Archive for January, 2010

10 mistakes people make with their heating habits

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Saturday, January 30, 2010

by Steve Graham, Networx
Source: Yahoo

Even with a constant flow of information about energy efficiency, homeowners make major heating mistakes that end in higher electric bills and larger environmental footprints.

Here are 10 of those errors, with the cause and effect of each decision.

1. Maintaining a constant temperature

Cause: A persistent myth suggests that you can save energy by leaving the house at a comfortable 68 degrees (a widely recommended winter setting), even when you are sleeping or away at work.

The idea is that it takes more energy for the furnace to reach a comfortable temperature than to maintain that temperature.

Effect: You could miss out on significant potential energy savings by not using a programmable thermostat and adjusting the temperature overnight and during the workday.

Though the impacts of adjusting the thermostat vary based on your climate and other factors, studies show that knocking the temperature down by 10 degrees for eight hours per day can cut heating bills by 5 to 15 percent.

Sure, the furnace will cycle on for a longer period to return to the more comfortable temperature, but it will be far outweighed by hours of savings when it didn’t have to work as hard.

2. Cranking up the temperature to warm up the house

Cause: You come home in the middle of the day to a cold house. You want to warm back up to 68 ASAP, so you crank the dial up to 78 to get the furnace working harder and faster.

Effect: No time is saved in reheating the house. Most furnaces pump out heat at the same rate no matter the temperature. They just cycle on for a longer period to reach a higher temperature.

The furnace will take the same amount of time to return to 68 degrees regardless of the thermostat setting. By cranking up the thermostat, you are likely to overheat the house past 68 degrees and waste energy. Just reset the thermostat to 68, make some hot chocolate, and wait.

3. Closing off vents in unused rooms

Cause: You don’t want to waste energy heating rooms you aren’t using.

Effect: Again, this just wastes energy and makes your furnace run inefficiently because it changes the air pressure in the whole system.

Experts recommend never shutting off more than 10 percent of vents. Sealing your ducts is a more efficient way to save energy.

4. Using the fireplace

Cause: You found some free firewood on Craigslist and think you can burn up some free heating energy while enjoying a romantic fire.

Effect: While we can’t make any promises about increased romance, we can predict increased energy bills. An open fireplace flue may suck more cold air into the house than the fire can radiate into the living space.

5. Using electric room heaters

Cause: You spend most of your time in a couple of rooms, so you figure you will just heat them with space heaters.

Effect: This could lead to higher energy bills and greater fire risks. Generally, a central gas heating system is cheaper and more efficient than a set of electric room heaters. Electric heaters also can be a fire hazard.

There are exceptions. A single energy-efficient space heater in a small, well-insulated room can save energy if the central heater is switched off.

6. Switching to electric heating

Cause: Electric heaters are more efficient than fuel-based systems, so they must be cheaper and better for the environment, according to this popular idea.

Effect: In most areas, simply switching to electric heat leads to higher energy bills and a bigger carbon footprint. Your heater may be more efficient, but most U.S. homes are still linked to coal-fired power plants. These coal plants and their transmission systems are extremely inefficient.

Of course, it’s a different story if you have a large photovoltaic solar array or your utility company uses renewable energy.

7. Replacing the windows

Cause: Those big pieces of glass get so darn cold. They must be the reason your house is so drafty.

Effect: You could spend a lot of money to only take care of part of the problem. Windows must be installed properly to avoid drafts, gaps, and leaks.

Moreover, more heat is typically lost through poorly insulated walls and ceilings than through windows.

8. Replacing the furnace first

Cause: You blame high energy bills on an old, inefficient furnace.

Effect: Your energy bills will still be higher than necessary if you don’t start with cheaper, smaller upgrades to improve the energy efficiency of your home, such as caulking around windows and doors and adding insulation.

9. Upgrading to the most efficient furnace on the market

Cause: You want the sleekest, most energy-efficient furnace available because it will be the most cost effective as well.

Effect: You may end up replacing an over-sized furnace with another (albeit more efficient) over-sized furnace. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that most U.S. homes have over-sized HVAC systems.

Again, insulate and weatherize to maximize efficiency, then get the smallest system that will comfortably meet your heating needs, which will be substantially reduced. Also make sure it is professionally installed.

10. Using incandescent light bulbs for heating

Cause: Incandescent bulbs give off more heat than light, so they must be warming up the house.

Effect: It is hard to see this logic as anything but a weak excuse for holding on to the Edison bulbs rather than switching to CFL and LED lighting.

In fact, one German entrepreneur is marketing incandescent bulbs as “heat balls” to skirt EU laws against the old-style bulbs. However, I doubt he is keeping cozy this winter simply by sleeping with the lights on.


Airport pat-downs may raise infection risk

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Friday, January 29, 2010
By Amanda Chan

Screeners who pat one passenger down after another may be spreading germs from one person to another, health experts say. “When you touch people, you start picking up their organisms,” said Patrick Schlievert of the University of Minnesota Medical School. “That might be OK if you wear gloves, but what about everyone else you’re touching down the road?”

When Hillary Bessiere flew to Cancun from Phoenix last week, she saw something that grossed her out, and validated her stringent travel hygiene habits: A woman changing a baby’s diaper on an airplane, with nothing between his naked little bottom and the seat.

“I’m a mother, too, and I would never, ever do that,” said Bessiere, director of business development at an event-planning firm in San Francisco.

