Smog and other types of pollution are issues almost everyone is aware of and concerned about. However, given the fact that we spend up to 90% of our lives indoors, air quality in the home is an issue that has gotten relatively little attention. Many people think the biggest threats to our health are external, such as car exhaust and factory emissions. While these pollutants are serious, the more pressing concern may be in our homes themselves.
Why is Indoor Air Quality Important
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 4 million people die each year as a result of household air pollution. And when you add in the time and money lost due to illness, it’s clear that indoor air quality is an important public health issue in its own right.
What Are the Main Contributors to Poor Indoor Air Quality?
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The first step in solving indoor air quality problems is to be aware of what the main contributors to pollution are. In most of the developed world, common contributors to poor indoor air quality include:
- Mold and allergens: Anyone who suffers from allergies knows the strong effect mold, pollen, dust mites, pet dander and other biological allergens can have on their health and comfort. Even if you don’t have a strong sensitivity to these things, there’s a good chance they are affecting your health in subtle ways. For example, they may be causing you to experience trouble sleeping, mild respiratory problems and other health issues.
- Particulates: Particulate pollution refers to minute quantities of dust, soot, smoke and other hazardous compounds. These contaminants mix into your indoor air when tracked in by pets, through poor sealing and filtering, or on furniture, clothes and other articles in your home. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies airborne particulates as a Group 1 carcinogen. Other potential negative effects of long-term exposure include permanent DNA mutations and heart disease.
- Gases: Gaseous indoor air contaminants range from volatile organic compound (VOC) off-gassing to radon, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposure to VOCs can cause headaches, nausea, respiratory irritation and other problems. Radon is also the second-leading cause of lung cancer, and CO and NO2 can both be fatal.
- Formaldehyde: Often found in composite wood products, such as laminate flooring, formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a strong odor and can be flammable at certain temperatures. If your home has insulation, paint or laminates that were manufactured using formaldehyde, they may cause household air pollution thanks to off-gassed formaldehyde. Skin, eye, nose and throat irritation are the most common effects of this indoor air pollutant, and it may even cause some types of cancers.
- Cigarettes: By now, everyone knows the dangers of smoking and the effects of second-hand smoke, but it’s also a common — and easily preventable — indoor air contaminant. Simply avoiding smoking indoors can drastically improve the air quality of your home and is especially pertinent when children, the elderly or people with respiratory illnesses live there.
Risks of Poor Indoor Air Quality
It’s one thing to talk about the harmful indoor air pollutants, but it’s another thing altogether to understand why they’re so harmful. Health problems are the most obvious risk of poor indoor air quality, particularly for respiratory health. But there are several other reasons why you should be concerned about the air quality in your home, such as:
- HVAC issues: Excessive pollutants in the air will make your HVAC system work harder and get dirtier faster. This means the dirty air filter reduces airflow and also spreads dust, mold and other allergens back into the air. Pests are also known to create nests in the ducts of your HVAC system, expelling even more pollutants into your air, which you and your family end up breathing.
- Utility bills: Another downside to having your HVAC system work extra hard is it’ll use up more energy, resulting in a higher utility bill. If you find your monthly utility bill is higher than normal, it’s worth checking your HVAC system to ensure everything is working as it should and there is no mold, pests or other contaminants sabotaging it.
- Long-term illness: Debris from pests, mold and VOCs can cause or worsen illnesses, such as asthma and even some cancers. It’s important not to ignore the initial signs of poor indoor air quality, such as frequent headaches, coughing or sneezing, since they could develop into serious illnesses.
4 Ways to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality
Improving your indoor air quality is something any homeowner can do without a large expense. Here are some ways to get started:
- Ventilation: Indoor air is typically two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, and bringing some of that fresh air in is one of the best ways to improve your home’s air quality. Make sure your home is properly ventilated, especially when particulates and VOCs are present.
- Humidity: As important as ventilation is, a well-sealed home is essential for preventing the moisture and humidity buildup that can cause mold to grow. Making sure your home is well-sealed keeps temperatures and humidity levels more stable and saves you money on your monthly utility bills.
- Cleanliness: A clean home is a healthier one. Mold, fungi and other pests thrive in dark, damp, crowded spaces. In dirty environments, lingering dust and dander get circulated into the air and cause health problems. Keeping your home clean is one of the best ways to maintain air quality at a healthy level. Aside from normal dusting and sweeping, you should also have your HVAC vents cleaned regularly.
- Purification: Purifying your home is a quick and easy way to rid it of airborne microbes, and there are several ways to do this, including using air scrubbers. The REME HALO® air scrubber is an in-duct air purifier that can be attached to your HVAC system to produce a plasma that travels through your home, purifying the air. It also coagulates smaller particles that your air filter may miss, making them larger and more easily caught by your existing air filter, promising cleaner air all around.
Take the First Steps Towards Cleaner Air
Tackling persistent indoor air problems can seem like a daunting task, but, as with any major renovation, the first step is to know what you’re dealing with. Home Climates now offers comprehensive indoor air quality testing that gives you a fast and accurate picture of the airborne pollutants affecting your home and your health. Once we know where the problem lies, we can develop a strategy to remediate it for good.
Get started by contacting our office to book your appointment today. We proudly service residents of Elizabethtown, Lancaster, Mount Joy, Hershey, Harrisburg and surrounding areas.