Environmental Issue & Sick Building Syndrome Blog

What a wonderful season! Lets Make it Like a Breath of Fresh Air

December 22nd, 2018 8:17 PM by Dan Howard

Just as the song says, “Christmas is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” The season is full of bright lights, excited children and time with friends and relatives.

We love the sounds and smells of the holiday season as they bring back memories of past holidays. That is unless………. the smells are not fond memories, but more like:  Merry Christmas and please pass the antihistamine or inhaler---‘tis the season for asthma and allergies.

Too soon the excitement of this Christmas will be over and we will be packing and tucking away all of those special decorations and treasures to wait for another year. How we do that packing and where we store those treasures can affect our health next year.

Why Allergies and Asthma Spike During Holidays

Click here to Download a copy of Bringing A Fresh Air to Christmas.pdf

Stored holiday items can be a source of mold growth. Fiberglass and other insulation particles, dust and mold from storage areas and other allergens can get on and into improperly stored items. Even tightly sealed boxes can attract mice and insects, each contributing to the allergen and germ categories.

There has been an increase in the number of people affected with asthma and allergies spiking during the holidays. Obviously, Christmas comes at a time of year when homes are most likely to be closed up to protect from winter weather. Adding to that factor, we have tighter constructed homes with better windows, caulking and insulation resulting in less fresh air. Many homes are built with wet crawl spaces and improper venting systems. With tighter construction practices, attic and basement storage areas are often full of mold.  

Fortunately, the suffering from Christmas allergies can be avoided with a few tips on proper storage and care of holiday trees and decorations.

Storage and Allergen Prevention Tips

  • Start by selecting moisture and dirt free areas for holiday decoration storage.

  • Every year I receive calls from homeowners that actually discover mold in their storage areas when they take the decorations out for the holiday. Take a look around for mold, allergens, rodent feces and other contaminants before packing the holiday away. It is easier to see what is happening while the storage area is not stuffed full of stored treasures.


  • If your holiday items are covered with mold and dust this year, change the conditions in the storage area before putting the items back again. Mold growing in the storage areas will affect the air quality in the main home all year around.


  • Clean stored items with a damp cloth before storage. Dirt supports the growth of mold and is an allergen.


  • Store trees, decorations and other materials in plastic bins, or wrap in plastic bags, not cardboard. Cardboard holds moisture and is a food source for mold.


  • Control humidity in storage areas. Dehumidify basement storage area and install roof fans controlled with humidistat in attics.


    Tips for Taking Out Decorations Next Year

    “Things happen” in the life of a house. When we change windows, furnaces, add insulation or have leaks from roofs, plumbing, floods and a host of other “events” mold can occur where it never was found before. It may seem a little early for us to consider what to do when we pull things out of storage next year...but…while we are on the subject…here are a few tips:


  • If the stored items from the prior year are already covered with mold and dust, place them in plastic bags or bins before carrying them through the house. Dragging mold and other allergens through the house can spread them through the house.


  • Once out of storage, take the contaminated items outside the home or into a garage to unpack and then clean them.


  • Treat rodent and other feces as the potential serious health issue it is. Do not breathe or spread the dust. Wash everything that it contacts with a good disinfectant.


  • Fresh cut trees or stored items can have dust blown off them using a leaf blower or they be can be hosed down with water before you bring them into the house next year. If you use a leaf blower, wear a mask. Either method can remove mold, dust, and some of the lead dust usually found on artificial trees and decorations.


  • Discard contaminated packing and bring the cleaned items into the home.


  • Do not spray materials with pesticide. The poisons designed to kill bugs will damage people’s health. Plain soap and water will safely and effectively remove insect and rodent contamination.

Other Healthy Indoor Air Tips

Given a choice, it is better to place trees and decorations over areas of hard surface floors as opposed to carpet. These floors are easier to clean and hold fewer allergens.

The use of a quality air cleaner such as a HEPA filter can provide immediate indoor air improvement by removing the circulating allergens. Sweeping with HEPA filter vacuum sweepers as opposed to bag sweepers and using Swiffer type mops are better than bristle brooms for avoiding putting allergens into the air.

We want our homes to smell like Christmas. Many of those “plug in” scents contain synthetic esters and formaldehyde. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology states that: “We know that asthmatics are clearly sensitive to odors and fumes; therefore, it would not be unexpected that air fresheners could trigger asthmatic episodes.”  Bake a pie or use potpourri in a warming pot as an alternative to the artificial scents.

A healthy home is a wonderful gift. With a little planning and prevention, we can take a deep breath and enjoy the season.   

Posted by Dan Howard on December 22nd, 2018 8:17 PM



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