Breathe Easy – What’s in Your Ducts?


Have you ever considered what could be lurking in the unseen areas of your home? More specifically, have you given thought to what could be accumulating and circulating through your air ducts? I did, more recently, as I continued in my efforts to clean up the air in our home.

I made an inquiry amongst a group of my friends, about who they would recommend we contact about having our air ducts cleaned. The company whose name kept resurfacing was Rivertown Heating & Cooling. I devised a list of questions before calling, as I wanted to be fully informed as to what to expect. Jackie from Rivertown, was more than happy to assist me when I did get a chance to call. Below are the questions I asked, followed by her answers.

1. How is it done? They connect to the main supply with a large vacuum. They use a specially designed tool to loosen “stuff” in the vents, and blow the “stuff” into the main vent for it to be suctioned out.

2. Must the resident be gone during the service? It is up to the homeowner.

3. How long does it usually take? On average 1 1/2 hours; however it depends on the sq. footage of the home, if there are pets in the home, and a few other varying factors.

4. What are common issues w/clogged ducts? The main issue is lots of dust present. Dust will accumulate on, and in, everything in the home. It will in-turn re-circulate through the air vents. Dust accumulation will irritate the senses, make housework more tedious, and leave an overall congested feeling in the air.

5. How long does it typically take for ducts to become clogged? On average, every 3 years or so. Factors that shorten the time are a lot of people living in the home, dogs/pets, smoking, and remodeling. The greatest sign that yours are needing attention, is a constant need to dust.

6. Will a difference be noticed immediately? Yes, you should notice an immediate decrease in your need to dust, and experience relief if experiencing irritation of the senses.

7. What is the cost for an average home? On average the cost is between $150-$250. It can vary a lot based on the vent count. They always give an accurate quote beforehand, ensuring no hidden costs.

On the day our ducts were scheduled to be cleaned, two gentleman from the company arrived promptly around 10am, following a call to confirm they were close by. I showed them around our house, pointing out the location of our vents, then leading them down to our main supply room. After looking everything over they showed me a situation that prevented them from reaching one area of our vents, that was a result of how our basement was finished, and asked if I still wanted them to proceed. I decided to go forward with it, simply because it was the plan, and I knew they were going to help, even if it wasn’t to the fullest of their capabilities. They proceeded to tell me that our ducts were not bad at all, for being 7 years old; and that we had a total of 13 supply vents, and 6 return, resulting in a total cost of $254.95.

All-in-all, I was very pleased with the service provided to us by Rivertown Heating & Cooling and just as my friends referred them to me, I feel confident referring them to you. If you are thinking air duct cleaning would benefit your household, know that Spring and Fall are their busiest times of the year; but they will do their very best to get you on the schedule as soon as they can, and you can be assured they will provide you with great service, at a very competitive cost.

This is the last post in my series titled “Breathe Easy”. I hope that through my efforts you gained some ideas of how you can help create a better breathing environment in your home! If you have anything else to add, I would love your feedback, and any ideas you have to offer!

Now, take a deep breath, I am 🙂

*I was provided service free of charge in exchange for this review. The thoughts are my own and in no way swayed by this.

Breathe Easy – What’s Hidden Below Your Feet?

Lost My Balance

When I walk into a freshly carpeted room, I often get a cozy feeling. Most varieties of carpet make the floor cushy and comfortable, while also helping control noise levels, preventing echoing within walls.

What I don’t normally consider, is what lies underneath the cushy surface. The hidden dust, dander, and dirt; all hidden air pollutants that decrease the quality of air in homes. In the case of older homes with older carpet, often times there is hidden mold, mildew and bacteria, embedded deep below the surface.

Still, new carpet doesn’t mean your out of the clear either. Most carpets are made from synthetic fibers, whose manufacturing processes contain many harmful chemicals that are continuously released into the air. Carpet padding, and the adhesive glue used to lay carpets can also release irritating, potentially harmful chemicals.

Our home is seven years old, and we recently finished an addition onto our main level. In deciding what flooring to go with, all of what I’ve shared, was taken into consideration. We already had carpet in our living room, that was desperately in need of being replaced, and the laminate in our kitchen, dining, and hallway had been discontinued and was no longer available to order. So we needed to decide between new laminate throughout the entire main living area, or new carpet in the new room, and living room.

