Will a Real Christmas Tree Negatively Affect Your Indoor Air Quality?

One of the most exciting parts of the holiday season is turning the interior and exterior of your Metuchen, New Jersey home into a winter wonderland. If you enjoy expressing your love of the Christmas season with lights, ornaments, and a real tree, it’s important to understand how your decor is impacting your indoor air quality (IAQ). What many consumers don’t know is that despite their fresh smells and gorgeous looks, real Christmas trees can exacerbate asthma and allergies by bringing a variety of contaminants inside.

The Drawbacks of Decorating With a Real Tree

Real Christmas trees harbor massive amounts of both mold and pollen. Although you might think that the slow decay of a cut Christmas tree is the source of its mold, real trees are already coated in multiple mold types. Worse still, as these trees dry out and sit in small containers of stagnant water throughout the Christmas season, the allergens they contain become ever more potent.

Failing to mitigate these common indoor air quality (IAQ) concerns can also have an impact on the health and functionality of your HVAC system. Not only are you bringing live mold directly into your home when you decorate with a real tree, but you’re also creating the risk of having mold spores enter your heating equipment and HVAC air ducts. Once mold spores come in contact with the moisture that’s present in there, indoor mold problems can spiral out of control.

Indoor Conditions During the Winter Months Are Perfect for Mold Infestation

The holiday season provides the perfect conditions for mold infestation. During the colder months of the year, homes are often sealed airtight. There’s minimal airflow, and residents spend more time inside. In addition, the holiday season is filled with hot, steamy cooking projects. It’s not uncommon for homes to have visible condensation on their windows during the holidays, as gravies, stews, loaves of bread, pies, and roasted meats emit moisture and heat. With in-house guests and more people taking long, hot baths and showers, mold spores find plenty of places to thrive.

Some of the symptoms that building residents might exhibit when exposed to a mold-harboring tree are:

  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Congestion

Many of these developments can also be attributed to the pollen that Christmas trees carry. Those with allergies and asthma may have more frequent attacks, or their episodes may be both prolonged and more severe.

How Ongoing Tree Care Promotes Mold

When you bring a real, mold-covered tree into your home, you also plant it firmly in a shallow dish of water. Most tree stands are built with vessels for holding water, and prudent homeowners refill these weekly. Watering cut trees keep them from drying out too quickly so that their needles don’t turn brown and fall off. Regular watering keeps them fresher and less of a major fire hazard.

Unfortunately, watering Christmas trees is a task that becomes increasingly difficult as the season wears on. Not only is it hard to reach the bowls at the base of tree stands while pushing past low-hanging branches, but consumers are eventually doing this job while fighting their way through tree skirts, presents, and hanging decorations. The result is often overfills, spills, and carpet saturation. These messes are rarely dry before the season ends.

Are Potted Trees a Better Alternative?

Many homeowners are choosing potted Christmas trees as an eco-friendly alternative to cut trees. Potted trees can be enjoyed throughout the holiday season, and then they can be planted outdoors when the new year comes rolling in. Although these trees aren’t experiencing the slow death and gradual breakdown of their organic materials that cut trees do, they’re often still covered in pollen and mold.

It’s also important to note that potted trees are rarely sold in ideally ventilated soil. Their pots are often too small to allow their roots to branch out. Soil compaction and problems with over-watering make them increasingly prone to mold development once indoors. Thus, if you opt for a potted Christmas tree this season, make sure to transfer it to a larger pot. Aerate its soil and establish a reasonable watering schedule.

Artificial Trees, Artificial Tree Flocking, and Other IAQ Concerns

In terms of indoor air quality, all Christmas tree types cause concerns. Fortunately, each issue can be duly mitigated. For instance, if you decide to use an artificial Christmas tree as the centerpiece of your holiday decor, you’ll want to air this unit out before putting it on display in your living environment. New plastic trees off-gas harmful chemicals, and these contaminants are too small to be picked up by standard HVAC air filters. If your artificial tree is brand new, unbox it outdoors or in a well-ventilated garage. After its synthetic smell has dissipated, you can bring it inside and set it up.

If you have an artificial tree that you’ve been using from year to year, you’ll need to make sure that it isn’t harboring mold. It’s best to store reusable Christmas decorations in a clean, dry space. Check your artificial tree for white, powdery coatings that are indicative of mildew, and make sure that it doesn’t have an unpleasant, moldering smell. If your stored tree is showing the signs of either of these issues, it’s probably time to toss it out and get a new one. Due to their designs, cleaning these products to completely eliminate mold and mildew isn’t always feasible.

If you’ve opted to purchase a real, cut Christmas tree this year, you might want to forgo the flocking. There’s no real need to make a try look like it’s covered in snow. This is certainly true if you have family members who suffer from asthma, COPD, allergies, or any other chronic respiratory conditions. Just as new plastic products release harmful chemicals into the air, both professional and store-bought flocking products do the same. As far as your IAQ goes, an unflocked tree will add fewer allergens and other respiratory irritants to your living environment.

Make Sure That Your Tree Ornaments Are Clean

Stored ornaments can be subject to mold development as well. This is especially true if your Christmas tree decorations are stored in a damp basement, an outdoor shed, a poorly ventilated attic, or a detached garage. Moldy decor should be tossed out and replaced. To prevent mold development, store your decorations in a dry, indoor space that gets adequate ventilation.

Prep Your Real Christmas Tree to Protect Your IAQ

These common IAQ concerns don’t mean that you can’t enjoy a real Christmas tree this holiday season. To get rid of excess pollen, hose your Christmas tree down before bringing it indoors. This will also get rid of any ants, tiny spiders, or other critters that it might be harboring. Let it dry thoroughly before hauling it inside.

To prevent problems with mold, clean the trunk of your Christmas tree with a mild bleach and water solution. Keep the base of your tree free and clear of new mold by unbunching tree skirts and loosely stacking wrapped presents slightly off to the side. Use a watering can with a long, slim neck to refill your tree’s water dish, and make sure that any overspill isn’t saturating the carpet, the carpet padding, or other nearby items.

When IAQ is a special concern due to residents with chronic respiratory health issues, consider investing in an air purifier, media filter, or other integrated IAQ equipment. With your home sealed up airtight against the cold outdoor weather, the risk of mold can be higher than normal, even without holiday decorations.

At First Choice Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning, we offer advanced indoor air quality solutions. We can help you enjoy clean, healthy indoor air year-round. We also provide heating, cooling, and plumbing installation, repairs, and maintenance. In addition, we offer oil-to-gas conversions. We proudly serve the residents of Metuchen, NJ. If you want help boosting your IAQ this holiday season, call First Choice Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning today!

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