This sort of incident is what spurs Bessiere, who travels about two weeks a month for work, to wipe down seats with disinfectant, use hand sanitizer religiously and wash her hands regularly. Health experts say her habits aren’t in vain — especially if the bacteria from a baby’s diaper ended up on the glove of a Transportation Security Administration officer during a security check.

Airports and airplanes were never clean places to begin with – after all, they’re where large crowds from across the world converge in confined spaces.

But as screening procedures get stricter and more passengers opt for pat-downs instead of graphic X-rays, the likelihood of bacteria being spread increases, said Patrick Schlievert, a microbiology and immunology professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

The more aggressive the searches, and the more intimate contact there is, the higher the likelihood of transmitting infection, Schlievert said.

“When you touch people, you start picking up their organisms,” he told MyHealthNewsDaily. “That might be OK if you wear gloves, but what about everyone else you’re touching down the road?”

And when people stand huddled in long lines at security checkpoints and gates, they increase their chance of exposure to bacteria and viruses, he said.

“The key thing you need to do when you get through security is to avoid being coughed on, which can be very hard,” Schlievert said. “These organisms are being spread around, and close, crowded places are the best places for doing so.”

Although Bessiere is concerned about germs, she thinks the benefits of the security measures outweigh the ick-factor.

“They’re taking measures necessary to check people thoroughly,” and it’s better to go through an uncomfortable search than for a bad guy to get through security scot-free, she said.

Where are the germs?

In one hour, adults touch their face 15.5 times, their eyes 2.5 times, their noses five times and their lips eight times on average, said Charles Gerba, a microbiology professor at the University of Arizona.

And the easiest way to catch something is to touch a surface that’s been colonized with bacteria, and then touch your face, said Gerba, who is an expert on the prevalence of bacteria on common surfaces.

He recently collected bacteria from 20 airplanes to find the most infected spots. Airplane bathrooms won by a landslide — most seeing 50 people between cleanings, and see 75.

“It’s the probably the germiest toilet you’ll come across,” Gerba told MyHealthNewsDaily.

Most of the bathrooms he swabbed had E. coli bacteria. Thirty percent of sinks, flush handles and faucet handles had E. coli, as did 20 percent of toilet seats, according to his research.

And the closet-sized bathrooms easily allow droplets to splash out of the toilet and land all over the place, he said. Because bacteria thrive in moist environments, the surfaces are ripe for colonization.

And in turn-around flights, there’s not much time to clean thoroughly before the next flight’s passengers board, Gerba said. Some oft-neglected parts: seat-back trays and the luggage compartment bin handles.

Gerba found norovirus, MRSA and influenza virus on trays. However, he wasn’t able to measure levels of the bacteria or viruses to see if they were high enough to make someone very sick.

In airports, check-in kiosks are another area to beware of.

“You’ve got hundreds of people who use those self-checkout counters,” Gerba said. “Every time you push a button, you can transfer a germ.”

Dr. Aaron Glatt, president of St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, N.Y., said he doesn’t think heightened security procedures will increase the likelihood of passing around germs, but he said “there will always be the potential for transmission in a lot of different ways with a lot of different factors.”

Contrary to common belief, the air in airplanes is not loaded with germs, Gerba said. Air circulates through air filters, so it’s not the same air that’s being passed back and forth.

Measures for Cleanliness

The TSA provides hand sanitizer to its officers and requires them to wear gloves when doing pat-downs and body searches, said TSA spokesman Greg Soule.

“We promote general good hygiene for officers to protect them and passengers,” Soule said.

The bins that hold belongings during the X-ray screens are also cleaned regularly, Soule told MyHealthNewsDaily, though he couldn’t give an estimate for how often.

Airlines set their own cleaning and sanitation guidelines for their planes.

American Airlines cleans each plane during its overnight stay in the airport, which includes cleaning the bathrooms, wiping down seats and tray tables, vacuuming the aisles and replacing blankets, said Tim Smith, a spokesman for the airline. And between flights, a cleaning crew checks the lavatories and replaces any obviously soiled blankets or pillows.

Every 30 days, airplanes are given a deep-cleaning. “That’s exactly what it sounds like – washing seat covers, cleaning carpets and floors, lavatories, bins, tray tables – the whole cabin,” Smith said.

Flight attendants are also encouraged to sanitize their hands throughout their shift, he said.

Sanitation protocols are similar on Southwest Airlines. Bathrooms are also cleaned throughout the day when the planes stop at one of 26 home bases across the country, Southwest spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said. Planes are scheduled so they hit one of the cleaning stops every few hours.

But clueless passengers can make things dirty despite airlines’ best efforts, said Bobby Laurie, a flight attendant who flies up to four times a day.

“You’ll find baby diapers inside a seat-back pocket, and the same thing with sunflower seeds,” Laurie told MyHealthNewsDaily. “That’s mostly what it comes down to, is people don’t know how to properly dispose of what they accumulate.”

There aren’t really any airline procedures beyond requiring attendants to pick up trash every 20 to 30 minutes, he said.

Because crews clean planes overnight, airplanes are cleanest for early-morning flights, and dirtiest during red-eye flights, Laurie said.

“There’s not enough time to do it [a deep clean] on the 50 minutes” between flights, he said. “That’s why a lot of times when you fly, you’ll put down your tray table and find something there. Usually we’ll get a call button saying there’s something sticky.”