Tips for keeping your home healthy this winter
The winter months can be tough on our immune systems. With COVID-19 and cold and flu season in full swing, it makes a lot of sense to hunker down indoors. But did you know your home could 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.
Home sweet home
Our homes are our sanctuaries – our safe havens away from the germs and masked masses while out running essential errands. 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.
Did you know that even before COVID-19, people spent on average 90% of their time indoors during the winter months? We naturally think of traffic-clogged cities when imagining air pollution but few people know that the air quality in your home can be up to 10 times worse than outside.
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. Let the air in by cracking 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 mould 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 plants. It’s true, plants can help keep the air you breathe filtered – and colds at bay. Plus, they boost our mood, too. Check out this post to decide which plant
10. Check the thermostat. A good temperature range is between 18 and 21 degrees. Not too hot, not too cold.
How to figure out the indoor air quality in your home
There’s nothing more refreshing than fresh air, but what if you’re not sure is the air quality in your home is up to snuff? Below are a few signs to look out for that can be a direct result of poor ventilation, airflow or pollutants.
1. Pay attention to your allergies. If your allergies are acting up, it could be due to poor indoor air quality. To minimize allergic reactions from lack of air ventilation you should:
• Make sure your home has proper ventilation
• Keep your HVAC filters clean and clean them often
• Purchase an air purifier and put it in the room you use most frequently
2. Make note of new health symptoms. If new health symptoms arise, make sure to keep a record. When symptoms flare up, note where, when and what was going on. Things like air fresheners, incense, plug-ins in a poorly ventilated home can increase coughs and degrade air quality.
3. Take notice to your surrounding environment. If the jackhammers and banging is coming from right outside your window or door, it’s important to take note. Dust particles and debris from the construction site can be making its way into your home. Tip: outdoor air is less polluted before 10 am or after 9 pm. This is the perfect time to open your windows!
4. Look for inconsistencies in air distribution. Warm and cold spots in your home is not a good sign. This means that there’s likely an issue with your HVAC’s air distribution which can lead to poor air quality. Make sure to resolve the issue with your HVAC system right away to restore healthy movement of air through your home.
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
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 and stay indoors
• Get plenty of light – vitamin D may be one of your best defences against viruses
• Shaking hands with people is a big no-no
• Wear 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 (going outside for a walk is all the rage these days)
• Get a flu shot (and soon, a COVID-19 vaccination)
• Get plenty of sleep
• Wear. A. Mask.
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.