What Is That Smell?

Before blaming family members or clients for not showering, take a minute to assess your brick and mortar structure.  Recent studies back that unpleasant indoor odors can be largely blamed on high humidity.  What you smell may be the result of a lack of proper ventilation and dehumidification.   One of the largest challenges of home and business indoor environments is the ability to properly manage the air flow and moisture inherent in them.  Overlooking this can lead to a problem which will materialize right under  your nose – the creation of a space perfectly suited as a breeding ground for unwelcome living organisms – like mold spores which can easily form thanks to the perfect storm of moisture, food, and air.

The building industry agrees, and has begun to modify its practices to alleviate the problem.

Until about ten years or so ago, each component of the building industry worked separately on construction projects.  Each trade focused on their own specialty, and paid no attention to the fact that all of their different materials and installation practices might have a direct impact on the space as a whole system, and that every component positively or negatively worked with one another.

The root cause for organism build up and the resultant musty smell is water.  Whether water is present due to conditions of, say, recent flooding, or perhaps lack of fresh air into a space, or even over or under sized mechanical systems (such as your air conditioning unit), water is the culprit.  With all the time spent indoors, it’s never been more important to look how water can adversely affect air quality than now.

Recently built homes along with newer remodeling projects are constructed much tighter thanks to better building practices, but the resulting cocoon cannot breathe.  Contractors do not understand the importance of actual mechanical ventilation, and underestimate or ignore the use of components which can control the amount of fresh air brought into the home.  Newer ventilation components are necessary to take the place of the cracks and leaks found in older structures – and as undesirable as those flaws may sound – actually allowed for some fresh-air flow.

Older homes certainly aren’t exempt from problems.  In fact, far from it.  Mold and odors thrive in damp crawl spaces, under-ventilated attics, leaking foundations, and unventilated bathrooms.  The resultant musty smell from any of those can linger all season long.  If that’s the case, it’s important to de-humidify, whether using portable or duct mounted equipment, especially in warm weather.  Our area calls for such equipment to run all summer long for the best results.

All is not doom and gloom.  Through proper testing, design, and control we can now eliminate excess moisture.  Using fresh air ventilation systems and ducted dehumidifiers we have been able to eliminate musty smells due to water and organism build ups from homes and businesses.  In most cases, we totally eliminate the airborne pollutants and unpleasant scents using RGF Germicidal lamps.  The lamps are installed in all instances of direct flood damage because they have such an exceptional track record of success.

Doc, You Can Fix It Right?

From Doug Garrett of the EPA

With newer and smarter technological marvels hitting the marketplace daily, it seems reasonable to expect that something as basic as a house should do what it is intended to do. At a minimum, your house should be safe, durable, comfortable, healthy to breathe in, and energy efficient. But the fact is that you are quite likely to experience problems in your house such as mold, cold drafts, rotting roofs, polluted air, and high energy costs. Any one of these performance problems is an indication that your house is not performing as it should: It is sick, and it needs a diagnosis and cure.

While these performance failures are all distinct types of problems, they have a common cause. They stem from a failure to understand the complex, interactive system that is a home. Surprisingly, until the last 15 years, very little scientific research had been conducted into how homes and buildings actually function. Instead, builders and contractors relied almost totally on “knowledge” handed down through word of mouth in the trades. Then when things went wrong, they had little to tell them why. Their fixes were usually based not on an understanding of how homes really function, but on what was traditionally done. Sometimes these fixes worked; often they didn’t.

Compounding the problem, the traditional view of homes is that they are simply a set of components that are, for the most part, independent of each other. Too often, the separate components of a home are designed by people who don’t communicate with each other.  The architect designs for aesthetic appeal but not for energy efficiency or even for long lasting performance. The framer builds the frame of the home for structural stability but not for airtightness. The mechanical contractor designs and installs the heating, air conditioning, and ducts but rarely thinks of the occupants’ needs for fresh air. The common insistence on seeing these construction “specialties” as separate can cause a host of home performance problems.

In the last 15 years, there has been a revolution in the science of diagnosing and curing sick buildings. Through the process of applying scientific methods and instruments to the study of buildings, scientists have come to realize that buildings are like people. They must keep moisture out via a continuous watertight skin. They must provide clean, fresh air for the occupants while at the same time maintaining comfortable temperatures. They must not take in too many toxins, and when toxins do get in they must be expelled quickly. Houses must also be affordable to live in.

Perhaps the most important realization has been that buildings–like people–function as a system. Building scientists and home performance specialists–a small but growing group of well-trained professionals–have measured and documented how all the different components in a home interact with and affect one another. When one part goes wrong, it will inevitably effect other parts that may seem on the surface to have no direct connection. We have come to know that the different parts of a house are as interdependent as the organs of a living being. Houses should therefore be designed and treated so that all the different parts of the system interact in a way that is beneficial, and they should be treated this way when they are sick.

Breaking News: Neighbors found GUILTY!

