in areas that see a lot of air pollution from things like smog. Those of you in California, as you certainly know already, can get hit pretty heavily with photochemical smog in the summer. The state is often also hit with smoke pollution during wildfire season, which also runs through the summer and fall. ‍ The particles that make up smoke are itty-bitty, smaller than a tenth of a micron. For perspective, you would need at least 3,000,000 of those particles lined end to end to equal one foot. If you frequently encounter smoke or smog around your home, a Health Shield (MERV 13) is recommended. ‍ Still not sure what filter to get? Take our short quiz! Do you have allergies to pollen, dust, mold, or dust mites? A. Yes, severe allergies (add 2) Yes, mild allergies (add 1) No (add 0) Do you own a dog or cat? Yes (add 1) No (add 0) Are you allergic to pet dander? Yes (add 1 if answer to #2 is A, 0 if B) No (Add 0) Do you live in a polluted area? Yes, very polluted (Add 2) Yes, slightly polluted and no smoke or smog pollution (Add 1) No (Add 0) Answers 0 = Essential pleated air filter (MERV 8) 1 = Essential+ pleated air filter (MERV 11) More than 1 = Health Shield pleated air filter (MERV 13) ‍ What size air filter should I get? As the saying goes, there are three things you can’t pick: your parents, your name, and your filter size. That’s a real saying that we did not just make up eight seconds ago. ‍ Simply, you need the filter size that fits in your air return. You can typically find that size on the side of the air filter that you already have in use. This size will be the nominal size, which means it is rounded from its actual size. This is the size you click on at secondnature.com. ‍ If you don’t have a reference point from an old filter, you’ll need to use a tape measure and measure your vent. These measurements will be the exact size, and you’ll need to add ¼” to both length and width to get the nominal size. ‍ If you have a filter that is four inches thick or thicker, you have a whole house filter. There is no rhyme or reason to how these filter sizes are rounded. Luckily, all you’ll need at secondnature.com is the actual size of the filter. ‍ Buying an air filter isn’t always easy, and knowing what air filter to buy is the hardest part. However, if you have read this far, you’re good. So congratulations! Here’s an air filter gold star. You can print it out and tape it to your shirt if you want. You’ll probably get a lot of strange looks, but that’s not your problem.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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The Indoor Air Quality Benefits of Plants

Did you know that certain plants actually help filter out toxins from your home? Your next breath of fresh air is no farther than your nearest house plant—depending on the kind of plant and how many you have. The science behind it is solid: we know plants clean the air. We also know Americans spend about 90 percent of their time indoors. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the air inside is often worse than the air outdoors. One reason? Modern, airtight construction that saves energy also allows indoor air pollution to build up. That means Americans spend a lot of time breathing potentially unhealthy air, even though there are ways to filter it. House plants are an underutilized way to make your indoor air healthy again. Here are some of the indoor air quality benefits of plants and how it works. Photosynthesis Let's go back to fourth-grade science class for a refresher on photosynthesis. It's the process by which plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Using sunshine, water, and the green pigment chlorophyll, the plants strip the carbon from the air to produce glucose, leaving oxygen as a waste product expelled back into the air. What plants consider waste is vital to us. Our atmosphere is about 21 percent oxygen. If it drops below 19.5 percent oxygen, we can't breathe. This is why America’s obsession with green lawns is actually environmentally friendly! Think of it as suburbia's version of the Amazon rainforest. We need plants all over the world to continually release oxygen for us to live. But oxygen production is not the only way plants clean up the air we breathe. They also remove poisons from the air, and scientists have spent decades studying this process. The Landmark Study When you think about scientific breakthroughs, you might think about the discovery of penicillin or the polio vaccine. Thirty years ago, scientists at NASA made another discovery. They found common plants cleaned up poisons such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene. These volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are common to indoor spaces and can cause anything from skin irritation to cancer. Common daily items that contain formaldehyde include: Insulation Particle board Paper bags Carpet backing Natural gas Benzene is found in: Gasoline Ink Paint Plastic Rubber You’ll find trichloroethylene in: Dry cleaning chemicals Printing ink Varnishes Lacquers Adhesives So basically, one or more of these chemicals are present in just about every indoor environment