The Decision

It wasn’t exactly an easy decision. Laminate is not much better when it comes to how it is manufactured and the chemicals involved; that of which can also lead to potentially harmful off gassing. In my efforts to help keep the air we breathe inside our home clean, and help us breathe a little easier, choosing the best flooring option was my next step in promoting cleaner air in our home.

We ended up deciding to go with laminate. I did quite a bit of research, and based on what I found and our budget, we decided to go with a product made by Harmonics (Golden Aspen). It is a product designed specifically for Costco stores.

I liked that it was made in the USA, and that environmental friendliness was considered by the company, being it is a CARB compliant flooring that is also made of 74% pre-consumer recycled material. Sure there were healthier, “greener”, options available; but we did the best with the budget we were working with, and figured (hoped) a lot of the off gassing had already occurred between shipping, storage, and sale. We didn’t experience any noticeable health changes, and made sure to keep windows open for a time everyday, to allow for good ventilation.

When Carpet is Wanted

Now there is one area where I am not fond of hard floors; that area being the basement. We will never consider a hard flooring for our basement, as we like the feel the carpet adds to the area. It makes it feel cozy and warm. Whereas I can imagine hard floor on concrete making it feel just the opposite.

To promote healthy air in our carpeted areas :

  • I stress the importance of removing shoes at our front door
  • I vacuum with a certified asthma and allergy friendly Dyson, called “The Animal.” (It really is all it’s cracked up to be in terms of its suction abilities.)
  • I also open our windows when weather permits.

Still, I know there are hidden messes lying beneath the surface. And for that reason we do plan to replace it within the next couple of years, and will look for a more environmentally friendly option than what we have, when that time comes.

Included are a couple of pictures I took of our stairs after we took the carpeting up (we plan to put wood down, as our budget allows). I was AMAZED at the amount of dirt and sand that was beneath the pad. The living room area was not nearly as dirty underneath, as our stairs were. Definitely something to consider if your stairs are a high-traffic area like ours are!

What steps have you taken to promote a cleaner air quality in your home?

Breathe Easy – Plants that Purify the Air

Let’s face it, there are a gazillion things that happen on a daily basis, that are out of our control. Sometimes that particular truth is one I have a hard time swallowing. Lately though, I have sought to focus my energy on things I can readily control. While I might not be able to control the air I breathe when I walk out of my house, there are ways in which I can help the air I breathe inside my home, help me breathe a little easier. I’ve taken a few steps to promote cleaner air in my home, and for the next few articles I am going to share them with you.

My first step was to rid my home of artificial, dust collecting plants, and replace the open space with air purifying REAL houseplants. Now, to some of you that might seem like an easy thing to do; but for me, I must admit, it was a daunting idea as I have never succeeded with maintaining plants. I was up for the challenge though, so off to our local Flowerland I went.

When I walked into the store the indoor plants stared me in the face. As I got closer I realized it was going to be harder for me than I had thought, as I was having a hard time simply trying to pronounce many of the plant names. It wasn’t long after I arrived that I asked for some assistance. I explained where the plants would be going, as well as my history caring for plants, and I was pointed in the direction of a few varieties. Not only was the ability to clean air, and be in a low lit area of concern, but cost was on my mind too. All that considered, I went with two varieties of plants I found to be most attractive, Pothos and English Ivy. The Pothos were $12.99/container, and the English Ivy were $9.99/container.

Here is a great reference I found that lists several plant types, and their abilities to purify the air; you’ll notice both Pothos and English Ivy are listed, but there are many others that would be great choices as well!

With them only needing to be watered twice weekly, I have hope! So far, so good! And you have to admit, they do brighten up the area!

BEFORE

 

AFTER

Do you have plants in your home?

Cake Pops Can Be Healthy(er)

cake pops

It’s not a common pairing of words, healthy confections, considering confections are by definition foods that have very little nutritional value, yet have a high calorie count. However, given the age we are living in, when it comes to confections we have a choice; do we just get whatever will do the job paying little attention to the ingredients list? Or do we pay the mind to what ingredients are in even our treats? Well, I choose to pay attention, reading labels of most everything I buy, even treats. So when my daughters asked that I make them cake pops for their birthday “cake”, I sought to make them as healthy as I could with what I could find at our local grocery store.