Filter Side by SideThe verdict…MURDER

In the dead of winter, in the middle of the night, an HVAC crew was called in to investigate the demise of a furnace. The murder weapon was a dirty, neglected air filter.  The photos provided here offer proof in yet another open and shut case. Exhibits marked “A”, on the left, were taken of the customer’s air filters.  Exhibits marked “B”, on the right, are entered as visuals for comparison. They represent what an air filter SHOULD look like. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated case.

Making light of a serious situation is not the intention.  Attempting to get your attention IS.  As pointed out in the last monthly issue, and countless times prior, it is vital you change or clean your filter on a regular basis.  Not only will it save your equipment, it will save money on your utility bills.  The easier your system “breathes”, the easier it operates, and will cost you far less in the long run.

Think of it this way.  You and your furnace have one important thing in common: the need to breathe to survive.   The filter’s job is to catch dirt, dust, and debris, and functions as its “respiratory system”.  But your furnace lacks communication skills.  It cannot cry out for help.  Instead, it works as hard as it can until the very last possible moment. Then it collapses.  According to Energy Star, the number one reason a furnace fails or breaks down is due to neglect.

Looking again at Exhibit “A” and acknowledging that your furnace needs to breathe – realize that it simply cannot when the filter looks like the photo.  Ultimately, you are the one who would suffer, not only financially, but by breathing in all of the contaminates which a dirty filter harbors.  Your furnace does double duty.  It not only heats and conditions your house, but it also moves air and all of the pollutants floating through the atmosphere. Appealing to your health consciousness, having a clean furnace filter certainly contributes to cleaner air.

Did you know that one study revealed that indoor environment is up to five times more polluted than that of the outside?   More frightening are the research statistics showing the human body’s inability to fight off allergens and viruses as compared to those of previous generations. It’s no wonder that advertisements for allergy medications now address both indoor and outdoor usage of their products.  We believe this makes an even stronger case for doing what you can to ensure you and your family do not neglect the source you rely on for your indoor comfort needs.

In the Barrington case initially cited, the homeowner could not remember the last time the furnace filter had been replaced.  By the looks of it, it was a few years and at least one flood ago.  The negligence cost him dearly.  The furnace was dead, and for one simple reason – forgetting to change the filter.  It’s a shame, because the filter is the cheapest part you can replace on a system, and better yet, can be done without a service call.

We’re standing on our soap box again hoping you heed our advice.  Leave the dangerous and complicated components up to us, but do yourself a favor and check your filter.  Unsure if it is dirty or clean?  Replace it, just to be safe.  And healthier.  And more solvent for the upcoming holidays.

To Humidify or Not Humidify. That is the Question

humidifierBased on my recent stack of emails and calls surrounding the mystery that is a humidifier I thought it fitting to play “Myth Busters” and shed some light on the situation. Apparently there is great mystery and misconception surrounding humidifiers and de-humidifiers. Lets start at the beginning and move our way through it so that you can be an expert when it comes to your homes humidification.

At the most basic of levels humidifiers are attached to a furnace and add humidity during the winter months. This humidity cuts down on static shocks,  helps eliminate dry and runny noses, can improve your indoor air quality, and makes your house feel warmer. Although they are not code in this area they are a fantastic idea.

De-humidifiers are typically run in basements during summer months and drain into a floor drain or need to be emptied periodically. In our climate they help to remove dampness and the mustiness of basements.
Humidifiers need to be looked at once a year to replace the pad, and ensure proper water flow. Most houses in this area are on well or have very hard water. This hard water can reek havoc on the water lines for the humidifier. Neglect of humidifiers is the number one cause of their demise. By simply taking care of them yearly you can avoid the nightmare stories and water issues that can occur.

A great way to ensure your hard wood floors do not start to spilt, or hardwood furniture does not start to deteriorate is by adding the right amount of humidity. Homes with lots of hard wood or that run their fireplaces a lot tend to suffer if their humidifier is not operating properly.
How they work is by taking water from your homes water line and running that water across a pad. A fan blows across the pad and humidifies the air stream as there is a call for heat. Typically you want the humidifier set at 35-40% humidity. Depending on the construction of the house you may need to add more or less humidity.

The best indicator on humidity levels is actually your windows. If you notice water or dew building up along the bottom of the window you can turn the humidity dial back down. You can even turn the thermostat down a couple more degrees that you would think. Humidity makes the air feel warmer, and lets you set the thermostat back a few degrees. Everyone home and situation is different but and ideal system could run at 68* and feel like 70*.

Some of the best stories I hear are how happy people are after they add a humidifier. Especially the people who had great old practices for trying to add humidity. Some people would simply keep a gold fish bowl in the kitchen and hope the evaporation would do the trick. Other people would even leave a small Tupperware of water next to the floor vents and hope there was a moisture transfer. Know what I have learned these stories are great for a good chuckle. The homeowners who had these rituals always get the last laugh now!