We all know about air pollution and the risks from breathing contaminated air. But what about indoor air pollution? Do you know how the appliances in your home impact the air you and your family breath?
Recently, the New Yorker published an article about the unknown dangers of indoor air quality.
“Unlike outdoor air, the air inside our homes is largely unregulated and has been all but ignored by researchers. We know barely the first thing about the atmospheres in which we spend the vast majority of our time. homechem—House Observations of Microbial and Environmental Chemistry—was the world’s first large-scale collaborative investigation into the chemistry of indoor air.”
According to National Geographic, air pollution is a mix of particles and gases that potentially reach harmful concentration levels both inside and outside. Air pollution creates a range of issues including health risks. Additionally, common pollutants include:
- Carbon Dioxide
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, some of these pollutants contribute to indoor air pollution. In addition, other contaminants that impact indoor air quality include:
- Cigarette Smoke
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
As the NYT piece concludes, the unknown dangers provide the most risk. For example, Erin Katz, a student volunteer helping to identify and quantify the dangers of indoor air pollution notes:
“The scariest thing in this house is probably the toaster. I just had no idea that toasters emitted so many particles.”
More About Common Indoor Air Pollution Issues
Generally, we spend about 90% of our time inside. From study to study, this percentage remains fairly consistent (including across seasons). So, although as we enter spring and spend some more time outside, we still spend lots of time at home and in the office. As a result, we want to understand the root causes of indoor air pollution and ideally address those issues in your home to improve your air quality.
First, if you suspect indoor air pollution impacts your health, discuss the symptoms with your doctor (for home exposure) or local health department (for public exposure).
Next, review your home against the common pollutants because being cognizant of potential exposure helps understand your risks. Some common signs include:
- moisture condensation on windows or walls.
- smelly or stuffy air.
- dirty central heating and air cooling equipment.
- and areas where books, shoes, or other items become moldy.
Additionally, look at your lifestyle and hobbies because our activities impact the air we breath.
Finally, look at your home ventilation. During the ventilation review, check for any smells. For example, step outside into fresh air between your review and if the smells remain on the second test, then look into finding an experienced HVAC technician for a deeper investigation, which look for signs, such as:
- general odors.
- water damage or leaks.
- excessive dirt or pet droppings.
- standing water in humidifiers, A/C units or boiler pans.
- radon testing for asbestos.
Along those lines, homeowners should understand some primary indoor air pollutants. To help, homeowners that opt for annual inspections of their heating and cooling systems know an experienced independent technician will identify these potential issues. Furthermore, homeowners can look out for a few significant warning signs as well.
Mold Potentially Releases Air Pollutants
Mold becomes a pollutant when accumulated growth goes unnoticed or ignored.
“Typically, we spot mold in bathrooms and kitchens because the spores depend on some moisture for growth. The longer the mold grows, then the worse the potential dangers becomes, so if there is already mold growing in your home, clean up the mold!”
In particular, watch out for water-damaged materials and surfaces, including air borne mold spores from your crawl space. Repeated exposure to mold can cause:
- Allergic Reactions
Dust Mites Lead to Indoor Air Pollution
Dust mites create a huge problem. For example, a female house dust mite lives up to 70 days, laying 60 to 100 eggs in the last 5 weeks of her life. In a 10-week life span, a house dust mite produces approximately 2,000 fecal particles. Plus, an even larger number of partially digested enzyme-covered dust particles.
“Dust mites feed on organic detritus, such as flakes of shed human skin, and flourish in the stable environment of dwellings. House dust mites remain barely visible to the eye because they are incredibly small and have translucent bodies. However, mites are a common cause of asthma, wheezing and allergic symptoms worldwide.”
Carbon Monoxide Is Air Pollution
According to the CDC, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is a leading cause of unintentional poisoning deaths in the United States. The CDC estimates CO poisoning causes approximately 400 deaths and over 20,000 emergency room visits per year. However, most CO poisonings go unreported because they are misdiagnosed as a flu or the common cold because the symptoms (headaches, nausea, and fatigue) are very similar.
More About the Impact of Indoor Air Pollution
Understanding the indoor air quality of your home (or office buildings) matters because uncertainty remains in the concentration levels or periods of exposure that produce these harmful health problems. Plus, people react differently to pollutants, so remaining diligent offers the best change to reduce your risks.
