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Tips for a healthy winter home

The winter months can be tough on our immune systems, what with frigid temperatures and cold and flu season in full effect. While it may seem to make sense to hunker down indoors, did you know your home may be the source of the problem? Read on for great tips to keep your entire home healthy this winter so you have the best chance at staying well all season long. 

There’s no place like home

House plants near a wooden bench

Image Source: Elle Decor 

Our homes are our sanctuaries – our safe havens away from the germs and droves of people we’re in contact with every day. And as the weather outside becomes frightful, our tendency is to hibernate indoors by sealing up windows, cranking the heat and keeping the cold air out. But what we may not realize is that we’re also trapping all sorts of things inside, like dust mites, dander and mold – and that can mean an increased risk of allergies and sickness. 

According to an ABC News report, there may be two to five times more air pollution inside our homes than outside. The thing is, these in-home pollutants are actually always there – the winter simply magnifies them. Elle Décor says that when our windows are closed for months at a time, and with the heat recycling the same air over and over, allergens never leave the home. In fact, they thrive. And according to WebMD, one of the reasons we’re more susceptible to cold and flu in the first place is that the cold, dry air outside pulls moisture from your nose and mouth, which is needed to fight off bacteria and viruses. So, what can we do to set up our best defense and get through it all with our health intact? Follow these tips provided by the Government of Canada:

1. Crack the windows. At least two times a day (try once in the morning and once at night), open windows for 5-10 minutes. This should let just enough fresh air in without affecting the indoor temperature. 

2. Improve ventilation. There are a few things you can do to help keep clean air moving in your home:

• Leave interior doors open

• Use bathroom and kitchen fans

• Keep baseboards or heating vents clear of furniture

• Keep bedding and furniture away from outside walls to allow enough air and heat flow around furnishings

• Replace or clean the filter of the heating system per the manufacturer's instructions

3. Use a humidifier. This one is a bit tricky since dust mites, mold and other organisms grow better in high humidity. So, keep your humidifier at about 50% to add moisture back into your home. 

4. Keep your home clean. These are things we should do all year round, but especially in the winter:

• Vacuuming is key if you have wall-to-wall carpeting in your home or apartment (dust mites love it in there). Clean floors with a damp mop or cloth.

• Washing your sheets in hot water once a week also helps remove contaminants. Use a mattress and pillow protector and vacuum mattresses.

• Clean the lint tray every time you use the dryer and check for lint build-up on the outside vent.

• Bathe your pet to cut down on dander.

5. Fix leaks. This will help prevent mold from growing, which tends to thrive if water from a leak isn’t dried within 24-48 hours. 

• Check hoses and connections for leaks and repair as needed.

• Repair or replace cracked or damaged tile, grout and caulking around tubs, sinks and showers.

6. Wait until spring. No matter how badly you want to paint your bedroom or take on that renovation, waiting until the windows can be wide open will keep risky compounds like formaldehyde and acetone from hanging out in your home. 

7. Cut out smoking indoors. Need we say more?

8. Know the causes of poor indoor air quality and do what you can to eliminate them.

9. Surround your home with air-cleaning plantsIt’s true, plants can help keep the air you breathe filtered – and colds at bay. Plus, they boost our mood, too.

10. Check the thermostat. A good temperature range is between 18 and 21 degrees. Not too hot, not too cold. 

The effects of a not-so-healthy winter home A mug on a coffee table next to tissues

Image Source: Elle Decor 

Sure, there’s the dry skin and hair, chapped lips and hands – but have you ever heard of “sick building syndrome”, or SBS? A report from the National Post uses this term for spending a lot of time inside a space that is tightly sealed with little ventilation. So, what exactly, does SBS mean for your health? Well, for starters breathing in organic compounds, mold spores, dust, smoke, radon, viruses and bacteria for an extended period of time can make you feel sick, tired and drowsy, cause headaches, dizziness and nausea, and irritate your eyes, nose and throat. It can also lead to fever, coughing, muscle aches and tightness in your chest. Fun!

All the more reason to follow the tips above to make sure your home is as clear of air pollutants as possible. As we mentioned earlier, opening the windows for short spurts every day can help bring fresh air in – and Canadian handyman extraordinaire Mike Holmes also suggests running the exhaust fan in the bathroom or kitchen at the same time to help pull stale, old air out. 

Healthy indoors and out 

Boy sticking his mouth under the sink faucet to take a drink

Let’s not forget we’re in the throes of cold and flu season and getting through it without falling victim is a little like winning the lottery. So, while we’re doing our best to combat the drying effects of our poor indoor air quality, we should also be giving some serious thought to how we can stay healthy “out there”.

Your immune system does take a beating during these months, especially in sub-zero temperatures when your body is working overtime to divert energy toward keeping you warm. But no matter how cold or wet you are, you still can only catch a cold or virus by coming into contact with it. Here’s how to put forth your best defense:

Wash your hands – a lot – and use hand sanitizer

• Cover your mouth when coughing and sneeze into your sleeve

• Get plenty of light 

• Bump fists instead of shaking hands

• Where winter gloves when opening doors 

• Stay hydrated – try room temperature water if the thought of cold water gives you the chills

• Exercise, despite the cold

• Get a flu shot

• Get plenty of sleep

Staying one step ahead of old man winter may sound near impossible, but with a few small tweaks to your daily routine, you can hibernate and stay healthy all season long.