Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Alternative" Air Conditioners

Although the cooler months are upon us, in areas like Southern California where there have been a wave of brush fires, air conditioners used to ventilate homes from smoke and pollution may still be helpful. However, for those who don’t have conventional air conditioners installed in their homes, "alternative air conditioners" should be considered. Here are some suggestions and low cost options to help you keep cool, ventilate your home, and save money.

Passive Cooling
Passive cooling uses nonmechanical methods to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature. One of the most effective passive cooling methods involves keeping heat from building up in the first place. The primary source of heat gain can often be attributed to sunlight that is absorbed by your home through the walls, windows, and roof. Secondary sources can come in the form of heat-generating appliances and air leakages.

Prevent heat gain by reflecting sunlight away from your house, shading and blocking the heat, removing built-up heat, and by reducing heat-generating sources in your home.

Save Energy
Sometimes the above strategies may not provide enough cooling, and mechanical devices may have to be used as supplements. Ceiling fans and evaporative coolers can be energy efficient choices, as they cost less to install and run as standard air conditioners. Ceiling fans have the ability to lower the air temperature by about four degrees, and evaporative coolers use one fourth the energy of conventional air conditioners. However, keep in mind that evaporative coolers are only suitable for dry climates.

Contact your local utility companies and inquire about rebates and cost-incentive programs when you purchase or install energy-saving products such as lighting, appliances, and insulation.

Consider a Whole House Ventilation Fan
If you are looking for a lower-cost, natural alternative to an air conditioner, whole house ventilation may be the solution. Installing a whole house fan costs only a fraction of central of central or wall-mount air conditioning (around $300-$400 versus up to $2500), and operating costs may be as little as 10 percent of the cost of operating an air conditioner.

When the fan is activated, cooler air from the outside is drawn into the house via open windows and doors, and warmer air is pushed out of the house through ventilation spaces in the roof or gable end walls. This air movement cools your house by replacing hot air with cooler air; by flushing out hot air; and by creating a gentle breeze that cools occupants by an evaporation effect.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Can A Green Roof Save You Money?

A green roof system is an extension of an existing roof which involves a high quality water proofing and root repelling system, a drainage system, filter cloth, and a lightweight growing medium and plants. Green roofs also involve “contained” green space on top of human-made structures. Although green roofs have been in used in Germany and other parts of Europe since the 1960s, the market remains immature in North America (besides in a few cities on the East Coast), as the benefits of green roofs have not been well-established.

Many green roofs are often installed to comply with local regulations and government fees, often regarding stormwater runoff management. In areas with combined sewer-stormwater systems, heavy storms can overload the waste water system and cause it to flood. Green roofs decrease the total amount of runoff and slow the rate of runoff from the roof. However, one of the greatest benefits of a green roof involves energy savings. In 2005, a study was conducted by the University of Toronto, which showed that green roofs also helped reduce heat loss and energy consumption in winter conditions. Green roofs can reduce heating by adding mass and thermal resistance value and cooling by evaporative cooling. This is especially true if the roof is glassed in so as to act as a terrarium and passive solar heat reservoir. Here are some other benefits of green roofs:

- Provide amenity space for building users and can replace a yard or patio
- Reduce the urban heat island effect
- Increase the roof life span
- Filter pollutants and CO2 out of the air
- Filter pollutants and heavy metals out of rainwater
- Increase wildlife habitat in build-up areas
- Retain rainwater, moderate the temperature of the water, and act as a natural filter for any of the water that happens to run off

To initiate a green roof installation, you will need to know the slope and structural building capacity, and nature of any drainage systems, electrical, and water supply. In terms of cost, for an installed, extensive green roof with root repellant/waterproof members, it will cost you anywhere from $10 to $24. However, this also depends on the type of roof you want and factors such as the depth of growing medium, selective plans, size of installation, use of irrigation, and whether they are accessible.


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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Houseplants Can Save Your Life

Because we often spend up to 90% of our time indoors, we are susceptible to many health problems associated with poor indoor air quality. These problems can often be the result of poor ventilation, toxic mold, and chemicals. Therefore, in addition to being exposed to outdoor pollutants, pollutants can also be found in our homes and workplaces.

In an attempt to find solutions to indoor air pollution, NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) participated in a two year study which suggested a common, but sophisticated pollution-absorbing device: the common houseplant.