you encounter. That's a lot of VOCs that you're breathing in, unaware of dangers they may pose. At the time of the 1989 study, NASA was trying to mitigate these chemicals so they could one day seal astronauts in a space station without killing them. The study called plants a "promising, economical solution to indoor air pollution." (And for the record, there have been no deaths onboard the International Space Station, so they clearly figured it out.) ‍ Getting Into The Weeds The gerbera daisy is the pleated air filter of the plant world when it comes to cleaning trichloroethylene and benzene from the air. The plant removed most of both chemicals out of all the plant species tested in the original study. The NASA study lists how each of the plant species performed during research. The pot mum and peace lily ranked second and third on the list of plants that remove the most benzene. Marginata (aka dragon tree) and peace lily ranked similarly on the list of plants that best remove trichloroethylene. The top three formaldehyde removers, in order of how many micrograms each plant removed from the air, are: Bamboo palm, which cleaned about 76,700 mg of the chemical per plant Janet Craig Mother-in-law’s tongue, also known as the snake plant Newer Studies Twenty years after the first indoor plant study, the American Society For Horticultural Science (ASHA) published a follow-up study. Researchers tested 28 plant species for their ability to cleanse the air of dangerous chemicals such as benzene, toluene, octane, trichloroethylene, and terpene. The CDC says toluene, an ingredient in paints, nail polish, and gasoline, has adverse impacts on the brain and nervous system. Octane is an eye and respiratory irritant. This newer study also found that indoor ornamental plants remove these harmful chemicals. But there are a lot of variables. For example, are the plant and chemical in a sealed container or in an open room? Researchers behind the ASHS study concluded: "Plants also have the potential to significantly improve the quality of indoor air." ‍ Here are the top five chemical removing house plants, according to the ASHS study: Waffle plant English, or common, ivy Purple heart Asparagus, or foxtail, fern Wax plant More studies need to be done to figure out what combination and how many house plants you need to remove any given amount of indoor pollutants. If the past studies hold true, plants, in general, are an excellent idea. The year after the ASHS study was published, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NACR), found plants and trees absorb more air pollution than initially thought. About one third more, in fact. NCAR's outdoor study found that the denser the vegetation, the more volatile organic compounds are absorbed. There is some controversy around applying this study to the indoors. Still, it at least emphasizes the point that plants do indeed clean the air. The more plants there are to absorb the poisons, the more significant the effect. A Breath of Fresh Air The consensus right now is that you'll need a LOT of indoor plants to make a big difference in the quality of the indoor air you breathe. You could live or work in a greenhouse, and the plants still wouldn't replace modern ventilation or HVAC systems. But if you use indoor plants in conjunction with air cleaning technology, you'll get the most out of nature and innovation. A review published in Trends In Plant Science suggests house plants, combined with air filters and smart technology, clean the air. Consider creative ways to incorporate plants into your indoor space—such as a boxwood hedge wall, or a container garden of gerbera daisies. If you have the room, think about bringing in a banana plant to frame the room with its graceful, chemical-eating leaves. Or consider a vertical garden, where you can arrange English ivy and purple heart along with gerbera daisies from top to bottom. How Clean Is Your Air? There are still questions about how much indoor ornamental plants clean up the air. Some of the variables include the dimensions of your environment and how many chemicals are in the air. That can fluctuate, depending on how the space is used. You also need to take into account how close it is to industrial sites or heavy traffic, or even how many people in the room are wearing dry cleaned clothes. These are all things to consider if you're using plants to purify the air in your office or your home. Modern technology leads to more air pollution and less time to spend outdoors. With the right plants and the right air filters, you can take control over what you breathe. Think of it as breathing right. Most people try to eat right, minimizing the bad stuff and trying to eat more natural foods. So why wouldn't you watch what you breathe too? Those house plants in your window or your office space remove harmful toxins from the air. If you increase the number of plants you have, add plants that remove bad chemicals, and change your air filters regularly, then you and your family will breathe easier.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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What Type Of Air Filter Should I Order?

