Tag Archives: Air Quality

Gaps in Alaska law mean ‘buyer beware’ when it comes to household mold

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Monday, November 8, 2010:

The new owners of a North Pole home were renovating the guest bedroom when they discovered black mold festering along the base of a wall.

Their real estate agent pointed them to someone who could help.

In mid-October, air quality consultant Bill Reynolds peeled back a layer of paint that had been applied over the mold.

Air samples from the room revealed Stachybotrys (pronounced stacky-bottress) levels of 5,200 spores per cubic meter. The environmental laboratory considers anything more than 600 “of concern,” Reynolds said.

The water, which came from a leaky bathtub pipe next door, soaked the trim along the wall and provided both ingredients for growing mold: moisture and cellulose.

“We were just really disappointed because it was not disclosed in the papers,” said Tanja Glidden, the new homeowner, who is eight months pregnant.

Mold a growing problem in Fairbanks homes

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sunday, November 7, 2010:

Mark Sampson had been renting a house in Fairbanks for about four months when he found black mold creeping up the walls of his 18-month-old daughter’s room. His wife was clearing off a shelf of DVDs and found streaks of black, gooey mold along the wall and rotting the window frame. An environmental lab identified the mold as Penicillium aspergillus, a black mold linked to respiratory problems. Air samples from the room revealed 62 percent humidity and a mold concentration eight times higher than outdoor levels and well above the amount considered safe by the lab.

“That was a big concern, and then it kind of dawned on us why we were getting sick and I said, ‘We’re not staying here.’ So we moved into a motel,” Sampson said.

Sampson is not alone. More residents in Fairbanks are facing mold problems because they are sealing their homes without ventilating properly, and many don’t understand the nature of mold, according to local building experts. And while a small amount of mold around your windows or bathtub isn’t uncommon, a big or exposed colony can cause structural damage and health problems, such as hay fever or respiratory difficulty.

“People are still too often addressing one side of the energy equation … making walls thicker, increasing R-values and tightening homes. They are not addressing ventilation,” said Steve Shuttleworth, building official for the city of Fairbanks.

Clean air and the cost of freedom

From Alaska Dispatch, Wednesday, October 20, 2010:

The people of Fairbanks spoke loudly and clearly at the polls this year: They didn’t want government dictating to them what could come out of the smokestacks atop their homes.

Enforcing standards for clean-air for everyone, voters decided, reeked of socialism — that policy of ensuring the needs of the many trump the desire of the individual. It is not a popular political philosophy in these tea-party days, especially in Alaska where it has never been a very popular philosophy.

Fairbanks is, after all, the home of the late Joe Vogler, founder of the Alaskan Independence Party, who thought the whole of America too socialist almost 40 years ago when the federal bureaucracy was but a shadow of what it is today. So it came as no big surprise when Fairbanks voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative blocking a North Star Borough plan to fine people for polluting the air with woodsmoke.

Unfortunately, the end result of that vote is that people are likely to pollute the air with woodsmoke again this winter and borough officials are having a devil of a time trying to figure out what to do about it.

Continue reading: Clean air and the cost of freedom

Respiratory illness rates high in rural Alaska

From The Associated Press, Saturday, October 23, 2010:

Researchers say rural Alaskans and Alaska Natives are more likely to develop respiratory illnesses than anyone else in Alaska.

The Tundra Drums reports that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researcher Rosalyn Singleton says rural Alaskans contract respiratory illnesses in part because they live in crowded conditions through harsh winters that leave residents indoors for long stretches of time.

Singleton says many rural Alaska homes lack running water, making hand-washing difficult. She says wood-burning stoves and smoking indoors contributes to the level of respiratory illness, as do dusty clouds that sweep off roads.

Despite the difficult conditions, hospitalization rates for children suffering from respiratory illness on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta are falling.

Parents ask school board to address air pollution at Woodriver

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Wednesday, October 20, 2010:

Several parents, teachers and other school staff members testified before the Fairbanks school board Tuesday to ask that the school district deal with air pollution, especially outside and inside  Woodriver Elementary School.

Some said that the district needs to install air filters in the school because the smoke from two outdoor wood boilers close to the school is bad enough to create a cloud in the halls on many days. There have been dozens of complaints each of the past two winters to the borough because of the Woodriver smoke and on some days recess is canceled.

There were also concerns voiced about air quality in North Pole and in other parts of Fairbanks, such as near Randy Smith Middle School.

Other parents and grandparents said that the state Department of Environmental Conservation should be called upon to enforce state regulations to limit air pollution.

Continue reading: Parents ask school board to address air pollution at Woodriver

Borough tries to reconcile ballot measure, Fairbanks air pollution rules

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Saturday, October 15, 2010:

The borough halted enforcement of new air quality rules — none had taken place yet anyway — and officials await a legal opinion about other aspects of the air quality program, which was diluted by the voters last week.

“There are a number of things that are going to have to change,” air quality director Glenn Miller said. “There will be an ordinance that will come forward in the near future that will address these changes.”

The vote approving Proposition A effectively ended rules about the types of wood stoves that can be installed in the borough and threw out fines that applied to smoke emissions and the burning of certain items, including tires, chemicals and animal carcasses.

Think of houseplants as winter indoor air cleaners

From The Anchorage Daily News, Wednesday, October 13, 2010:

Alaskans have always had a different view of things, and that includes houseplants. There are many of us who still have cuttings from grandmother’s plants (or some other Outside relative) that we grow, because they have become our connection to family left behind. Others grow houseplants given to them by departing friends or purchased because they are a reminder of “home” — Outside.