Plants remove substances out of the air through their stoma, or the tiny openings in their leaves. As well, they breathe through their leaves, and allow their roots and soil bacteria to help remove trace levels of toxic vapors. Essentially, houseplants create a "living air cleaner" by combining activated carbon and a fan with the plant. The roots of the plant grow in the carbon, and they slowly degrade the chemicals that are absorbed. Dr. Bill Wolverton, former senior research scientist at NASA, stated the following: "We feel that future results will provide an even stronger argument that common indoor landscaping plants can be a very effective part of a system used to provide pollution free homes and work places."

In order to conduct the study, each plant type was placed in sealed, Plexiglas chambers in which chemicals were injected. Philodendron, spider plants, and gold pothos were the most effective in removing formaldehyde molecules. For removing benzene, flowering plants such as gerbera daisies and chrysanthemums were extremely efficient. Other good performers were the Dracaena Massangeana and Spathiphyllum. In conclusion, the study consistently showed that living, green, and flowering plants were able to remove several types of toxic chemicals from the air in building interiors.

Fortunately, because houseplants are plentiful, inexpensive, and relatively easy to maintain, they make great, "natural air purifiers." As Dr. Wolverton noted, "Combining nature with technology can increase the effectiveness of plants in removing air pollutants."

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Monday, October 22, 2007

What Is Your Community's Air Quality Index?

As wildfires continue their march through seven Southern California counties, outdoor air quality has taken a turn for the worst. Air quality in these areas is expected to gradually deteriorate, and citizens are encouraged to check updates on their community’s Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI, a value calculated by the EPA, informs the public on how clean or polluted the outdoor air is and determines what associated health effects may be experienced within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air. In order to calculate air quality, the EPA determines the Air Quality Index (AQI) on a daily basis for five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act:

1. Ground-level ozone
2. Particle pollution, or particulate matter
3. Carbon monoxide
4. Sulfur dioxide
5. Nitrogen dioxide

For each of these pollutants, the EPA has established national air quality standards to protect public health. The purpose of the AQI is to help you understand what local air quality means to your health. The AQI is divided into six categories:

"Good": The AQI value for your community is between 0 and 50. The air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risks.

"Moderate": The AQI value for your community is between 51 and 100. Although air quality is acceptable, for a small percentage of people, some pollutants such as ozone may present a moderate health concern.

"Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups": The AQI value for your community is between 101 and 150, and members of sensitive groups may experience health effects, but the general public is not likely to be affected when the AQI is in this range.

"Unhealthy": The AQI value for your community is between 151 and 200, and everyone may begin to experience health effects. Members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.

"Very Unhealthy": The AQI value for your community is between 201 and 300. This can trigger a health alert, meaning everyone may experience more serious side effects.

"Hazardous": The AQI value for your community is over 300, and this will trigger health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.


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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Save Money By Using Your Ceiling Fan in the Winter

Winter is quickly approaching, and now is the time to begin your home winter projects in order to ensure that your home is winterized and weather proof. Although most people only think of using their ceiling fans in the summer, turning on your ceiling fan when the weather gets cold could actually save you up to 10% on your heating bill when used in conjunction with your existing heating system.

Turning on your ceiling fan during the cooler months actually makes sense - a ceiling fan set to turn clockwise on low speed helps circulate warm air and push it down towards the center of a room. When using your central heating system during the winter, warm air that comes out of the registers in each room will naturally rise. Because these registers are up high, hot air will build at the ceiling level and gradually work its way to the floor level. Many people are unaware that many BTUs are wasted heating the ceilings of a home – areas where additional heat does not make a difference. With that being said, in order to get this hot air down, off the ceiling, and to the areas you need it most, using a ceiling fan will force warm air near the ceiling down into occupied spaces.

However, keep in mind that in the summer, ceiling fans are run in the counter-clockwise position. To use your ceiling fan during the winter months, reverse the motor and operate it at low speed in the clockwise direction. If your fan is mounted on a high ceiling, use a step ladder or an 8 foot ladder to get up to the fan and reverse the direction of the blades. This will produce an updraft that equalizes the temperature at the floor and ceiling levels, which will also prevent your heating unit from being overworked. As well, don’t forget to adjust your thermostat in order to realize even more energy savings.


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Monday, October 15, 2007

Prevent Dry Skin This Winter

When the temperature plummets, most people turn up the heat and bundle up in blankets and heavy clothing. While doing so may take the chill off, this increases one’s exposure to dry, warm air, which can then lead to problems such as irritated nasal passages and throats, nose bleeds, and Xeroderma.