To make cake pops, is far more tedious than simply baking a cake. However, they are fun; fun to make, and fun to eat! I like that they offer portion control too! I can hand my girls a cake pop, which is likely far smaller of a portion than a piece of cake would have been, and they are completely satisfied!

Healthy-er Cake Pops

Ingredients:
1 9×13 cake (or brownie mix made according to “cake like” directions)
1 batch of frosting (about 1 1/2 – 2 cups)
Chocolate chips or bark for dipping (can be white, milk, dark, whatever you prefer)
Sprinkles for decorating
Coloring for chocolate to decorate with swirls (I used beet root powder to get a nice mauve color. You can use turmeric for yellow/orange, warm crushed blueberry juice for blue, chlorophyll for green. Be creative!)
Lollipop sticks, I like the 6″ ones best
Styrofoam rectangle or square; big enough to hold the pops while the chocolate hardens completely

I chose Naturally Nora baking products; specifically the “Sunny Yellow” cake mix, and the “A Lot’A Dots” frosting mix. I chose the frosting mix because it helped with another ingredient I needed, sprinkles; particularly colored ones! I also decided to give making brownie pops a try. For them I used Meijer Naturals brand brownie mix, with the “A Lot’A Dots” frosting. I was happy with the ingredients in Naturally Nora’s products, especially that they contained unbleached wheat flour, no artificial anything (not even colors for the sprinkles!), and have far fewer ingredients (all of which I can read and know what they are) compared to more common brands. I would have liked to see a “No GMO, or GMO-free” assurance somewhere on the packaging, but I did not. I contacted Nora directly and she said while she too wishes she could guarantee it, she has some suppliers that cannot. However, taking into consideration the top 4 GMO’s are cotton, corn, soy and canola, I felt better seeing few, if any of those ingredients in her mixes.

The Meijer Naturals brownie mix however, was labeled GMO-free! Another tip, to make them healthy(er); I used coconut oil in place of vegetable oil. It works best to melt the coconut oil but add it after mixing all the other ingredients together. It made for such a smooth batter, and smooth cake. Delicious! And you couldn’t taste coconut at all!

Method of Preparation:

1. Bake a 9×13 cake according to directions on box; let it cool completely.

2. Crumble it up in a bowl, then mix in frosting, a little at a time, until you can form a nice ball. Place the ball of dough in the refrigerator and let it chill for at least a half hour.

3. Remove the cake ball from the fridge and start forming little balls, about 1″-1 1/2″ in diameter, until you use up the mixture. I was able to get 22 balls out of the cake mix, and 32 out of the 2 brownies mixes (to make a 9×13 “cake”.)

4. Start melting the chocolate, on low! I stress low because if you use too high of heat the chocolate will seize. Especially if you are using a double boiler, set it on the lowest setting your stove will allow. (I used Ghirardelli white chocolate chips and white chocolate bark.)

5. Dip the lollipop sticks about 1/2 inch into the chocolate, then stick them into the balls about 3/4 of the way through. The chocolate will act like glue, keeping the cake ball and the stick together. Return the little balls to the refrigerator, for just 5 minutes or so. Remove them and begin dipping; the most challenging part in my opinion! It again, helps to keep the heat on the lowest setting possible. We were most successful holding the pops at an angle, and dipping, then spinning til cooled; it also helped to use a spatula. Another tip, if your chocolate isn’t thin enough add a little shortening. I used organic palm oil shortening; just a little goes a long way! If you are going to add sprinkles be sure to add them before they cool.
I suggest you trying this part out as a trial run, before making them for an event. What works for one, might not work for another, so seek what will work best for you 🙂 As the chocolate allows, stick them into the Styrofoam so they can stand upright to harden completely. Finally, take a bite! Yummy Yummy!!!

Cheers to HEALTHY CONFECTIONS!

Toxic Dreams

“Goodnight, toxic dreams sweetheart.”