There's a lot of options out there, not all of them good. There's a bewildering range of different air filter types out there and it's easy to get confused. We have done the homework for you and simplified the process so you can make the right choice. ‍ First things first: Economy fiberglass filters compared to pleated filters. ‍ There really is no comparison to be made. Cheap fiberglass filters are usually sold in multi-packs for a few bucks and, in this case you definitely get what you pay for... very little quality. They are not efficient for two reasons. ‍ The relatively open weave of the fiberglass mesh does not filter out much dirt at all and the micro-particles and contaminates present in your home just get sucked through the filter and into your HVAC system. Over time, the inside components of your HVAC equipment and the air ducts get coated with crud and your system can't work at peak efficiency. This means higher energy bills and expensive sanitizing and repair bills. ‍ In short, this cheap type of filter doesn't filter very well at all and you won't find them here at Second Nature. If you are in the habit of buying them it's a habit you should break! ‍ Pleated filters are the only way to go. We only offer reliable, good quality pleated filters, which are made right here in the USA. They are up to 60% more efficient than fiberglass and have a denser, larger surface area (imagine the pleats ironed out flat) that ensures better filtration. But remember, these higher grade filters are more efficient at capturing the bad stuff and by doing a better job they get dirty quicker. That's good news … not bad news. They are both more efficient and faster at doing what they are supposed to do. ‍ Picking the grade of filter. Much of the information in the 'How often should I change my filter?' section also applies to the grade of filter you should choose. The number of people, pets, and any allergies will need to be considered. Also, the possible presence of smoke, smog, and microscopic contaminants that may carry odor usually call for a higher grade of filter to trap the smaller stuff. ‍ We have simplified your filter choice. Good, Better. Best. Our three grades of filter, Essential, Essential+ and Health Shield are simply categorized as 'Good', 'Better' and 'Best'. They each do a great job in different home environments. One of them is just right for you. ‍ Essential. Good. This filter easily takes care of the basics such as dust, pollen, pet dander and virus carriers whilst allowing a good airflow through the HVAC system. ‍ Essential+. Better. Our most popular filter also offers good airflow but better filtration than the Essential. In addition to the basics, it captures smaller particles, smoke and smog. If anyone smokes tobacco in the home or the kitchen is a busy cooking area (are your smoke detectors always sounding off?), Essential+ is the right filter for you. ‍ Health Shield. Best. This is the most powerful and efficient filter in our line-up. The Health Shield traps all the contaminates the other two filters do, but also snags lead dust, oil smoke, and most importantly, microscopic allergens … some of which are 20 times smaller than a grain of salt! If anyone in the home suffers from allergies or serious respiratory problems such as asthma, this filter is a 'must.' ‍ The denser filter media and more efficient filtration mean slightly less airflow than the other two grades and it will need to be changed more frequently. In return, you will be rewarded with the reassurance of sustained, super-fresh indoor air quality similar to hospital standards. If you want the best, definitely go Health Shield.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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How To Recognize Indoor Air Pollutants

Indoor air pollution can actually be much worse than outdoor air pollution. While the majority of Americans recognize the dangers of outdoor pollution sources such as vehicle emissions, most people are unaware of the risks posed by indoor pollution. According to the American Lung Association, half of Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution... because Americans spend 90% of their time indoors --and up to 65% of that time at home-- it’s important to safeguard indoor air. ‍ 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 quality problems stem from three main categories: ‍ Sources of Pollution The most common pollution sources are particles or gases that are released into the air. Other pollution sources include dust particles from old furniture, mold, and toxic products used for household cleaning. Because most of these particles and gases are invisible, homeowners are usually unaware of an indoor air quality problem within their home. Individuals can hire professionals or buy a home air quality test kit in order to find out if they have any problems with their indoor air quality. Homeowners should also have a professional test their home for radon gas, since the colorless, odorless gas is the #2 cause of lung cancer in the United States. If there is an indoor air quality problem, remove the pollution sources. The Environmental Protection Agency states, “The most effective way to improve indoor air is to eliminate individual sources or reduce their emissions.” Removing pollution sources may range from banning indoor smoking to cleaning up mold to getting rid of toxic cleaning products. ‍ Inadequate Ventilation According to the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, improper ventilation is another leading cause of indoor air quality problems. If outdoor air is not coming in to freshen old air and lower indoor pollutant levels, indoor air will quickly become filled with unhealthy pollutants. The American Lung Association suggests, “Make sure the ventilation system is working correctly and that air flow is not blocked.” The EPA adds the following steps: “When weather permits, open windows and doors, or run an air conditioner with the vent control open. Bathroom and kitchen fans that exhaust to the outdoors also increase ventilation and help remove pollutants.” They also recommend changing air filters regularly to remove dust and other pollutants from the air. ‍ High Humidity Levels High humidity is also a common cause of indoor air quality problems. High humidity makes the air moist, which increases the risk of mold. As a result, indoor humidity should be kept between 30-50%. Use a humidity gauge to make sure indoor air is at a healthy level. Decrease humidity by opening windows or turning on the air conditioner. ‍ The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission wrote, “Indoor air pollution is one risk you can do something about.” Take proactive steps to remove pollution sources and maintain ventilation and humidity levels in order to protect the quality of indoor air.