From eye, nose and throat irritation to headaches, dizziness and general fatigue, health problems range from minor to major due to indoor air pollution. For example, homes with significant and sustained indoor air quality issues potentially expose family members to respiratory or heart disease or even cancer.
Certain health effects show within a single exposure, while others require repeated exposures. Fortunately, the EPA shares some information about immediate health issues and possible solutions. For example, if a homeowner identifies the pollutant source, then removing that source resolves the underlying root cause.
However, poor indoor air quality also presents some significant long-term health impact. Upon years of repeated exposure, very harmful health effects include respiratory diseases, heart disease and possibly cancer.
More About Improving Your Home Air Quality
Fortunately, homeowners can take steps to improve their indoor air quality. In addition to a general inspection, experts recommend significant review of source control, ventilation and air cleaning products.
Generally, the most effective way to reduce your risks of indoor air pollution remains eliminating the specific sources causing potential problems. As the EPA explains:
“Some sources, like those that contain asbestos, can be sealed or enclosed; others, like gas stoves, can be adjusted to decrease the amount of emissions. In many cases, source control is also a more cost-efficient approach to protecting indoor air quality than increasing ventilation because increasing ventilation can increase energy costs.”
To help, learn about some common projects that help reduce pollutants and improve your home air quality.
Improve Home Ventilation
For many homeowners, improving home ventilation means increasing the amount of external air entering your home. Typically, most home HVAC systems do not automatically bring in outside air into the home. Therefore, and depending on your outside air quality, take some simple steps, such as:
- open windows and doors (weather permitting).
- operate window and attic fans.
- run window A/C units with vent control open.
- install kitchen or bathroom fans that exhaust directly outside.
Utilize Air Cleaners
The EPA notes that effectively utilizing air cleaners helps reduce air pollutants. Air cleaners, which differ from air fresheners, help remove particles from the air. However, air cleaners generally do not remove gas pollutants. From simple table top models to comprehensive whole-house systems, vary, but an effective air cleaner must provide sufficient air circulation with efficient collector.
Mold in the home makes us sick. Therefore, removing mold from your home improves your overall health! Inspect your home for mold and look for visible mold or musty/moldy smells. Look for notable warning signs in places, such as:
- damp basements.
- leaking pipes or water damage.
- potted plants.
- sink traps.
- refrigerator and freezer doors.
- fish tanks.
- plants and bushes outside the home.
Call a professional if you find visible mold larger than 10 square feet. However, at times, mold is not visible because it grows behind walls (typical in many kitchens or bathrooms). As a result, experts recommend a mold test every three years.
Use the Vacuum
Dander, which is produced by humans and pets, is another major culprit of air pollution. Lost dander remaining on household appliances, tables or couches, potentially cause allergies or increase dust mites. Therefore, find the right vacuum and use it regularly (every other day if you have pets)!
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) enter your home from personal care products, carpets, furniture, paint, fragrances and other sources. As the New Yorker notes, although we cannot see VOCs, we can certainly smell them to know they are in our homes.
“VOCs are responsible for much of what we smell—toast, flowers, gasoline—although some have no odor at all. And, while certain of them, such as benzene and toluene, are known to be harmful when inhaled, for the most part their health effects have not been studied.”
Generally, excessive exposure to VOCs cause the main symptoms due to indoor air pollution. As a result, improve ventilation and purchase products without synthetic or natural fragrances.
Reduce Carbon Footprint
Reducing our carbon footprints, helps everyone lower the environmental factors affecting the air we all breath. As the Indoor Air Quality Association notes, humans product a lot of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the ari, which increases the levels of allergens into the air.
“For example, increased CO2 has been shown to increase the level of tree pollen and fungal spores or mold. Since mold proliferates in warmer temperatures and thrives when CO2 levels rise, this means increased mold in our basements, and areas of our home that contain high moisture content. Higher amounts of fungal spores affect our indoor air quality and can cause a range of unhealthy symptoms.”
Therefore, consider a home energy audit, which improves your energy efficiency (and reviews your ventilation!). For example, many energy audits reveal that bathroom exhaust simple moves air into another room (like the attic) and not outside. Fixing this issue also helps your ventilation and air quality.
At SolvIt, we spend our time helping our communities improve the quality of their homes. If you are interested in learning more about your home air quality, then Connecticut residents can check on the real time air quality information in their area. Plus, the state website offers access to general air and climate data. Additionally, to reduce your indoor air pollution, contact SolvIt today and ask to speak to one of our indoor air quality specialists.