A Healthy Home Part 2: The Home Starts Out Clean

This should be a no brainer!  Have you ever walked into a brand new home and found it dirty?  I haven’t.  The larger issue is really two things:

  • What gets designed into the home to assist the homeowner to keep it clean?
  • What goes on in the home before the cleaning service arrives?

Is there a small dirt factory installed in each new home when the builder isn’t looking?  No?  Well how does all that dust and dirt get in there?  If there is no conspiracy among the cleaning products industry to put dirt factories in our homes, then the dust and dirt must come from outside.  If that is the case,  a clean home should attempt to stop the dust and dirt at the door!

Mat A sidewalk, driveway  or patio should be included to enter the home. This can be swept or hosed off from time to time. It also provides a place for you to put your Welcome Mat!  Having one by each door is optimal in keeping your interior clean. Everyone in the family should learn to leave the gritty stuff in the mat.  It also needs to be cleaned regularly.

The designer should provide some type of entry area for people to remove and store coats, out door type shoes or boots, like a mudroom, hooks, baskets, or entry closet. Some type of seating for smaller, and experienced people, would be a nice touch.

laminateInterior design should utilize easy to clean materials. Floors, window treatments, wall finishes that are easier to clean will get cleaned more. The current trend with hard surfaces, like laminate and hardwood, are perfect examples of cleanable materials.  The move from the shag type carpet to the berbers and other short napped carpets is also great for being easier to clean.

The use of semi-gloss latex paints instead of flat or matte finishes is helpful, because such surfaces are easier to clean using mild soaps. I know some interior designers will want to use the flat or matte types. Those should be limited to places that small peoples fingers do not try to decorate. If flat paint finishes are inevitable; wiping the areas down with a set sponge instead of a rag will help keep the finish intact.

Hole In WallThe other place to keep dust outside are the holes in the house.  Windows, places pipes, wires, and other parts need to go from inside to outside.  These should be sealed.  Most builders do a great job on these places in the walls.

Instead of covering the outside of the framing with 1×8 boards, as my home was, they use 4×8 sheet goods today. These provide structural strength and cut down on the holes for dust to get in. The use of house wrap type coverings also helps with dust control.

Infrared Image Infiltration in Knee WallThe remaining area is the attic.  This is a challenge for most builders. Some of it can be done before the drywall is up. That part is fairly easy.  Some of it must be done after the drywall is in place.  Attics are not exactly a great place to work. The work must still be done. The Infrared image on the right show air leaking into a home from unsealed attic joints. Yes, it is a cooling problem in the summer, it is also an opening for dust to enter the home.

1 Inch drillGap Not SealedHoles in the attic don’t have to be small.  The picture on the left shows one type of hole. These can be filled before the drywall is hung. They are some of the easier holes.  Electrical, plumbing and others need these holes. They also need to be sealed.  A little caulk or foam in a can does the trick. Other holes are smaller, and this picture shows them also.  Look carefully at the 2×4. On each side of the wall is drywall, (the white stripe) This needs to be sealed also. These holes occur on both interior and exterior walls. Both types of walls need to be sealed. Where do the wires go, light switches and plug outlets.  You have seen the foam gaskets sold at the home supply sections for these.  Sealing at this point is better, and in new construction is easier. The image on the right above, is a better image of drywall gaps. There are clearly two.  The first I saw from the attic side, because light from the room below was coming through. These were the small holes you see on top of the edge of the drywall. The flash on the camera makes them show as dark spots. The larger gap between the drywall and the top plate must be sealed also. Drywall Air leak

The thermal image above shows both types of leaks. It was taken during a blower door test from inside the home. The picture in the attic, above right, was the other side of this vaulted ceiling.  On the right side of the wall ceiling joint the air leakage is very defined, these are the small holes noted above. Climbing a ladder with the blower door running, allows you to feel the air movement.

The left side of the image shows the effect of the gap on the back side. The air movement fills the whole wall cavity and degrades the performance of any insulation present. This wall separates the garage from the house and was insulated. Because the attic was not properly air sealed at construction, the infiltration from air leakage, was causing the walls to leak heat as if they were not insulated at all.

The way to verify these holes, the big ones, and the small ones, are not left, is a Blower Door Test.   One of the last steps in finishing any house should be a blower door test.  The builder can use these results to verify the quality of workmanship from all subcontractors on the site. The homeowner can rest assured the builder testing all homes with a Blower Door is not getting a house with big holes. And the house doesn’t have very many little ones either.

A Blower Door Test is part of a HERS Rating on the house. The current cost of a new home in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the cost of a blower door to the builder is rather minor, compared to the peace of mind that results from a job well done.

A short Blower Door Video on You Tube. This will open in another tab. It is less than 3 minutes.

This post on one in a series on Healthy Homes.



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