Did you know the air indoors is two to five times more polluted than the air outdoors? Sometimes 100 times more?
Believe it, or not most tests show indoor air quality to be at a lower level than that of outdoor air quality. Basically that means poor air quality inside is more of a risk to our health than it is outside. There are straightforward reasons for this apparently illogical situation. That is the surprising news, yet on the plus side most of us are in a position to remove pollutants from interiors of buildings.
The majority of the exposure you have to environmental pollutants happens by breathing indoor air. These contaminants come because of activities, materials, and products used every day. If you added up all the many hours of the day people spend sleeping, at school or working in offices, you’d discover most of a person’s time gets spent indoors, which exposes people to pollutants in the air recurrently.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or USEPA calculates that 72 percent of the average person’s chemical exposure occurs inside his or her house. It’s ironic how the home is the place most people feel the safest, but in reality, it is where they get exposed to the most massive amounts of potentially dangerous contaminants.
Causes of Poor Indoor Air Quality
So why is air pollution worse inside than outside?
The declining quality of air indoors to a large extent is due to the ways modern homes are insulated to conserve both energy and heat. Essentially air is trapped in the majority of buildings by insulated wall cavities, insulated attics, and double glazed windows. In the sense of keeping fuel costs down that makes perfectly good sense, in terms of safe air quality not so much.
The main reasons for poor IAQ are common and include:
Most buildings get insulated and sealed tight to keep out all the unconditioned air from outdoors. Since little outdoor air can get inside because of the design of most ventilation systems, indoor air gets recirculated which has already cooled or heated. The setup does great at lowering energy costs, but it negatively impacts the quality of the air indoors.
Products used in interior environments, household and office products, furnishings, and building materials are the leading causes of indoor vulnerability to airborne pollutants by emitting tons of VOCs or volatile organic compounds and other particles into the environment. Chemical emissions, out of all the other miscreants that affect indoor air quality, are the most hazardous because they can augment a vast array of health effects.
Airborne particles can come from more than chemical products but also dust and dirt tracked inside a building from outside. Particulates trigger respiratory problems, like allergies and other issues in many people. A good way of reducing the amount of these pollutants in the air is to change air filters regularly and by installing walk-off mats in front of doorways.
Issues with moisture can contribute to poor indoor air quality and pollution, which can lead to the indoor growth of mold. It is possible for the emission of particulates and VOCs. It compromises IAQ and may cause adverse health effects. Mold spores are impossible to get rid of, so the perfect way of reducing the influence of mold in the air quality is to correct any moisture issues that could permit mold development.
Why is poor indoor air quality bad for our health?
Poor indoor air quality means that there is a higher risk of pollutants getting into our lungs. If there is little, or no ventilation in a building then pollutants have nowhere to go other than our lungs. Poor air quality is most likely to harm people with existing breathing problems, pregnant women, the old, and in particular the young. Children take in an extra 50% air than adults so are more likely to be adversely affected by poor air quality. Outside pollutants are not so concentrated due to unrestricted air flow. Exercising indoors makes indoor air quality a hundred times worse than it would be outside.
Can we tell if the air inside our homes is a health risk?
The simple answer to this question is no. Aside from smoke most pollutants in your homes cannot be seen, or smelt. The symptoms cannot always be traced back to poor air quality in general, or any specific pollutant in particular. Minor symptoms might not always be linked to poor air quality, for instance there could be other causes of breathlessness, dizziness, and headaches.
If you have any doubts about air quality just open some windows to disperse the concentration of any pollutants. Also smokers should smoke outside, to avoid the risks linked to passive smoking. If you pets then vacuum your home frequently.
Maintaining Good IAQ in Homes
Reducing or eliminating the sources of pollutants is the most effective approach for reducing indoor air contamination. Proper ventilation is essential too because it helps lower the accumulation of excessive moisture, gets rid of contaminants via filtration and increases clean outdoor air amounts. Some key things to remember:
Provide Adequate Ventilation
- Fuel burning furnaces, range tops, heaters, fireplaces, and exhaust fans, along with other appliances should get vented to the outside at a reasonable distance from HVAC or heating ventilation and air conditioning intakes.
- When humidity and temperature levels permit, open the windows and doors. During the spring and fall seasons, however, be cautious of allergens from outdoors.
- With proper filtration, using a home mechanical air system can manage dust levels. Ion generators or electrostatic systems and other air cleaners can be part of the home system or as a standalone.
- Ensure mechanical filters get fit in place and follow manufacturer’s instructions for when they need to get changed.
- Keep your home dry. Humidity levels should get controlled to under 60 percent with the help of a dehumidifier if needed. Frequently clean humidifiers.
- All leaks should get repaired promptly.
- Remove wet materials and water caused by water damage or flooding immediately. All porous furnishings and materials should get dried within 48 hours. Discard and replace any porous materials where mold has grown, like wood, ceiling tiles or drywall.
- Indoor plants filter carbon dioxide and can improve IAQ, but over-watered plants can foster the growth of mold.
- Bathroom exhaust fans should run while showering.
- For surface dust removal, use HEPA or high-efficiency particulate air vacuum cleaners that have microfiber cloths and disposable bags.
- Purchase bedding that is machine washable. Wash comforters, sheets, and pillows weekly to lower exposure to dust mites and other allergens.
- Have walk-off mats at all entrances.
- Consider the removal of shoes at the door. It will minimize the tracking in of dirt and dust from the outdoors.
- Use a HEPA air purifier in your home to keep harmful pollutants and particles out of the air you’re breathing in your home.
Reduce chemical pollutants
- Pick low-emitting items with labeling and third-party certification by reputable organizations.
- Be cautious of claims by manufacturers saying “alternative,” “natural,” or “no VOC.”
- Manage appliance and car exhaust. Do not idle engines, like lawnmowers or cars in the garage, especially inside garages attached to the home.
- Some activities, like rock polishing, paint stripping, sanding, hobby gluing or soldering, and painting could make pollution levels high. These actions should get done outdoors.
- Limit the use of cleaners with heavy fragrances, solvent-based detergents or harsh soaps.
- Prohibit indoor smoking because tobacco smoke has high concentrations of indoor contaminants.
Are children most at risk?
In a word, yes. As already mentioned children take in larger gulps of air, increasing the damage that pollutants could do to them. Asthma, is probably the most common illness children get that results from poor air quality. Roughly 4.2 million children in the United States suffer from asthma, research suggests that up to 65% of cases developed due to exposure to pollutants as well as tobacco smoke. Asthma cases decline drastically in homes with clean air, no smoke, and that are kept clean.
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