Xeroderma, which literally means "dry skin," is a common condition that involves the integumentary system and often occurs during the winter when the cold air outside and the hot air inside creates a low relative humidity. This dry air can then lead to general discomfort associated with cracked, peeling skin and chapped lips. In order to counter the problem of dry skin associated with winter weather, follow these simple, self-care measures to prevent or reduce the consequences of dry air:

1. Drink plenty of fluids. While water is clearly the best choice, low-fat milk, juice, broth, soups, or drinks without caffeine can help replenish moisture.
2. Keep skin moisturized. Liberally apply a thick cream or moisturizer to damp skin promptly after bathing.
3. Keep lips moisturized. To soothe chapped lips, be sure to use plenty of lip balm or petroleum jelly. For severely chapped lips, apply a thick layer of lip balm before bed and use a damp toothbrush to brush away flakes in the morning.
4. Take lukewarm showers. Instead of indulging in hot showers, lower the temperature, as hot water can cause skin dryness. Also, use mild soap and bathe every other day if necessary.
5. Change your diet. Eating more foods rich in high-quality oils such as Omega-3 (like salmon) can help improve winter skin. In addition, flaxseed oil and Vitamin E supplements may help combat dryness.
6. Invest in a humidifier. During the cooler and drier months, a humidifier can help maintain a comfortable level of humidity in your home by adding moisture to your air and living space.


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Friday, October 12, 2007

Hello Kitty Can Help Purify Your Air

Created in the early seventies by Sanrio Co. Ltd. in Japan, Hello Kitty is a globally known trademark and one of the most successful marketing brands in the world. As a worldwide phenomenon first envisioned by Shintaro Tsuji, this ubiquitous white feline with the familiar red bow has been capturing the hearts of both pre-adolescents and adults alike for over 30 years. Even though a large proportion of Hello Kitty products consist of stationary items, the Hello Kitty logo is now adorned on items such as toasters, cars, and even packages of ramen noodles. This expanded market has even caught the attention of adults who are enamored by Hello Kitty’s sweet image, and new Hello Kitty products are constantly being added to Sanrio’s growing roster of Hello Kitty branded merchandise.

Hello Kitty has also entered the world of health and wellness products such as vitamins, exercise balls, and yes, even air purifiers. As observed by the immense success of air cleaners such as Sharper Image’s Ionic Breeze, the issue of air purification is becoming increasingly popular. The Environmental Protection Agency has stated that indoor air can be as much as 50 times more polluted than air in a corresponding outdoor setting, and research has shown that exposure to contaminated indoor air can lead to respiratory problems, multiple chemical sensitivity, and breathing difficulties.

Of course, it was only time before Hello Kitty would grace the field of air purification technology and Sanrio has again managed to combine form and function. Two styles of air purifiers are available: the “Charming Style” looks like a standard air purifier and utilizes a filter that sucks in dusty air and refills the room with dust-free air.

However, for compact spaces or for the car, the die cut style Hello Kitty air purifier may be a better choice. Polluted air is filtered through a fan, and a stream of negative ions is emitted through Hello Kitty’s face. This style can be powered by either an AC adapter or a cigarette lighter, and her bow lights up when the cleaner is in action.

While these air purifiers may not be as powerful as some of the other, more advanced air purifiers on the market today, they are sure to make any Hello Kitty fan smile.


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Monday, October 08, 2007

Fun Flu Vaccine Facts

According to the National Institutes of Health, influenza is a respiratory infection caused by a number of viruses which pass through the air and enter the body through the mouth or nose. It is estimated that roughly 5% and 20% of all Americans will contract the flu each year. While the flu may be little more than an unavoidable annoyance indicative of the cooler months for some people, for the elderly, newborn babies, and adults with certain chronic illnesses, the flu is serious and can even be deadly.

Therefore, in light of the fact that a large percentage of Americans will get the flu this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that the week after Thanksgiving, November 27 to December 2, as National Influenza Vaccination Week. Because the flu vaccine is the main way to keep one from getting the flu, this weeklong event is aimed at highlighting the importance of continuing flu vaccinations, as well as encouraging the public to get vaccinated during the months of November, December, and beyond.

