Guide to Indoor Air Quality and Pollution
Improve Indoor Air Quality In Your Home
We take the air we breathe for granted, don’t we? But it’s a requirement for our survival - we need oxygen and other naturally-occurring compounds that float around in the atmosphere, and our lungs are a great way to bring these substances into our bodies. The snag is that there are also lots of menacing substances in the air that can have a negative impact on our bodies, and most of us are not even aware of the threats we face. In fact, most don’t know that their indoor air quality (IAQ) is likely much more toxic than the outdoor air!
The state of indoor air quality pollution
By and large, most of us spend the vast majority of our time indoors, and that’s where the largest air quality concerns reside in our advanced society. In fact, many studies have found levels of various air pollution to be 2 to 5 times higher indoors than they are outdoors and sometimes as high as 100 times more concentrated!
Decades ago, the major pollutants indoors were things like smoke and soot from woodstoves and mold from too much moisture. But today, there are many different types of pollutants that enter our homes and cause havoc for our bodies.
In general, there are four main types of indoor air pollution that impact our air quality negatively: biological, combustion, particulate, and volatile organic compound contaminants:
- Biological materials: There are many ways biological contaminants can enter your home - things like mold, fungi, insects, dust mites, and so on get in through windows, doors, breaches in your home’s exterior, and more. All of these biological materials can become airborne through normal use, creating irritants that bother eyes, nose, throat, and your respiratory system.
- Combustion products: With poor ventilation, furnaces, oil burning stoves, woodstoves, gas cooking appliances, secondhand smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, welding, and generators can add combustion contaminants to your indoor air like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Poorly placed air intakes can also bring exhaust from outdoor vehicles (with similar contaminants) into your home year-round.
- Particulate matter: Think of this category as very fine dust or fibers that get introduced into the air during construction and renovation projects as well as normal everyday activities. Some particulate matter is non-hazardous, such as gypsum, limestone, cement, fiberglass, mineral wool, paper dust, and plaster dust. These will however cause short-term discomfort, like skin, eye, and respiratory irritation. Hazardous particulate matter like lead dust (from paint), toner dusk, or asbestos are much more serious and need to be addressed accordingly.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): You’ve heard these talked about when referring to paint, no doubt, but these compounds which are released in the form of a gas can come from a whole host of building materials and can contribute to headaches, drowsiness, and eye, nose, and throat irritation depending on the concentration. Building materials that can off-gas long after they are installed including paints, stains, varnishes, coatings, caulks, sealants, carpeting, adhesives, resilient flooring, wall coverings, pressed wood products, cleaners, fabrics, draperies, foam, and fuels. VOCs can also enter your home through cleaning supplies, personal care products, scented candles, dry cleaning, and many more sources.
In sufficient quantities, any number of these pollutants can create physical symptoms that range from mild headaches and dizziness to more serious health problems like asthma and cancer. Though you can’t see these pollutants, you should be thinking about them in the name of a leading healthy, vibrant life!
How to prevent indoor air pollution
Thankfully, there are many things you can do to prevent the build-up of pollutants in your indoor air, and by doing so, reduce the toxins you introduce into the environment and into your body. Some of these ideas are as simple as making better consumer choices, while others will require some work to be done on your home to reduce the sources of contamination:
- Learn about the most common air pollutants
- Identify air pollutants in your home by testing your indoor air
- Maintain optimum humidity
- Monitor carbon monoxide levels
- Add a high-efficiency filter to your furnace
- Purchase low-VOC building materials, including flooring, adhesives, paints, stains, varnishes, caulks, pressed wood products, and so on
- Choose unscented cleaning products, personal care products, and air fresheners
- Choose natural air fresheners or make your own natural air fresheners
- Keep air quality in mind when undertaking renovation projects
For more detailed information check out our indoor air pollution prevention guide.
Fixing problems with indoor air quality
And when problems with your indoor air quality arise, there are also some steps you can take to clear the air and minimize the health impacts for you and your family:
- Open windows and doors to air things out
- Install a good air filtration system
- Maintain a functioning air ventilation system
- Keep air circulating freely in your home
- Use plants to purify your indoor air
There are also many resources online for learning more about indoor air quality and your family’s health. Check these out for an in depth treatment of the issues and get all of the facts so that you can protect yourself and your loved ones:
- The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality - US Environmental Protection Agency
- Indoor Air Quality - Health Canada
- Your Health Home - The Lung Association
- IAQ in Homes/Residences - US Environmental Protection Agency
- Air quality and health - World Health Organization