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Heating may be essential during the winter, but it can also be a health hazard. What risk does the type of heating you use in your home pose, and what can you do about it?

Electric heaters do not emit any gases or make the air moist, and can therefore be regarded as one of the cleanest forms of heating — if you look strictly at the air quality they produce. Of course, electric heating is often more expensive than other types of heating available and there is always the possibility of an electric fire.

Electric heaters may circulate dust and other particles around your home. This should be addressed, but is not connected directly to your heater. In some countries, “thermo-accumulative heaters”, filled with bricks and glass wool, are popular. You don't want glass wool distributed throughout the air you breathe, as it can lead to long-term respiratory problems like coughing and irritated lungs. If your heater does contain glass wool, ensure that it has no way of being expelled through the rosters and into your air.

How about central heating? As you may have expected, it comes out as the least risky form of heating from all safety perspectives, including air quality. You can use a humidifier if you feel the air in your home is too dry, and that's about it.

Shockingly, researchers from the University College London and the University of Cambridge did conclude that central heating may contribute to obesity rates. People have central heating feel so warm and comfortable that they become more sedentary and their body does not use additional calories to keep warm.

Consider An Ionizer

You know that wonderful, refreshing smell that fills the air outside after the rain has cleared up? That is the smell of negative ions, which have a positive effect on your health. Your home in winter is, on the other hand, more likely to be filled with lots of positive ions generated by home appliances including your source of heating, as well smoke and dust.

An ionizer uses electricity to ionize molecules with a negative load. Negative ions will then attach themselves to the positive ions floating around. They can either be sucked up into an air purifying system, or hoovered up as they fall to the floor and other flat surfaces. If you have an ionizer, vacuum clean often. Ionizers come as simple appliances (even in USB format!), or can be part of an air purifier.

Ionizer-proponents say that the presence of one of these fellows will greatly reduce the amount of allergens and other harmful substances in a space. Even bacteria may be reduced in number. In the wake of the SARS crisis, many hospitals started using ionizers and research into their effects is still ongoing.

Having a shower is another great way to have more negative ions floating around your home. Leave your bathroom door wide open if you want the effects of your shower to spread further. Ionizers are said to be especially beneficial to people who are prone to asthma and allergies. Does it work? I am afraid you will have to try it out and judge for yourself.

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