Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Grunge era

Call me an indoor air quality freak. I won’t be offended – quite the opposite! I’ve just learned that we are absolutely a product of our environment: the one we breathe, eat and sleep with every single day. Just as I can’t expect my car to run well on dirty sticky gas, I can’t expect my body to perform at its best if I continually expose it to and ingest things I shouldn’t.

My husband is a heating and air conditioning contractor so our indoor air equipment is finely tuned to provide breathe-healthy air all year round. We maintain biohazard-free indoor air humidity between 37 and 50 percent depending on the outdoor air temperature and other factors.

So when the ophthalmologist told me I could ease my chronic dry-eye symptoms by raising indoor air humidity higher, I balked. You can’t do that without introducing mold and encouraging a dust-mite population explosion! I walked out of her office with eye-drop prescriptions and a reluctant agreement to at least try using a small humidifier in our bedroom.

Kicking and screaming, I did it. Okay, so that means we change the sheets twice a week instead of once. No biggie – there are no rugs in there and the room is rather Spartan otherwise. We like the clean, clutter-free look and feel. Everything seemed shipshape at first. So imagine my surprise when we returned from a short vacation to find that our bedroom smelled funky.

The nose knows
My husband has learned to trust my sniffer. Walked into a house one time and detected a gas leak that was so dangerous that everyone inside evacuated and a special team had to deal with it. Other people in the house didn’t notice a problem. Another example: I kept smelling moth balls and garbage in one room in our house but only on sunny and windy days. Two home inspectors and 22 cut holes in our drywall later and with still no answers, I stood outside my neighbor’s house and caught wind of the familiar odor. Turns out he’d been throwing mothballs into a utility hole next to his garbage bin in a little hideaway spot that shares a wall with our garage. When we put a light inside, we could see a space from the utility hole leading to the firewall between our homes. Sealed the hole and solved the problem.

But in the case of the mysterious funky-bedroom smell, I was at a loss. For 24 hours I searched. The laundry room and bathroom drains were clean. And the odor was strongest in our bedroom with no other source of water… than the table-top humidifier.

Culprit: the bottom part of the tank
No, I thought. It couldn’t be that – it’s brand new! I retraced our steps – I remembered hearing John fill it with tap water shortly after we got home from our vacation. I had made a mental note to pick up more distilled water at the grocery store, and I did the next day. When I removed the water tank to fill it with fresh water, that’s when I saw it: grunge in the bottom part of the tank. Grunge that collected while we were out of town. Grunge that multiplied happily in the portion of the tank BEFORE it goes through the sanitizer and mist. Grunge in the part of the unit you don’t see unless you go looking for it. GRUNGE that STINKS! AGH!!!

Worse, that kind of grunge is all too happy to take up residence in my asthma-prone airways. Funky water can cause pneumonia, bronchitis and other respiratory nightmares. It’s not likely we’ll ever forget to empty the water tank and the bottom part of the humidifier when we leave home ever again!