How many parents do you think have said that to their child, when tucking them in at night?

Instead, we want our children to have sweet dreams, the sweetest dreams imaginable. Furthermore, I want my children to have the cleanest, most toxic free sleeping environment to have their dreams in. The problem is, we as parents cannot put our trust in the manufacturers of our children’s sleepwear, when it comes to protecting them from toxics. The federal government has mandated that all sleepwear, intended for children 9 mos and older, be treated with flame retardant chemicals and these toxic flame retardants are nothing to make light of.

The most prominent group of chemicals, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDE’s, are man-made, bromine based chemicals that are said to be the successor of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s). PCB’s were banned many years ago because of their toxicity, however, the problem was not solved,  as PBDE’s have their own host of issues related to them; issues such as impaired learning and memory, reproductive defects, cancer, and impaired immune systems. They are global pollutants that build up in the blood and tissues of people and many other living things.

Consequently, in a research study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) it was found that these chemicals were not only found in adults, children and older babies, but in 10 out of 10 newborn’s cord blood. Unexpectedly high levels of PBDE’s were also found in the breast milk of 20 out of 20 women tested randomly, in a study conducted in September of 2003! That shows this is not a hot off the press issue; but it is one we need to remain consciously aware of, and one that requires action on our part to insure our children are exposed as minimally as possible to these harmful toxics.

Things you can do:

The Government has allowed an exception to the rule, that being snug fitting pajamas do not have to be treated. Most 100% cotton, snug fitting pajamas will be free of flame retardants. It is easy to check however, by looking for a tag attached to an arm or a sign on the package.  Another excellent choice is wool. Wool is naturally flame retardant and has a host of other benefits; though it has a reputation for being scratchy, it can actually be very soft! Avoid sleepwear made with synthetic fibers, altogether.

Look for this tag, most commonly attached to the arms of pajamas.

Look for this label on the back of packaged pajamas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.   To be absolutely safe, opt for 100% organic pajamas. They may appear quite costly when compared to non-organic options, but considering the amount of time children are in their jammies, 1/3 to 1/2 of their day, it’s worth it.  If you search online, you will find there are places that have very decent prices. Also, Costco carries organic children’s pajamas, under their name brand Kirkland, at an affordable price.

3.   If new pajamas are not a feasible expense, consider soaking your child’s pajamas in something acidic. A two-day soak in a 50/50 vinegar to water solution is one option, and the one I recommend. Using lemon juice in water, 1 cup lemon juice per gallon of water, is an option too. A third option is a coca-cola soak, that stuff eats everything 😉

I have focused on sleepwear in this article, but unfortunately the sleepwear issue is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to toxic PBDE’s and where they are found. These toxic flame retardants are used in many other children’s items, including, but not limited to: teethers, bath books, sleep accessories (i.e. blankets, pillows, sheets, mattress pads) and probably most important, mattresses themselves. The issue concerning mattresses is a whole article in itself; but I will shed a little light on it because it is sooo important, quite possibly even more important than the issue concerning sleepwear.

Conventional mattresses are not only treated with PBDE’s. Other commonly used chemicals are boric acid, formaldehyde, decabromodipheyl oxide, melamine, and antimony; you can become more informed about these common chemicals at Body Friendly Furniture. Organic, natural, chemical-free mattresses can literally cost thousands, upon thousands of dollars. We went with a little different of an approach to the common mattress, by replacing our conventional mattress with Japanese inspired organic futons from Carolina Morning.  They are nothing like the Americanized futons you may be thinking of. They are made from organic kapok, wool and cotton and were the most cost effective way of replacing our old, toxic mattress. We have been pleasantly pleased with them, and will soon be replacing all of our children’s mattresses with futons of their own. Don’t forget pillows, the very thing your child lays their head down to sleep on. I have to recommend the kapok pillows made by Carolina Morning; my husband and I both lay our heads down to sleep on them, and neither one of us could be more comfortable. The children will soon be getting their own as well!

Please remember, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Figure out what that “something” is for you, begin putting it into action, and keep seeking to become more informed. The more you know, the better your decisions will become, and you will feel more empowered, trust me!

I leave you with these two short video reports:

Sweet Dreams to you all!