We grow houseplants, too, because we need them during the long winter. Not only do they mentally help us through the long winter, they also clean the air indoors. Those studies NASA did in the ’80s that showed certain houseplants removed toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde and ammonia from the air, apply even more now that conservation has resulted in airtight homes that don’t refresh the indoor air like our old, leaky ones did.

According to NASA, 15 to 18 houseplants in containers 6 to 8 inches in diameter can really improve the air you breathe. Best of all, there are lots of familiar plants on the list of recommendations from NASA. As you would expect, all have good leaf area. What you might not suspect is all are extremely easy to grow.

Continue reading: Think of houseplants as winter indoor air cleaners

Fairbanks voters reject home heating fines for wood smoke

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Wednesday, October 6, 2010:

Anyone worried about getting slapped with a home-heating fine can sleep a little easier.

Voters on Tuesday blocked the ability of Fairbanks North Star Borough managers to rely partly on fines as they implement a new pollution-prevention program.

Questions remain, however, over whether the ballot measure will clear state laws and exactly how the result — 60 percent of voters approved the measure — will take shape at the assembly’s desk.

Studies suggest Fairbanks’ chronic air pollution is due largely to older or less-efficient wood-fed home heating systems. The pollution-control program, approved narrowly by the Borough Assembly this summer, includes carrots and sticks: Incentives, including tax breaks, for trading up to more efficient systems and potential fines for the worst polluters.

Tuesday’s measure, born as a public initiative, directs local government to drop the second avenue, leaving incentives and public education plans in place. It does not, however, directly change local laws, leaving Mayor Luke Hopkins and the nine-member assembly the task of applying the mandate. 

Air exchangers work but study up on them


By CCHRC StaffQ: I understand it is important to get fresh air into my house, but exchanging air in my home means the warm air is going out and cold air is coming in. I pay quite a bit to heat my home and reheat all that air coming in. Can air exchangers help to solve this problem?There are several types of air exchangers on the market, but not all of them capture heat from the outgoing stale air.Q: When should I start plugging in my vehicle?

The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

Commercially available exterior wall vents combined with a fan designed to operated all the time will provide fresh air for a home.

These devices are the least expensive, but provide no heat recovery feature.

A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) is a more expensive device that has a heat exchanger inside, where the air flowing out of the home passes by the air flowing into the home, without mixing the two. As the warm air moves out, it transfers some of its heat to the cold air moving in.

The heat recovered by this process is in the 60 to 75 percent range, which is significant because any amount of heat that is recovered represents air that the homeowner does not have to pay to reheat.

As the cost of fuel increases, this savings will be more significant.

An energy recovery ventilator recovers heat and moisture as well. Unfortunately, these systems cannot be used in the Fairbanks area because extremely cold air will freeze the device.

Many Interior Alaska residents are retrofitting their homes now.

Adding insulation and tightening a house makes ensuring you have good indoor air quality more important than ever. Insulating a home will conserve heat and adding an air-exchanging device will clean the air.

But only an air exchanger with a heat recovery option will do both.

Be sure to consult with a licensed professional to help design and or install any ventilation system.

Many of us will start plugging in our vehicle right away when it gets cold but plugging in will have an unfortunate affect on our electric bill.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation provides the rule of thumb: plug in for at least a couple hours before starting the vehicle when it is 20°F or colder.

At that temperature, you can get by plugging in for less time, and as it gets colder you need to plug in for progressively longer.

If you find you need to leave your car plugged in substantially longer than these guidelines before it starts smoothly, then you car may need maintenance.

Alaska HomeWise articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). If you have a question, e-mail us at akhomewise@cchrc.org.You can also call the CCHRC at (907) 457-3454.

Burning wood? Don’t go green then


By CCHRC Staff

The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

Q: Does it matter what type of wood I burn in my woodstove?

Most species of local wood are suitable for burning in a stove but do not burn wood that has been treated or painted. Regardless of the species, the best wood to use has been properly seasoned and stored. Wood that is fresh, or “green,” contains higher amounts of moisture, which will bring down a stove’s efficiency and cause excessive particulates and creosote buildup inside a chimney.

On a related point, only burn paper in your stove when starting a fire. Too much paper has the potential to produce a fire that is more than a stove or chimney can handle. Burning coal in a wood stove will have the same effect; so do not burn coal unless the stove is rated for it. Overall, avoid burning large amounts of paper or other combustibles that can significantly raise the stack temperature or cause the stove to burn hotter than it is designed to.

Q: I am thinking of installing solar panels on my home or property. What things do I need to think about before I begin?

There are a number of things to take into consideration when looking into a solar power system. First are the cost of electricity and financial incentives. A solar photovoltaic system has a large upfront cost but will provide savings over many years and will eventually pay itself off. Installing a large solar power system and selling the home a few years later will not provide enough time to pay back the investment. However, even pinning down exact numbers for payback can be a challenge since the cost of fuel and electricity both fluctuate. The federal government also provides tax incentives for solar panels and solar thermal systems.

More information can be found at www.energystar.gov. Golden Valley Electric Association’s SNAP program provides incentives as well.

More information on SNAP is available at www.gvea.com/ energyprograms/snap/.

Another challenge is location. Property on the north side of a hill will not collect as much light as a south-facing exposure. Also look at the amount of direct sunlight on a solar panel throughout the day. Shade from trees and other objects will lower the amount of power you make.

Consider the amount of maintenance that goes into a solar power system. Snow and leaves fall on solar arrays and should be cleaned off.

The amount debris can be limited by tilting panels to 49 degrees in the non-snowy months and 90 degrees in other months, which will also help capture more light from the sun’s low angle.

Contact a professional for further information and tips before getting started with an installation.

Alaska HomeWise articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). If you have a question, e-mail us at akhomewise@cchrc.org.You can also call the CCHRC at (907) 457-3454.