We think about the foods we put in our bodies, getting our steps in, and drinking enough water. As part of your healthy living routine, have you considered the air quality inside your home? This can be a major factor in our overall health and well-being and is often overlooked.
What causes poor indoor air?
Poor House Ventilation
If you live in the northern part of the country like we do, your heat goes on in October and runs through April. When the heater is running, we keep the windows and doors shut tight. What does that do to our air quality?
We tend to think that homes are energy efficient when they are “buttoned up tight” in winter, but if the air inside our homes does not get exchanged or properly ventilated, it gets stale and can potentially lead to health issues.
A furnace has two vents: One that exhausts old air inside the house outdoors, and the other for air intake. Older furnaces — say about 12 to 15 years old and older — don’t bring in fresh air from outside. The air intake is located inside the house (usually a vent sticking out of the furnace) so it’s actually drawing air from inside the home.
The best way to get fresh air inside is a heat recovery ventilator (HRV). Some home builders are now installing HRV units in their new homes because they’re building them to be more airtight and energy-efficient. This prevents problems such as condensation, mold and poor indoor air quality. HRVs bring in fresh air from outside, preconditioning it to the interior temperature using the air that’s going out. This system recovers up to 88 percent of the heat, and, thanks to an electronically commutated motor (ECM), it uses a minimal amount of electricity to do it.
If you want to bring in fresh air over the winter but can’t invest in an HRV, you can take advantage of warmer winter days and open the windows for 15-20 minutes. And while you have the windows open, run the main exhaust fan in your home, which is usually located in the main bathroom, to help pull out old, stale air. If you are in an older home and have a whole house fan, even better. The air will be exchanged in just a few minutes.
Remember to change your furnace filter at least once every three months and once a month during the cold season.
In the more humid months, too much moisture can be an issue. When moisture settles on a surface, mildew and dust mites will thrive. Mildew and dust mites trigger asthma and other allergic reactions. High levels of moisture will also make you uncomfortable. Basement leaks and rain will increase moisture in your home through capillary action. Kitchen activities and plans also increase moisture. To regulate the amount of moisture in the air, use a dehumidifier.
Volatile Organic Compounds
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emanated as gases from liquids or solids. Paints, aerosol sprays, disinfectants, and pesticides are the main sources of VOCs. Once exposed to VOCs, you will suffer from nausea, eye and nose irritation, headaches, and kidney and liver damage. To prevent exposure to VOCs, increase ventilation to your home, and always follow the manufacturer’s directions.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that is produced from the combustion of fuels. The gas reduces the levels of oxygen in the body. The effects include nausea, dizziness, headaches, and a fast heart rate. High rates of carbon monoxide result in death. Always ensure that your home is well-ventilated and install a Carbon Monoxide detector on every level.
You can neither see nor smell radon. Radon predisposes you to lung cancer. The level of exposure can only be known through testing. You can purchase a screening kit to know the levels of this gas in your home. Hire a qualified professional if the levels of radon are too high.
How can I improve the air quality in my home?
As mentioned above there are a few easy steps you can take to monitor and improve the air quality of your home.
Ventilate – Open your windows on milder days throughout the year, even for just a few minutes to exchange the air.
Use an Air Purifier – Air cleaning devices can help reduce some of the tiniest airborne particles and may help reduce indoor air pollution. However, they have limits. For example, air purifiers aren’t effective against gases or humidity. Larger, heavier particles, including many allergens, fall too quickly out of the air to be effectively removed this way.
Reduce Carpeting – Carpet traps unhealthy particles including chemicals, dust mites, pet dander, dirt and fungi, and vacuuming can make them airborne. If you do have carpets, use a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) vacuum cleaner to ensure better air quality. Hard surface flooring, like wood, tile or cork can be readily cleaned by damp mopping.
Your Cleaning Routine – Use natural, non-toxic cleaning products, ( read our article on non-toxic cleaning products ). Dust surfaces and ceiling fans. Vacuum and steam clean upholstered furniture regularly and use dust-mite-resistant covers. Wash bedding regularly and in very hot water.
Avoid Toxic Products – Hair and nail products, cleaning products, art and hobby supplies and other common products can increase the levels of VOCs. Look for eco-friendly products that are marked “low VOCs” and be sure to open windows and use exhaust fans when using these products.
Add Plants – Live plants are natural air filters and bring life and decor to a room. Some of the best filtering plants include English Ivy, Snake Plant (or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue), Spider Plant, Aloe Vera, Broad Lady Palm and the Weeping Fig.
Monitor the Air Quality – with Carbon Monoxide and Radon Detectors. There are also Indoor Air Quality monitors on the market now that will test for pollen, dust, chemical pollutants, and humidity. Some will track temperature and carbon monoxide levels. These devices typically start at around $50 and can cost up to $200.
We hope this information has been helpful. If you have any questions on how we can help you improve the air quality of your home, please contact us. We look forward to working with you toward a cleaner, happier home!