Did you know that people spend, on average, 90% of their time indoors? And did you know that the air you breathe indoors – at home, at work, even at school – is often many times unhealthier and more polluted than the air outdoors?
When you think of air pollution, what comes to mind? Smog, dust, perhaps cigarette smoke? You may also be aware of irritants like dander and pollen. But how much do you really know about what might be lurking in the very air you breathe?
Whether you’re concerned about allergies, illnesses, or even deadly diseases, paying attention to the air quality in your home is a good place to start. Here are some lesser known and pretty scary facts about indoor air quality so that you can be better equipped to create a healthier environment for you and your household.
1. There Are No Standards To Measure Indoor Air Quality
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been testing outdoor air and monitoring pollution since the 1970s. Since then, the government has passed any number of regulations to reduce harmful emissions and improve air quality – including eliminating the pollutant R22 as a coolant in air conditioners.
EPA studies have also shown that indoor air can be five times worse – or more – than outdoor air. In spite of all that, there are actually no federal guidelines or regulations in place to define “acceptable” or even “good” air quality in the home.
That can make it difficult to test or gauge the quality of the air in your home, especially when the sources of pollution can be as diverse as radon, chemicals from cleaning products, dust and even allergens from your guinea pig.
To understand the air quality in your home, you’ll first need to pay attention to symptoms. Are you noticing an increase in allergic reactions? How about colds and viruses? Is your home constantly dusty, in spite of your best efforts? Does anyone experience eye irritation, nose bleeds, persistent coughing? These can all be signs of an air pollution problem.
Then you can have the air tested to check for high levels of particular triggers. How high is too high? Well, it depends in part on the people living in the house. Some people are more sensitive to even low levels of certain pollutants. The key is to have your air checked regularly (at least once a year is a good place to start) so that you can keep track of any changes, good or bad. Then you can take action as it might be necessary.
2. Air Quality Is About More Than Just Particles
If you’ve ever used a HEPA filter then you’re already familiar with common airborne pollutants. Dust, dander and pollen are common particles that are trapped by HEPA filters.
But there is a lot more to air quality than that, and HEPA filters are no match for other pollutants like viruses, mold and chemical compounds. VOCs (Volatile Organic Chemicals) are common household sources of air pollution and include emissions from cleaning products, paint, carpet, glue, hobby supplies, detergents, even furniture fabrics and clothing.
You may not think about it every day but radon and even carbon monoxide are sources of air pollution, too. You’re probably already familiar with the dangerous and potentially fatal effects of carbon monoxide, but did you know that low levels that are often not even detected by alarms can have cumulative negative effects on your health?
Beyond airborne pollutants, air quality is also defined by the humidity and temperature in your home. Yes, those desert-dry winter days and clammy summer ones are part of the air quality problem in your home! Improper levels of humidity can contribute to breathing problems, exacerbate allergies and encourage the growth of bacteria and viruses.
3. Candles And Air Fresheners Actually Contribute To The Problem
They smell great, but if you’re using them to improve odors or air quality, then stop! Rather than resolving odors, these added scents only cover them up – and often not very well. The odor, and the source of the pollution causing it, are still there.
If you use candles and air fresheners simply because you enjoy them, then just be aware that they can actually contribute to air pollution, too. Burning candles emit gases as well as airborne particulate that can be irritating.
Air fresheners may be even worse. They can contain harmful chemicals that you’d be better off omitting from the air you breathe. In fact, they’ve been shown to contain chemicals that disrupt hormone function in children and can aggravate asthma. If you plan to use one or both of these, then choose carefully and do use them in a well-ventilated area.
4. The Air In Your Home May Contain Carcinogens
Remember those air fresheners? Yes, they may be spewing carcinogens into the air you breathe. And they’re not the only culprit.
Your favorite non-stick cookware can be emitting harmful chemicals every time it’s heated, right along with your plastic food containers. Cleaning products, especially those with ammonia or fragrances are also offenders.
Pesticides, herbicides, even Fido’s flea and tick collar could all be emitting harmful chemicals. So might your furniture and clothing if it’s been treated to be flame-retardant.
When it comes to household supplies and everyday items, a better question might be: what *isn’t* emitting harmful chemicals? If you’re concerned, try to reduce your use of harmful items and choose the ones you do use wisely. Be sure you have proper ventilation in your home, and consider an air purifier to help reduce pollutants.
5. Your Inkjet Printer Could Be Harmful To Your Health
Printing inks can contain chemicals that have been linked to reproductive damage and developmental problems in children. And your laser printer may not be any better. It emits ultra fine particles that are respirable and have been links to cancer in some studies.
Before you quit your job or throw your home printer out a window, keep in mind that there’s not much in life that is 100% safe. But you can do a lot to mitigate your risk, including using printers in a well-ventilated room, and keeping them away from your desk so that you’re not literally inhaling whatever comes off them every time you print.
6. Opening Your Windows May Help. Or Make It Worse.
Since indoor air pollution is worse than outside, wouldn’t you be better off simply opening your windows, even for a little while each day? Well, the answer is: it depends.
One of the simplest ways to mitigate indoor air pollution is to ensure a consistent supply of fresh air circulating through your home. Note the word “fresh.” If you live on or near a main street, on a highly trafficked street, or in a more industrial or urbanized area, then you may be letting even worse things into your home than what’s already there.
Even if you live in a quiet country town, opening your windows to a blast of pollen isn’t going to do you any good if you have allergies.
Ventilation is important, so if you’ve just used a cleaning chemical, or if the scent of someone’s hobby glue is lingering, opening the windows can help clear the air. You can also check pollen and pollution reports to gauge the quality of the air outside your home, too.
Better yet, install an air purifier in your home. Attached to your HVAC system, it can reduce airborne particles, trap chemicals and even kill germs.
7. Your Home May Be Its Own Worst Enemy
Sources of air pollution are everywhere. But it’s not merely the presence of pollutants that’s the problem. It’s the concentration, and the fact that you sit and breathe them in constantly.
This problem is made worse in your home, especially if you have a relatively new home, or if you’ve had the windows replaced with Energy Star windows. The better your home is sealed up to save energy, the worse it can be for your health.
Old, drafty homes have one advantage over our lovely and efficient new ones: those drafts helped to clear the air. Nowadays, everything is so well-sealed that pollutants have nowhere to go, except to be recycled through the duct system, from room to room, inhaled and exhaled and inhaled again indefinitely.
If it seems like one person in your house gets a cold and then it gets shared until everyone has it – maybe even more than once – then you’re probably a victim of a well-sealed house. If that’s the case, your best bet is an air purifier attached to your HVAC system where it can clean and filter every room for better, healthier air.
Breathe Easier With Air Purification
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of things that can contribute to poor air quality, take heart. Don’t give up your carpets or favorite hobbies, enjoy your candles and keep on mopping those floors. You don’t have to live in a bubble to enjoy far healthier air.
You just need to be smart about the choices you make for your household, and use an air purifier to mitigate the rest. You can choose a portable unit that has a HEPA filter or ionizer, but for the most bang for your buck – and the most improvement in air quality – choose a whole house purifier.
It can be installed right into your ducts where it will trap pollutants, reduce chemical compounds, knock out odors, and disinfect the air and even surfaces.
Air purifiers take up almost no space at all and as an added bonus, they can help preserve the longevity of your HVAC system by keeping dust and other pollutants from collecting.
If you’re concerned about the air quality in your home, let us know. We can advise you of options and install an air purifier based on your needs. All estimates are free, so get in touch today and breathe easier.