Technical Papers

What do Indoor Allergens have to do with Insulation in your home?

Monday, September 30th, 2019 by Daisy Reppard

There are several allergens living within our homes to make us sniffle, sneeze, eyes water or any combination of those. There are several common indoor allergens that reside in your home that with proper insulation, you can eliminate and make a more comfortable, healthier living area. Let's explore some of these allergens:

Dust mites can't be seen by the naked eye, but they are part of the arachnid family. They survive in humidity - the more humid, the more they thrive. Dust mites have sticky pads on their legs, so they can live deep inside furniture, carpets, and mattresses. While dust mites do not bite or spread disease, the particles and debris from dust mites are the most common indoor allergen. Dust mites feed off from shed skin cells, they don't drink; as they have no capabilities to do so, all of the moisture is absorbed through glands on their forelegs. Dust mites tend to thrive in places that have 60% humidity or higher. 

So, how does insulation help deter dust mites? Well, most homes have excessive heat exchange with the outdoors. Think of your home in the summer. Warm, humid air leaks into your home from outside to replace the air that has leaked out. When you cool the air with air conditioning, you are shrinking the air which raises the relative humidity about 2% for every degree that you cool it. With proper insulation, you are reducing the air exchange rate with the outdoors which allows you to control the humidity. If the humidity in your home is below 55%, it will cause the Dust mites to dry out and die. In the wintertime, you won't need to run a humidifier that would increase the humidity in your home, so you won't give off the humidity to sustain the life of the Dust mites.

Let's look at some other common household allergens, and why insulating your home can help rid your home of them:

Cockroaches - their urine and droppings, as well as their body parts, are all strong allergens. They thrive in damp environments that have accessible food supplies. 

Rodents - the urine from mice is a very potent allergen, and the droppings aren't good either. 

By sealing your home with proper insulation and air sealing, it will eliminate the accessibility for these pests and make your home a less hospitable environment for unwanted critters.

Mold is a very big household allergen. Mold grows on organic materials such as wood, drywall, chipboard, paint, and leather with a relative humidity of 70% - 99%. Molds also produce airborne spores that travel through the air, and exposure to elevated levels of mold and spores can cause sensitivities.  Places, where mold grows indoors, are signs that air is leaking within the home, or/and where condensation occurs. Condensation happens when warm air meets cooler surfaces such as cooling ducts, cold water pipes and surfaces cooled by air conditioning systems.

How does insulation help prevent mold? Simply by air sealing the home. We can air seal the basement rim joists, foundation walls, all the way up to the attic to air seal top plates, rim joists, around lighting fixtures such as can lights. Air sealing reduces air leakage, as well as making sure vents for dryers and bath fans are properly vented outdoors - we can reduce the moisture levels and reduce the chances for mold to grow in the home.

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