Indoor Environmental Investigator Answers Healthy Home Questions
Caroline Blazovsky explains the teamwork needed to make occupants comfortable, safe
Based in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, Caroline Blazovsky is an environmental home inspector and the president of My Healthy Home®, a national testing services and investigation company. Known as America’s Healthy Home Expert®, Blazovsky sits on the Indoor Air Quality Association’s public education committee and is a board member of the American Council for Accredited Certification, a credentialing organization.
“Whether it’s allergens or mold remediation, certified indoor environmentalist investigators work a lot with physicians and HVAC contractors,” she said. “When people are sick or they don’t really know what’s going on from an environmental health perspective, then I get sent in to assess the home.”
With over 20 years’ experience, Blazovsky took some time to discuss how home health can be influenced by IAQ and what HVAC contractors can do to help their customers.
How do you address homes in regard to comfort and IAQ?
Blazovsky: There's not a lot of people out there who look at the home as I do. I look at the home like a doctor examines a patient. I investigate everything that's wrong in the house and how that correlates to human health. The information we gain about a home can improve our wellness at home and then improve our relationships with the doctors and contractors. I've trained doctors to get involved in this and help them learn to understand that when you're looking at a patient, you have to look at the whole person and their environment is a huge piece for diagnosing properly. We know that determinants of health tell us in public health that the environment is a key. We find that when we improve people's environments, they get better on a lot of different fronts.
What is humidity's impact on the home environment?
HIGH HUMIDITY CREATURES: Where you have high humidity, you've got mold, dust mites, and bugs. All those feed on high humidity, including this dust mite.
Blazovsky: I'm not a medical doctor, but we know that humidity is a huge piece in healthy homes in general. Where you have high humidity, you've got mold, dust mites, and bugs. All those feed on high humidity. With COVID-19 and viruses, they thrive in lower humidity. In lower humidity, nasal passages can dry out as the air becomes drier, and the viruses can move more frequently. If you go too dry, you allow the viruses and things to take hold. But if you go too humid, then you allow mold. Both of these are important as we investigate a house. I want to look at where the relative humidity measures. I don't want to have mold because that could be immunosuppressive to the occupant. On the other side, look at the virus portion of it; we don't want you to get the virus, and so the air cannot be too dry. So that's where we're utilizing whole home dehumidification systems to control the home environment, making it healthier on all fronts. We try to maintain a level between 30-50 percent and now even a little higher to reduce the virus's ability to travel. The results don’t just help protect from viruses but also from mold and biologics, like dust mites and bugs.
How do tighter building envelopes affect the IAQ of a home?
Blazovsky: We've tightened these building envelopes so much for energy efficiency purposes. This has not only resulted in trapping moisture, but it is also not allowing the home to breathe or bring in fresh air. This efficiency, however, has another health affect — the air conditioning doesn't have to come on as frequently, which allows all the humidity from showering, cooking, even just breathing, to build in the home. The benefit of air conditioning is it removes humidity from the air. If the temperature stays low because of extensive insulation factors, the a/c doesn’t operate as often, but the relative humidity continues to go up. It's going to be the same issue if homeowners are running low relative humidity; they’re not going to have anything bringing in air moisture.
How are the HVAC contractors you work with reaching their customers about healthy homes?
Blazovsky: We work with some phenomenal contractors who are conscious about home environments and are doing some state of the art building science. Some companies market their services through informational pieces about the health of homes. They are basically asking homeowners if they are concerned about mold and if there are people with allergies in the home. Upon customer interest, contractors are able to go into the home and get a basic assessment of the IAQ. Even if they just take a simple humidity reading to get the conversation started, the HVACR contractor is a huge piece in the healthy home arena.
What does the relationship between an environmental home inspector and an HVAC contractor look like?
Blazovsky: Usually what we do with the HVAC companies is we set up meetings with the residential manager, and then we go in and talk to that person. We have discussions about products and establish a personal relationship. I've even gone in to the business and conducted early morning sessions with technicians to inform them of what to look for, such as high level relative humidity and building construction issues. Are houses built on a slab? Do they have a basement area? All that becomes relevant, as well as what type of filtration they are running in the house and their HVAC model. I've evaluated 30,000 houses in my career. We fix houses and fix people, and that's the whole goal, but it's not easy. It takes a village. I think it's important that the HVAC [team] works more frequently with the environmental investigators to help create these healthier places. It's a team effort, without a doubt. This is how we work at My Healthy Home — we work in a team, and I can't survive without my HVAC partners and I can't survive without mold remediation services and restoration people. We're all separate companies, but we all work together.