How Having a Real Christmas Tree Could Affect Your Indoor Air Quality
Before you deck your halls with boughs of holly, it’s important to know how your Christmas decor might affect the indoor air quality (IAQ) in your Littleton, Colorado home. Although real Christmas trees bring a fresh, festive aroma, and they’re certainly a sight to behold, they can also undermine the health of building residents. Read on to find out how.
There’s a Difference Between Real Christmas Trees and Living Trees
It’s important to note the difference between real Christmas trees and living ones. If you buy a small-sized, potted Christmas tree and set it up in your home, you may actually gain a few IAQ benefits. After all, living foliage breathes out what humans breathe in, and the oxygen and vitality that they add to your living space can certainly be uplifting. Although oxygen gains from potted, indoor plants are nominal, having a living tree indoors is health-wise, one of your best options.
Comparatively, cut Christmas trees don’t add oxygen to the indoor air. They don’t absorb carbon dioxide, and they don’t provide any other IAQ benefits. Moreover, the festive, holiday smells that they emit are actually an indication that they’re drying out. As water leaves these trees, their sap, resin, and oils become more concentrated. If their water wells aren’t kept full while they’re on display, they may also become fire hazards.
How Real Trees Affect IAQs
To prevent cut Christmas trees from drying out, their stands have relatively small-sized water wells that keep their severed trunks moist. Throughout the month of December, homeowners are advised to routinely check and refill these wells. Doing so prevents tree needles from turning brown and falling off so that Christmas trees maintain their bright and lively appearance.
This process may create one of several indoor air quality concerns. Real trees that are no longer living aren’t actually “drinking” or absorbing this water. Just as cut flowers wilt and rot in glass vases, cut trees gradually decay. Although the breakdown of their organic materials is much less obvious than the breakdown of a clipped rose, it still occurs. Keeping clipped, non-living plants in containers of water for weeks at a time can also provide a place for fungus to breed.
Trees Stands and Water Wells
There’s more than just the tree itself to consider when evaluating indoor mold risks and air quality concerns. Have you ever tried to refill the water well in a Christmas tree stand when the tree in question is already wrapped in decorations, surrounded by a fluffy white skirt, hung with lights, and surrounded by presents? If so, then you know just how messy this can be.
Accessing Christmas tree stands becomes increasingly awkward as the season wears on and as the area grows more cluttered with holiday gear. When and if homeowners remember this important task, some of the water that’s meant to land in the tree stand may saturate the underlying carpeting and carpet padding, the tree skirt, and more.
Both Living and Cut Christmas Trees Naturally Carry Pathogenic Molds
Whether potted and still living or cut and affixed to a stand, keeping a live tree in your house can be problematic for other reasons. Many of the most popular tree species for Christmas decoration carry up to 50 different species of mold. Thus, when you bring these trees into your home, you’re bringing their mold spores in as well. The fact that the mold spores are already present before standing, stagnant water is added to the base of these trees makes them more likely to breed in the tree’s water.
Then There’s the Decorations to Consider
Decorations are steeped in holiday tradition. Many families have tree ornaments that have been passed from generation to generation. More often than not, these items are stored in cardboard cartons and stuffed in musty attics and basements throughout the year. As such, they’re often carriers of mold themselves. Strings of tree lights get reused from year to year, and these are also often housed in damp spaces. Whether you store your reusable Christmas decor in an attached or freestanding garage, an outdoor shed, or a remote closet, the potential for mold development is always worth considering. This is especially true if you have soft-sided, fabric decorations that you’re regularly stowing away and pulling out again during the holiday season.
Assessing the Alternatives
Among the top alternatives to living Christmas trees and Christmas trees that have been cut and affixed to stands are plastic, artificial trees. New plastic products off-gas harmful chemicals into the indoor air. These micro-fine contaminants are too small to be picked up by standard HVAC air filters.
One way to avoid having a dry-looking centerpiece or one that’s comprised of off-gassing plastic is by having a real, cut Christmas tee professionally flocked. However, much like brand new, plastic Christmas trees, the materials used for Christmas tree flocking can off-gas chemicals too. Given that homes are typically sealed up tight during the holiday season to keep heat trapped indoors, these are chemicals that are circulated and recirculated throughout building interiors.
It’s also important to note that even living, potted Christmas trees can be mold carriers under certain conditions.This is especially true if the soil isn’t properly aerated.
How to Celebrate Christmas Safely
It might seem like there’s absolutely no safe way to dress up your home and revel in the colors, aromas, and joy of the holiday season. However, this simply isn’t the case. With the right planning and the right mitigation strategies, your household can bask in the ambiance of traditional holiday decor without itchy, watery eyes, runny noses, labored breathing, or sneezing. With the right IAQ strategies, even chronic allergy and asthma sufferers can enjoy both superior holiday aesthetics and easy breathing.
To start, be mindful of the fact that real trees, both cut and still-living, may harbor mold. Set up an air purifier in the area where you’ll be showcasing your holiday centerpiece. You can also invest in whole-house air filtration that will provide year-round benefits. If you opt for a potted, living tree, aerate its soil, make sure that it’s in a sufficiently large pot, and avoid over-watering.
Leave artificial flocking at the Christmas tree lot. If you want a real Christmas tree, leave it au naturale. This will minimize the amount of harmful chemicals being off-gased in your home, and it will let your festive, traditional decorations really stand out. If you choose to use an artificial tree instead, and intend to buy one brand new, open it up and air it out outside of the home. Your garage is a great space for unboxing artificial trees, especially if it’s well-ventilated.
Finally, whether taking your holiday decorations out of storage or putting them back in, make sure that they’re clean, dry, and free of mold and mildew. They’ll look better, last longer, and have a far lesser effect on your respiratory health.
At Summit Heating & A/C, we love the holiday season. We also love helping our clients enjoy seasonal festivities while protecting their indoor air qualities. We offer cutting-edge IAQ solutions including air purifiers and advanced air filters. We additionally provide heating, cooling, and plumbing installation, maintenance, and repair services. For more tips on protecting the indoor air quality in your Littleton, Colorado home or to schedule an appointment, give us a call today.