Published on August 30th, 2009 | by Stephanie Evans
Improve Your Indoor Air Quality
Driving in the Bay Area, I am reminded almost daily that smog is a major problem. As news reports highlight pollution levels, I look around at the other commuters and see that the majority of cars on the road are transporting single occupants. On these and other days, we are often encouraged to play our part to alleviate the problem by carpooling, taking public transit or considering alternative transportation like walking and cycling.
But while so many focus on outdoor air pollution, few realize that indoor air pollution is a major problem. In fact, the US EPA lists indoor air pollution among the top five risks to environmental health. Indoor air pollution, on average, is 2-5 times worse than outdoor air pollution and in the case of a new construction or renovation project it can be as much as 100 (even 1,000) times worse.
Considering Americans spend close to 90% of their time indoors – whether at home, the office, or at school – the quality of our indoor air can have a significant affect on our health and wellbeing. Poor air quality can trigger asthma, allergies, headaches, nausea, and other health symptoms that can make everyday life a challenge.
Sources of indoor pollutants are fairly commonplace in our homes. Possible contributors include second-hand tobacco smoke, pets, fireplaces, stoves/ovens, furnishing/finishes, and moisture/leaks. By controlling the sources of indoor contaminants, we can limit our exposure to mold, mildew, pet dander, particulates, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals in our spaces.
Many people live with poor indoor air quality (IAQ) because they do not recognize the warning signs or are not able to identify the source of the problem. Good indicators that you may have IAQ problems include musty or chemical odors, visible leaks or water damage, and allergic reactions or other health-related symptoms, such as the ones listed above.
To avoid IAQ problems at home follow a few simple steps:
- Turn on hood fans when cooking to help expel fumes – Cooking, especially on a gas stove, releases chemicals that can contaminate the air, such as carbon monoxide. Use the fume hood fan when cooking and make sure it is vented directly outside the house.
- Turn on the exhaust fan when showering to limit moisture build up – Run the bath fan during showers to remove the heat and humidity. And keep the shower curtain or bathtub sliding door open after bathing to increase air circulation.
- Clean regularly to prevent dust, dirt and pet hair accumulation – A clean house is a healthy house. Everyday, dirt and dust accumulate in our home. We track it in on our feet and shed it from our clothes and skin. These particles can become airborne, contributing to the pollutants and biological contaminants in the air. Regular cleaning can help limit the problem.
- Maintain your HVAC filters as instructed – Check, clean or replace furnace and air filters regularly, at least every two months. Consider installing a “high efficiency particulate” (HEPA) filter.
- Install low emitting furniture and finishes – New or recently installed building materials and furnishings can emit VOCs. Look for products that are certified for low chemical emissions, and open windows when using paints, adhesives, sealants and other materials that tend to offgas during installation.
- Use cleaning products that do not emit chemicals into the air – Many products used to wash floors, countertops and windows can offgas chemicals. Avoid dangerous chemicals by selecting products that are certified for their levels of chemical emissions.
- Open windows to allow fresh air into your space – To achieve energy efficiency, we seal up our buildings and tend to keep our windows shut, trapping pollutants inside. From time to time, its good to open the windows to allow fresh air to move through our spaces and flush out any stale or polluted air.
- Choose indoor plants that are more efficient at cleaning the air. Surprisingly, there are some indoor plants that are more effective at ridding your house of indoor pollutants than others.