Are Pollens Invading Your Home?

Another allergy season is upon us, and an estimated 50 million to 60 million Americans are or soon will be suffering from upper respiratory symptoms -- itchy eyes, runny noses and sneezing -- caused by allergic reactions to airborne pollens.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), about one of every five adults and children suffers from allergies, which are the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States, including allergic asthma.

Most allergy sufferers use one or a combination of three recommended approaches to control their symptoms: taking medications, being immunized and/or avoiding the offending allergens.

While effective, the costs associated with taking medication, whether prescribed, over the counter or immunization (allergy injection therapy), are astounding. According to the AAFA, Americans spend more than $4.5 billion on yearly medical care for seasonal allergies, attending approximately 8.4 million physician visits each year. The organization reports the cost of allergy-triggered physician services alone totals $225 annually.

With airborne pollens, avoiding "offending allergens" sometimes is easier said than done. After all, it's not practical during peak allergy seasons to live sealed indoors. Yet physicians commonly advise patients to not invite outside airborne pollens into their living environment by closing windows and doors and spending as much time as possible within a well air-conditioned home or building.

However, closing windows may provide a deceptive sense of security for some allergy sufferers. Many windows and doors do not provide a tight barrier, allowing microscopic airborne pollens to flow freely indoors. Older homes are especially susceptible to structural air leaks around windows and doors, not only due to normal aging but because the windows and doors were produced using outdated design and construction techniques when industry standards were less stringent.

Experts agree that living environments can be improved to help alleviate allergies at a fraction of the cost spent annually on medical care to treat asthma and allergies. And, the improvements are long-lasting. Replacing windows and doors with a proven airtight seal can actually reduce airflow and inhibit the invasion of offending allergens.

There are three window features that make the biggest contributions to an airtight seal: design and construction, weatherstripping, and the locking mechanism. When buying an existing home, considering window replacement in an older home or building a new home, check the following elements:

1.) What is the air filtration standard for the window?

The industry standards, set jointly by the American Architectural Manufacturers Association and the Window and Door Manufacturers Association, vary for different types of windows (for example, double hung windows which have two sashes and can be moved up and down versus casement windows, which have a single sash that opens to the outside with a crank handle). The standards measure how many cubic feet of air per minute penetrate from the exterior to the interior. Do your windows meet or exceed these standards? Some manufacturers adhere to more rigorous standards than required by the industry. Also, ask the manufacturers how often they test their windows to meet the industry standards. Some test every window, some don't.

2.) Is the weatherstripping worn, dislodged, missing or somehow compromised?

In a casement window, is the weatherstripping mitered and securely joined together in the corners of the window?

3.) Does the locking mechanism contribute to an airtight seal by pulling the sash tighter against the frame ( for casement windows ) or compressing the window frame against the weatherstripping for a tighter seal (double-hung windows)?

The criteria used to judge the airtight seal of windows also can be applied to doors, although the industry standards are different. For sliding doors, design can make a big difference. If the sliding or "vent" panel is on the exterior and the fixed panel is on the interior, wind or air pressure actually creates a tighter seal. Similarly, a two-point locking mechanism (with locks positioned at the top and bottom of the door) closes more tightly and allows less air to penetrate.

Homeowners interested in learning more about controlling or avoiding allergy and asthma flare-ups can contact one of the local chapters of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America or call the national office at (800) 7-ASTHMA, or (202) 466-7643, or go online to www.aafa.org.

The Author:

For more information about windows and doors, visit one of the following Web sites or call the American Architectural Manufacturers Association at (847) 303-5664, www.aamanet.org; the Window and Door Manufacturers Association at www.wdma.com; or Pella Corporation at www.pella.com, (888) 84-PELLA.

Article Posted: 2002

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