I think my top-floor stuffy studio apartment is the reason why I feel lethargic and unfocused. What can I do?
August 20, 2006 7:46 AM   Subscribe

I think my top-floor stuffy studio apartment is the reason why I feel lethargic and unfocused. What can I do?

Background: I have lived in this apartment for nearly 5 years. It is on the top/3rd floor of a duplex, with eaves and skylight windows. It is a "two room studio" (studio apt. with a wall to create a kitchen/living room and a bedroom).

For a while now (at least a few years) I have felt a general feeling of lethargy in my apartment. Sometimes I feel a bit dizzy, and the air always feels stuffy. I wasn't sure if it was other lifestyle factors (caffeine, not enough sleep, sitting at a computer job all day), but I've tried altering them and it doesn't seem to do much. Unless there are any underlying health issues I don't know about, it seems like my apartment is the one constant factor. When I go away on vacation, I feel much more active and alert. In my apartment, I feel like I can't focus, like I'm breathing through hot boxed-up air, like I have no energy and just sit staring at the internet.

My bedroom gets pretty much no air circulation. It has one window (and a door to a bathroom with a window), and that's blocked up with the air conditioner. I use a small stationary fan to try to get the air going. The air conditioner cools things down, but the fan setting doesn't seem to move air much.

The apartment is often very hot (both because of the skylight greenhouse effect and, I think, because of the lack of air circulation, and in the winter because the building's heat rises). Other people complain when they come over.

Also, I had an allergy test just in case and found that I have dust mite allergies. The apartment seems to get dusty easily. I never feel any scratchy throat or watery eyes, though.

Has anyone been in an uncomfortable/stuffy apartment like this? Could this be some kind of sick building issue? What can I do to try to boost air circulation or to figure out what could be the source of the problem?

I hate to give the place up - its location is fantastic, the rent is excellent, and it has a lot of character. Also, I'm reluctant to walk away without knowing definitely what the problem is. I'm paranoid that I'll just lose a great apartment and still have the same problem but somewhere new.
posted by cadge to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This may sound useless because you are dealing with a heat/air circulation problem, but I really suggest you consult some feng shui manuals just for the hell of it. If you rearrange your house based on the principles, you'll be surprised at how much better it can feel.

I have a nice, but awkward house and it never felt "quite right." We couldn't sleep well, etc. Then, my wife brough home some Feng Shui manuals and we rearranged the house based on our limited understanding of what they were recommending. I was surprised how much the little things they recommended helped.

Also, get lots of plants. And maybe some nice shades of the sky lights.
posted by milarepa at 8:20 AM on August 20, 2006

Maybe you could try one of those fans that mount in a window frame? You didn't mention if the other room had a window (other than the bathroom), but you could try using two fans pointing in opposite directions - one sucking air in and the other blowing air out... get some 'cross-flow ventilation' going on!
posted by matty at 8:29 AM on August 20, 2006

Can you open the skylight windows at all? Ours cranks out with the aid of a long pole.
posted by cabingirl at 8:32 AM on August 20, 2006

Any chance you are experiencing mild carbon monoxide poisoning? You might want to buy a CO detector if you have a gas-powered water heater or something else that could be giving it off.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:36 AM on August 20, 2006

Do you feel better when you spend time outside on the street? That is, is the problem specifically your apartment, or is it the air quality in your city? I lived for a year in a city that had regular air quality reports (Paris), and I noticed a clear correlation between how dirty the air was and how lethargic I felt.

If you or your neighbors have improperly adjusted gas appliances (water heater, stove, dryer), there's a chance that you might have low levels of carbon monoxide (CO) in your air. If you don't already have a CO detector, get one right now. If it's damp, you might have a mold problem; some molds produce nasty neurotoxins. The US EPA has a good web page on air quality problems.

Presuming that your apartment isn't actually poisoning you, you need to cool down the apartment, get the air circulating more often, and cut down on dust. Milarepa's suggestion of shades is great; you might also try a window film (e.g., 3M window film). If you haven't cleaned the air filter on your air conditioner recently, do that.

If you were to put a window fan in your bathroom, and set it to exhaust air out the window, would that increase the airflow in your bedroom?

If you have hardwood floors, sweep them regularly (even daily) for dust with a Swiffer or something similar that electrostatically collects dust. If you have carpets, vacuum them regularly, and make sure your vacuum has a HEPA filter so that you don't just recirculate dust when you vacuum. You might also find that a recirculating air filter with charcoal and HEPA filtration might help. I had one that made too much noise to run when I was home, but by turning it on when I was not there, I was able to get rid of a lot of airborne dust. Finally, a lint roller can be useful to get rid of dust on sheets and other bedding between launderings.

Good luck!
posted by brianogilvie at 8:48 AM on August 20, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far, everyone!

A few details:

* Skylights - they already have blinds that I made for them (two sets of curtain rods with blind material stretched across them). Sadly the windows don't open - I think that would address a lot.

* Air quality of the town - hmmm, I hadn't thought of that. I've been feeling lethargic in places outside of my apartment too. I wasn't sure if it was a double-whammy of poor air in my apartment _and_ workplace, but maybe it's the city itself. I will try to be more observant and see how I feel out there too.

* Carbon monoxide - I already have a carbon monoxide detector installed (I had one of my own and then later my landlord installed a different one), and it has never gone off yet.
posted by cadge at 9:35 AM on August 20, 2006

1. check your thyroid levels at the Dr. or one of those anytest labs .
2. try some of those zeolite air freshener rocks , volcanic material seems to generate negative ions. will get stale , stuffy , dead rats smells , out of your abode. Pets store sell bags to hang up or place near fans.
3. get the air moving in there...Fans with or without windows.
posted by Agamenticus at 10:51 AM on August 20, 2006

Get an air purifier. It will clean all of the air in your apartment, including wiping out any dust mites. I've got one like this by Vornado, and it works well.
posted by amro at 11:52 AM on August 20, 2006

Myself and other family members who are allergic to mold have the symptoms you describe when we spend time in a room where there is a lot of books. So it is possible that it's allergy-related.
posted by winston at 2:03 PM on August 20, 2006

I'm amazed the windows don't open, this would seem like a code violation (emergency egress). Anyway, if you can't open more than one window to get airflow, can you install a screen door on your apartment door, and then leave that open while you are home to get some airflow?

Re: dust mite allergies, you need to clean your bed linens quite frequently to keep this under control, like every week. Any soft furnishings can also hide dust mites, so try vacuuming the sofa every week. Good luck!
posted by Joh at 4:09 PM on August 20, 2006

Buy Apartment Therapy (and visit www.apartmenttherapy.com). It's changing my life.
posted by sweetkid at 5:54 PM on August 20, 2006

I once lived in a very stuffy apt. and found that having a bunch of plants around made me feel a lot better. Probably partly placebo, but the things do make oxygen.

You could try getting an air filter/purifier. In the short term, make sure the filter on the a.c. unit is clean.

And, maybe off-topic, but I'd also make sure all your lightbulbs provide "natural" light. Some lights (fluorescent, too harsh, etc.) often make me feel grody, though not necessarily lethargic.

Another fan might help a lot, especially if it oscillates. Or you could follow this engineering student's lead and jury-rig an air conditioner out of a fan and some copper tubing.
posted by jessicapierce at 11:43 AM on August 23, 2006

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