Solid Science Practical Solutions


Indoor Air Quality Tips For The Holidays

Indoor Air Quallity Tips For The Holidays
Raising your "IQ' on "IAQ"
We all know that the holidays bring families and friends together for extended gatherings.  This involves more time spent indoors with larger groups of people.  While that brings much joy to many people, it also brings increased risk for indoor air pollution.  Did you know that a typical house often has more indoor airborne contaminants than outside?  Some of those pollutants include dust, mold, bacteria, viruses, combustion gases from fireplaces and/or wood-burning stoves, toxic cleaning products, pet dander, carbon monoxide from vehicles idling in an attached garage or from incomplete combustion in the furnace or hot water heater, chemical gases, vapors and fumes, tobacco smoke, etc.  Then when you add in the holidays with items such as: candles, holiday baking/cooking, Christmas trees, synthetic decorations, new toys/furniture and all the cleaning supplies used to get ready for guests, indoor air quality (IAQ) can suffer from accumulated indoor contaminants. 
Garden State Environmental, Inc. (GSE) specializes in IAQ related issues.  Our team of Industrial Hygienists and Environmental Consultants regularly test, evaluate, and consult on ways to improve IAQ and the health and safety of occupants.  The buildings we regularly evaluate include commercial, high rise, industrial, government, schools, multi-residential and single-family homes.  We have evaluated "tens of thousands" of buildings throughout the tri-state area.
Based on our 35 years of experience, we offer these proven ideas on improving your IQ on your IAQ during this busy holiday season (and beyond).
  • Get some indoor plants.  Some newer studies have shown certain species of plants can absorb airborne contaminants and decrease levels of carbon dioxide.  While no panacea, placement of the right variety of house plants might slightly improve your IAQ.  Use a search engine to research "houseplants - indoor air quality".  One pertinent web site link is provided  here
  • Air out your house regularly.  Opening your windows/doors for a little time each day (weather permitting) can improve fresh air circulating through your home and reduce the accumulation of indoor air contaminants.  Not only will it help you feel better, but it helps remove any "stale" odors that often linger.
  • Do a little careful "holiday" cleaning.  As you prepare for holiday guests, keep in mind these cleaning tips: 
  • Use natural, "green" cleaning supplies whenever possible to give your home that fresh, just cleaned smell while reducing volatile organic chemicals that "old fashioned"  cleaners typically contain.
  • Only use a vacuum equipped with high efficiency (HEPA) filters.  These filters will capture mold, dust and other microscopic contaminants to avoid spreading them around the indoor air during cleaning. Traditional vacuum cleaners (without HEPA filters) do not capture these small particles and simply re-suspend them into the indoor air.
  • If visible mold is found on long forgotten surfaces, or contents (for example in a damp basement), consider having a professional evaluation to determine the safest way to clean or remove.  Sometimes, the wrong action is worse than no action!
  • Carefully check your stored holiday decorations, especially if kept in the basement or garage where moisture can accumulate.  If you suspect water damage or mold, place into a plastic garbage bag, or wrap in plastic and immediately take outside for further evaluation.  If cleanable, items can be wiped with a standard household disinfectant (or warm soapy water) and allowed to fully dry before using.  If mold is found and the item is difficult to clean (complex surfaces or porous), discard the item. 
  • Make sure your furnace is well tuned.  This will minimize the potential for incomplete combustion which can result in carbon monoxide (CO) and other combustion byproducts accumulating in your home.  Annual maintenance is recommended.  Also, make sure your CO monitors are working.  (Did you know that CO is heavier than air, therefore CO monitors should be at 4 feet or below to be most effective?)
  • Control the relative humidity levels in your home.  Buy an inexpensive hydrometer at a home improvement store and maintain relative humidity between 30% and 55% throughout the year.  During the holiday months when heat is operating, the relative humidity can often dip below 30%.  That can result in dried out nasal passages, general discomfort and increased susceptibility to upper respiratory infections.  You may need to operate a humidifier for the winter months.  Make sure it is properly sized for your house/room and is regularly cleaned to prevent stagnant water from breeding microorganisms.  
  • Use some "natural" ornaments to decorate your Christmas tree; for example pine cones painted with non-toxic water based paints.
  • Use soy or other natural candles during the holidays.  They are more eco-friendly, non-toxic and won't contribute to your indoor air pollution.  Many types of candles can emit soot, which can blacken walls and ceilings.
  • One of the simplest ways to ensure that indoor air pollution doesn't ruin your holiday is to enjoy more time outdoors during the holidays. Getting fresh air can do wonders for your health and your spirit.  A long brisk walk after a heavy meal contributes to improved mood, digestion, overall health and may even burn off a few calories! Take some time to enjoy it this holiday season!
  • Avoid storing firewood or large amounts of leaves in or near the house. They often contain molds and other microbial organisms that can become airborne, be breathed in and can cause respiratory responses in sensitive people.  Firewood may also contain wood boring insects, such as termites, which can enter the building and do damage. Outside firewood should be stored off the ground, away from the house and covered with a loose water-proof tarp, leaving space along the bottom for air circulation.
  • Cleanup fallen leaves and branches as soon as possible.  Fallen leaves and wood decay through the enzymatic actions of fungal and bacterial organisms.  The longer they decay the higher the risk that the microorganisms will become airborne and trigger an allergic response. This is particularly important if you have allergies and/or asthma. Make sure to wear an N-95 particulate mask during late fall cleanup of decayed leaves or wood to avoid inhalation of these microorganisms. These masks are available at local home improvement stores.
  • Install a high efficiency (HEPA) air purifier either on your furnace or in selected rooms. Such units can improve your IAQ and comfort by reducing microscopic airborne particles, contaminants and odors in the indoor air.  Many effective models are available.  Objective information can be foundat
With some common sense and the knowledge gained through this article, you can improve your IAQ related IQ and enjoy the holiday season with healthier indoor air quality.
Feel free to call GSE at 201-652-1119 with any questions or visit our website at for assistance with any IAQ related issues during the holidays and throughout the year.