What Lurks in your Basement Finds a Home in your Lungs

by Cody Farmer

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Dust Mites. Mold spores. Bacterial organisms. Tiny creatures live in our air on a continual basis – indoor and outdoor. We’ve managed to live with them for thousands of years without ever noticing, all the while dealing with illnesses that our doctors and scientists couldn’t figure out. Over the last several decades scientists have been putting two and two together to make four as they’ve discovered that many human ailments are no longer a mystery. Itchy/watery eyes, various breathing problems, skin irritations and more now have a culprit – micro-organisms in our indoor air!

 

A recent study published by a NC research team in the journal PeerJ cataloged about a hundred different species of arthropods in each of the 50 homes in the study. Some of these (such as flies and ants) are visible with the naked eye but many are microscopic. In addition, a similar study found that there were typically 26 groups of various fungi and bacteria found in the average home. We also need to consider any chemicals or paints that we store in our basement or crawlspace. The effects of these organisms and chemicals range from annoying to health-threatening and researchers tell us that housecleaning does little to clear up these problems. Let’s take a look at a few of the worst offenders.

  1. Dust Mites: Dust mites are actually tiny relatives of spiders. Lined up end to end, five dust mites would fit between two millimeter marks on a ruler. While we can’t see them with the naked eye, dust mites under the microscope look like tiny see-through jellybeans with legs. Their food source? – The steady supply of dead skin we all slough every day. Ew, gross, I know. While dust mites, themselves, appear to be harmless to humans, once they eat our skin and digest it, the feces they produce have been found to contain an allergen that affects 10% of Americans, playing a big part in 90% of all allergic asthmatic cases. In other words if you find yourself with mysterious allergy symptoms similar to hay fever, you might have an allergy to dust mite poop. If you already know you have allergy-related asthma, you’re almost definitely allergic to dust mite poop.
  2. Fungi (Mold): You probably are already aware that mold in homes can be a real problem. About 10% of Americans are allergic to mold, though mold in the lungs is never a good thing – even for those of us who don’t have an overactive immune response to it. Indoor air quality issues are common in both finished and unfinished basements. Standard gypsum wallboard can act as a sponge by absorbing moisture and can retain mold, which can keep growing, releasing spores over time. Improperly vented dryers can cause unwanted moisture to develop, leading to mold growth. All of these possible sources make it difficult to rid your house of that mold, as it often goes undetected for years! Allergies to mold can present as asthma, cough, watery eyes, and postnasal drip, but can also lead to memory loss, insomnia, confusion, anxiety, and depression, if left untreated!

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  3. Bacteria: While there are 4 typical strains of bacteria in the average home, only one is truly problematic in normally healthy individuals: Staphylococcus. You don’t want a staph infection – none of us do. Luckily our immune systems can normally kill off staph, but if we have recently already battled an illness, our immune system often becomes exhausted to the point of allowing these kinds of infections to fester.
  4. Household chemicals: Let’s just admit it – most of us have purchased cleaners, paints, pesticides, herbicides, and various other man-made products in order to clean and decorate our homes and gardens. We’re often a thrifty people – loathe to the thought of throwing any of it out for fear of needing to use it again in the near future. So we store it like good stewards should, but it’s that storage of these items that may come back to bite us later. There are so many known irritants and toxins contained in these types of products that they can affect respiratory health, skin health, brain health, and digestive health.

These problems are compounded by the fact that all of these basement and garage contaminants frequently make their way into your living spaces because of poor ventilation and leaky walls. As you use your bathroom, kitchen, or attic exhaust fans, the air pressure becomes unbalanced, requiring your home to take in new air somehow. This means air flows into your basement or garage and leaks in your walls and rises to the living areas. Now you’re breathing and wearing all of those dust mites, mold, bacteria, and toxic chemicals.

BUT….there is good news – you are not at the mercy of these air contaminants completely. Cleaning your home on a regular basis helps a little and even air purifiers help a little, but as long as your home’s ventilation is imbalanced, your air will be in a constant state of filth and toxins. The BEST option is to install a Zehnder HRV or ERV unit in your home. This is the best option because this type of purposeful ventilation avoids creating negative pressure because it supplies and exhausts equal quantities of air. Equal quantities of air = balanced air = no more pollutants being sucked through your basement or garage into the living spaces.

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Zehnder heat recovery ventilators filter the air coming in from outside, removing many airborne pollutants. These systems provide a constant stream of fresh air while removing stale air, boosting indoor air quality throughout the home.

CONTACT US for more information on how you can purchase and install your HRV or ERV unit and breath easy!