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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The Truth About Pleated Air Filter Pressure Drop

What is pressure drop? How does it work? What is static pressure? In the world of HVAC, static pressure is defined as the resistance to airflow in your HVAC system created by the components of said systems. Generally, lower static pressure is better. High static pressure results in lower airflow, which allows your HVAC system to condition less air at a time. This forces it to work longer (not harder), which if left unchecked can result in higher power bills and potentially shortened lifespan. When selecting a filter, static pressure is an important factor, but it is far from the only factor to consider. ‍ What is a pressure drop? Pressure drop is defined as the change in pressure from one defined area to another. In HVAC, this is referring to the change in static pressure as air moves through your air filters. Put simpler, it's how much your air filter restricts airflow. The most common cause of a pressure drop that exceeds acceptable levels is your air filters being left unchanged for far too long. Many still believe that an air filter with a high MERV rating can instantly create a pressure drop that is above acceptable levels, but this is actually false. ‍ Pressure drop myths The most common myth around pressure drop is that pleated air filters have too high of a pressure drop. We’ve already discussed the airflow myths around pleated air filters, but we’ll expound a little more with regards to pressure drop specifically. ‍ The pressure drop of a fiberglass filter is about 0.1 inches of water. (inches of water is a measure of pressure differential. The name sounds counterintuitive when talking about air, but you can read more about it here if you want). These super cheap filters are the thin, flat, and usually green or blue ones that are typically less than a dollar. They are often erroneously recommended by technicians because of their extremely low pressure drop. Here’s what you’re not being told. ‍ The pressure drop of a MERV 8 pleated air filter is around 0.12 inches of water, which is almost exactly the same as the 0.10 of the fiberglass. A MERV 13 pleated air filter, the highest quality offering from Second Nature and most other filter companies, has a pressure drop of around 0.25. That’s definitely more, but if you recall from our study referenced in this article, even with that pressure drop, the likelihood of it reducing the lifespan of your HVAC unit is slim to none. ‍ You might be wondering how that is possible. It has to do with the construction of the filter. There is a relationship between the surface area of the filter and the pressure drop, which is the reason for the pleats. By folding the filter media accordion-style, the surface area increases dramatically while the filter frame remains the same size, allowing for greater airflow without having to increase the size of the actual filter. The filtering efficiency itself is also increased by changes in thread materials to materials with better electrostatic properties, which physically attract particles with static electricity. The result is a lower pressure drop with higher filtration efficiency. This is what makes pleated filters the best on the market. They're able to achieve high levels of filtration without high pressure drops, also known as too much airflow restriction. Remembering to change your filter is key to minimizing risk from pressure drop There is not really much risk with a brand new filter anymore because of the technological advancement of the pleated air filter. Problems that your system will experience from high pressure drop are usually a result of a filter left unchanged for far too long. It’s commonly understood that an air filter will actually become more effective as it fills with particles. This is true. So why not just leave it in the return forever? Because the buildup results in an increased pressure drop. If left unchanged for too long, your filter could fill to the point where airflow is zero, meaning your system is running, but accomplishing absolutely nothing. This is not good. ‍ Making sure you're using a good filter is important. Making sure you're changing it on time is equally important in order to avoid increased power bills and excessive wear on the components of your air conditioning system. According to the Department of Energy, changing your filter on time can save you 5-15% on your heating and cooling bills. Our goal as a company is to make sure people remember to change their filter, which is why we offer an air filter subscription with a completely customizable schedule.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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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.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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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.

Calendar icon February 6, 2023

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