Sometimes that post-holidy meal nap just can't be helped. Too much food? Stress kept you up all night? Just don’t want to talk to your political nemesis cousin? But maybe it's something in the air.
What do climate science, building science, NASA, and recent university studies all have in common? Their research indicates that carbon dioxide (CO2) is not just a greenhouse gas to be managed, but elevated levels of it are detrimental to human health and cognition. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take that much of an increase in CO2 levels to feel the effects. If you’ve seen the movie Apollo 13, you know that scrubbing CO2 out of the air in a small, closed environment is mission critical if you want your astronauts to stay alive. So what does this have to do with you, your home, and the holidays?
When your guests arrive for the holidays, more people are sharing the same amount of air in the closed environment of your home. People inhale oxygen, and exhale CO2. The amount of CO2 in the air doesn’t need to increase by much for us to feel the effects.
Reducing the air leakage of your home is one of the best things you can do to improve its energy efficiency. If you’ve done any weatherization to your home, the air leakage rate is probably fairly low. But even in an old drafty farmhouse, the air leakage rate is likely to be minimal unless the wind is blowing.
When you light up the gas oven and all the range burners to cook your meal, remember that gas ovens are like people – they need oxygen to burn their fuel. And, like us, a large component of what an oven “exhales” is CO2. Suddenly, you’re sacked out on the couch and all you can do is watch the game on TV and doze off. Welcome to Apollo 13. You're oxygen starved! You need to get some fresh air to your brain soon! Improve your mental stamina this holiday season and breathe healthy!
1. Open at least two windows for cross-ventilation. If you open one window on a lower floor, and one upstairs, you’ll create a natural draft between the lower and upper windows, helping to promote effective air movement.
2. Turn on the exhaust fans. Pulling air out of the house will force fresh air in through the path of least resistance. This could be through an open window or through all the leaks in your home envelope like around windows, doors, the attic hatch, and recessed lights.
3. If you have a recirculating range hood fan (one that pulls air up from the range then filters it and exhausts it back into the kitchen), upgrade to a system that ducts the air to the outdoors.
4. If you have a gas oven, try to cook as much as you can before the guests arrive.
5. Upgrade your home with a heat-recovery ventilation system so that stale air is pulled out of the house at the same rate that fresh air is pulled in, and ducted to where its most needed.
6. Purchase a CO2 meter and keep track of your home’s indoor air quality.
7. Find some lithium hydroxide and duct tape, and cross your fingers (hey, it worked for the astronauts)
I wrote about this topic last year in more depth, so if you’d like additional information, you can read that post here. Science continues to build a strong case around air quality and human health on the planet, and in your home.
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