Since Miss E’s impending arrival last winter, my husband and I have become semi-obsessed with making our home warm and dry. Growing up in the Waitakeres in the 1980s/1990s, it was normal to wake up in the morning with condensation covering the windows so I didn’t know that it was something that could or should be fixed.
Permanent allergy symptoms
It wasn’t until I was having constant hayfever-like symptoms of a running nose and itchy watery eyes over the past few years (regardless of the season) that I started trying to do process of elimination to figure out what was causing my health problems.
I aired out the mattress and pillows, buying new good quality sheets and washing everything in hot water to rule out dust mites. Ditto for thoroughly vacuuming the house and wiping down every surface. We bought a new vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and banished the pets from our bedroom to rule out cat and dog allergies. I even swapped out our beautiful duck feather duvet for a squeaky polyester one just in case I had a feather allergy (extremely rare). I cut dairy products out of my diet (said to antagonise allergies), and avoided going outdoors in windy conditions to sidestep airborne pollen. Nothing worked and I just faced the fact that I had some oddly worsening form of adult onset hayfever.
The culprit: Mould
We’d had a lot of homestays recently as a favour to my husband’s sports team and everyone had closed the windows and doors to their rooms for privacy and warmth. Not so great for airing things out though, and it wasn’t until I went to do a spring clean of all the rooms in our house after they all moved out that I noticed mould growing on the wallpaper in every room.
I made a teatree oil and water solution to wipe down all the walls, and the husband installed a ventilation system which stopped the condensation and killed off the mould that had grown. Needless to say we completely stripped back the baby’s room before she came along, insulating the exterior walls, putting up brand new plasterboard and washing then repainting everything else so that every inch of her room was devoid of all traces of the mould.
After doing all of this, my allergy symptoms disappeared.
Now that the colder months are approaching, we’re revisiting our situation to make sure everything we put in place last winter to keep our house warm and dry is still working. Here are some tips to help you give your home a health makeover.
Bathroom steam and laundry
I still remember as a child getting out of the nice warm bath or shower every day only to be freezing thanks to the permanently open bathroom window. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but this was old school ventilation to prevent mould growing, and not just a cold inconvenience. Often in modern houses we don’t know how to use the bathroom fans properly and we have a tendency to keep the windows and doors shut when we’re done for warmth or privacy. This traps the remaining moisture which can cause mould spores to grow if left on the walls and bathroom surfaces as it keeps them damp.
If you have an extractor fan in your bathroom, make sure you use it while you are in the bath or shower and run it until the steam clears after you get out. If you have no ventilation system in your house, opening up the windows will help dry the room out (though it may make it cold, especially in the winter!). Products like a Showerdome or a floor to ceiling shower cubicle can help prevent the steam from escaping when bathing.
Remember that if you open the bathroom door during or after bathing, steam can flow out into the rest of your house and deposit water vapour into other rooms, so it may pay to keep it closed until the steam has cleared from it.
Also, when it comes to laundry if you let your wet clothes dry indoors or have a drier that doesn’t have an outdoor air vent, this will be contributing more dampness into your home. When possible, dry your clothes outside or in a room with a dehumidifier, and have a vent hose that runs outside for clothes driers.
Around 60% humidity inside your house is ideal, so if you have the ability to check it this is what you should be aiming for.
When you cook or use the kettle, steam evaporates water into the air which can flow into the rest of your house, the same as bathroom steam. Ensure you have an extractor fan installed in your kitchen, that you use it when cooking, and that you clean the filter on it regularly to keep it working properly.
Some kitchen rangehoods can cause drafts so if you notice cold air coming through it into your house, it may pay to install a backdraft damper.
We have a 1960’s brick and tile home with mostly wooden window frames; this makes them a little drafty at the best of times which can cause a drop of a couple of degrees in room temperature. This doesn’t sound like much, but it can be the difference between your bedroom being a healthy and comfortable sleeping temperature, or one that will cause you to get sick or sleep poorly.
Check the seals around the edges of all your doors and windows to ensure they aren’t letting drafts through. For older houses you can get rubber tape with an adhesive backing to it which you can use to stick around the edges of your doors and windows.
If there are drafts coming under your doors, invest in door ‘snakes’/draft stoppers (often made like a long skinny bean bag or wheat bag) to plug up the air flow into the house.
The husband really pushed this to me and to be honest I didn’t see the value in it until we had one. Now I would highly recommend them. We went from having condensation-covered windows every morning to having them clear of any moisture the morning after installing a ventilation system.
Natural ventilation (i.e. opening windows) is the old school method of keeping your home aired out, but it is no longer the best form of ventilation, especially when homes are sealed for warmth against drafts. Ventilation systems help provide a way to exchange indoor air with outdoor air with the aim of keeping the air inside your home fresh and dry while retaining warmth or keeping an even temperature.
There are a range of different types of ventilation systems depending on how drafty your house is, whether you need to retain heat, and how old your house is. If you choose to install a ventilation system, make sure you research each of them to figure out which type would best suit your home and budget.
Efficient heating in the cold months
Heating your home can add a lot to your power bill, but making sure your house is warm enough can help prevent your family getting ill on a regular basis. The World Health Organisation and New Zealand’s Ministry of Health recommend that rooms should be a minimum of 18˚C during the day, or a minimum of 20˚C for more vulnerable groups like the elderly, children, and people who are ill. At night time, bedrooms should be a minimum of 16˚C.
Ensuring your home is adequately insulated (there are some grants and subsidies available for this) and/or installing a heat pump could make a lot of difference. If you have a home fireplace, a heat transfer kit can be installed to help distribute the warmth throughout your home, which is something we’ve opted to do.
Portable and wall-mounted heaters have come a long way, and there are now more economic flat panel heaters available which can help heat rooms without inflating your power bill. Fan heaters will typically be the most expensive to run but will heat a room quickly. There are many kinds to choose from now, so make sure you do a bit of research to find the best option for your household.
Image / FreeDigitalPhotos.net – fantasista