Here are a few facts about the flu and the flu vaccine:

1. Flu season runs from October through May, and the best months to be vaccinated are October and November.
2. The injected vaccine actually contains a killed virus, and is recommended for those over the age of 6 months.
3. The nasal form of the vaccine (sometimes called LAIV for “Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine”) is made from a weakened virus and is recommended for those between the ages of 2-49, but not recommended for pregnant women.
4. Two weeks after receiving the flu vaccine, your body has developed the antibodies needed to protect itself against certain strains of the flu virus.
5. While you cannot get the flu from a flu vaccine, you may experience minor side effects such as aches, pains, a low-grade fever, and swelling. As well, you cannot develop the flu from the nasal spray vaccine, but headaches and sore throats are possible side effects.
6. Each flu vaccine contain three flue viruses: one A (H3N2) virus; one A (H1N1) virus, and one B virus. The viruses in the vaccine change every year based on international surveillance and scientists’ estimations about which types and strains of viruses will be circulated in a given year.
In addition to getting the flu vaccine, you can prevent influenza symptoms by improving your hygeine, eating a diet rich in whole foods, using supplements containing probiotics, getting additional sleep, reducing stress, and by improving your indoor air quality through sufficient ventilation and/or with the use of an air purifier with HEPA filtration.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

UC Irvine Professor Warns Consumers About Ozone Air Purifiers

Sergio Nizkorodov, a renowned professor of chemistry at the University of California, Irvine, has focused his academic career on the relationship between ozone emissions and air purifiers.

Produced naturally in the upper atmosphere, ozone plays an extremely critical role on earth by filtering out harmful UV rays that are known to cause skin cancer, as well as other serious ecological effects. In the lower atmosphere, ozone can be used to reduce airborne contaminants and to reduce indoor pollution such as mold sources and odors.

However, at the same time, scientists and doctors are questioning the safety of ozone exposure. When inhaled, ozone can cause health defects such as respiratory problems and lung functions, and it can be generated by common appliances such as laser printers, copiers, and yes, even some air purifiers.

Because of this predicament regarding ozone exposure, Professor Nizkorodov has been conducting extensive research on the connection between air purifiers and ozone levels. He has found that many air purifiers which purposefully use ozone to clean the air can generate ozone in levels above the standards set by the EPA. When used in small, enclosed spaces, these air purifiers can cause especially serious health problems in the elderly and children. In addition, Nizkorodov and his research team have found that ultrafine particles are generated by these air purifiers as a result of chemical reactions between the ozone and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in indoor settings.

In addition to his research, Professor Nizkorodov has also participated in UC Irvine’s Community Day and showed how the ozone levels produced by an ozone air purifier inside a chamber was high enough to be considered a first stage air quality alert. Professor Nizkorodov has also rallied with consumers against Sharper Image’s debacle with their Ionic Breeze air purifier, and has prompted many concerned citizens to urge their legislators to ban the sale of these air purifiers.

While most air purifiers on the market are extremely safe, consumers should take caution when purchasing an air purifier which exclusively uses ozone to clean the air.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

California to Ban Ozone Air Purifiers

Last week, the California Air Resources Board, the "clean air agency" of the state of California, agreed to ban the sale of all ozone air purifiers by 2009. By citing studies that show prolonged exposure to ozone can cause asthma attacks, permanent lung damage, and other respiratory illness, the CARB recommend that ozone air cleaners not be used in the home.

Although ozone is a natural air cleaner in the upper atmosphere, safe levels of ground-level ozone have never been identified. In addition, according to research conducted by the Board, roughly 2% of all California households have an ozone-producing air purifier, and over 500,000 people have complained of ozone exposure higher than federally allowed standards. These ozone cleaners can come in the form of air purifiers that emit ozone-rich gaseous plasma or personal breathing devices that are worn around the neck.

While proponents of ozone air purifiers claim ozone can improve the health of asthmatics, the elderly, and even depressed pets, the CARB claim dozens of peer review studies have shown the detrimental side effects of ozone exposure. A toxicologist at the University of California, Irvine, Michael Kleinman states, "Ozone is a toxic contaminant, and does cause significant adverse health effects."

Set to be in effect in 2009, the ban will include any air cleaners which emit even a miniscule amount of ozone. However, commercial use of ozone air purifiers will be exempt from this ban. For those who are concerned with indoor air quality, HEPA air purifiers like those used in hospitals (which can oftentimes be cheaper and more effective than ozone) will have to suffice.

In response to the new ban, Debra Perkins, an EcoQuest (a manufacturer of ozone air purifiers) salesperson and consumer, said in between tears, "God gave humans these air purifiers, and you should not take away that gift."

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