OMAHA — Jon Traudt only has to look at his wife of 60 years to believe that his life’s work — advocating for clean indoor air — is worth it.
Years ago, Bev Traudt’s allergies got worse when the then-young couple moved into their Millard-area home. But they made simple fixes to the house, and Bev’s symptoms eased.
Jon, an indoor air quality and energy efficiency consultant, said those kinds of changes remain relevant to homeowners today.
Jon is again raising the issue of air quality given the decision by the Omaha Public Power District to extend operations of its North Omaha coal plant by possibly three years.
A member of the ad hoc community group advocating for an earlier shutdown of the plant, he said residents can take steps at home to improve indoor air quality, regardless of the timetable for the coal plant.
Americans on average spend about 90% of their time indoors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Because indoor air often is more polluted than outdoor air, being mindful of indoor air quality can make a difference in health, Jon said.
The first step to improving indoor air quality, he said, is improving the filtering system on your furnace and air conditioner. The second step is reducing leaks that allow uncontrolled movement of air in and out of the house. The latter also reduces your energy bills. Doing this helps minimize exposure to outdoor pollutants, whether it’s from a coal plant, wildfire smoke or passing vehicles.
The next step, he said, is reducing pollution from indoor sources.
After testing their home, the couple realized they had an excessive amount of air leakage. They sealed leaks and then installed an energy-saving ventilation system.
“Our bills went down and our comfort went up,” he said.
Jon identified the following areas where people can look for leaks:
* Gaps and holes in the wall between an attached garage and the interior of the home. This also is important due to the potential for vehicle exhaust to enter the home.
* Gaps around windows and doors, on attic floors, around chimneys, around openings for wiring and plumbing, and where duct work joins walls.
* Fireplace dampers that are open or partially open in unused fireplaces.
Outdoor air typically contains pollen, urban and industrial pollutants, dust and invisible soot particles.
Indoor pollutants include fumes from natural gas appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, stoves and fireplaces; cigarette smoke; and vapors from carpets, upholstery, dry cleaning, cosmetics, paints and household cleaners.
Reducing indoor pollutants involves using fewer products that give off gases. This includes using the “cleanest” cleaning chemicals possible. It’s also important, Jon said, to test your home for radon, which is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths after smoking.
To better filter air coming into your home, Jon recommends seeing if your furnace and air conditioner can accommodate a 4-inch pleated filter instead of a 1-inch filter. The 4-inch filter has more surface area to trap particles.
The Traudts reduced interior carbon monoxide levels by installing a furnace and water heater equipped with powered exhaust systems that force emissions up the chimney. They also run the fan on their furnace/air conditioner constantly so that it is filtering air, even when it’s not heating or cooling the home.
Traudt does pro bono assessments for nonprofits and most recently is assisting Sacred Heart parish.
Homeowners can purchase a home air quality monitor to test their air, he said. These sell for $80 to $400, depending upon their level of sophistication. They test for temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, volatile organic chemicals, particulate matter, and in some cases, allergens and radon.
“What gets measured, gets managed,” Jon is fond of saying.
If your budget is tight, Jon advises spending money on a home air quality monitor, sealing leaks and improving filtration over having ducts cleaned.
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