Hidden Sources Of Indoor Air Pollution And 10 Ways To Avoid Them

Several Green Home Plants In Flowerpots On The Windowsill. Closeup

Photo©tynza/123rf

Air pollution is a significant problem today, especially as the planet loses more natural filters more quickly, like forests. However, as conscious as many of us may be about outdoor air quality, far fewer think about the air inside their own homes.

In fact, the air inside your house may be negatively affecting your family’s health. The well-insulated walls of modern homes are ideal for keeping your heating and cooling where it belongs. However, they also keep everything else in as well.

Chemicals in your cleaners, odors from your decor and furniture and moisture-related infestations all contribute to poor air quality. Without proper ventilation and warning systems, your family may be breathing in potential toxins without even knowing it.

Continued exposure can lead to mild respiratory symptoms like cough and a runny nose, as well as more chronic problems such as COPD and cancer. Your best strategy is to identify any indoor air quality risks, find the source of the problem, and take action.

Common Contributors To Indoor Air Pollution

ASBESTOS AND LEAD PAINT. Homes built earlier than the mid-70s have increased risk of hidden interior asbestos and lead paint. Both materials were commonplace in construction for decades. These intensify as air contaminants when disturbed, so if your paint is peeling or you’re working on renovations, test for these substances.

HOME IMPROVEMENT MATERIALS. Speaking of renovations, many common home improvement items such as paint and carpeting can increase air pollution. The main culprits are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are included in the materials of many industries from carpeting to popcorn bags to dental floss. To minimize exposure to these toxins during renovations, search for low-VOC paint, flooring and adhesives, as well as more ways to exclude them from your home.

CARBON MONOXIDE. Most people are familiar with the dangers of carbon monoxide. Car exhaust seeping in from the garage, wood stoves and gas appliances are just a few contributors to the carbon monoxide levels in your house. Luckily, carbon monoxide detectors are standard in most homes and can tell you when levels are too high for safety.

HOUSEHOLD CHEMICALS. Even your cleaning products may contribute to air pollution in your house. Always read the labels before choosing something new. You’ll find VOCs, irritating fragrances and toxic chemicals in many popular cleaners. Instead of purchasing potentially dangerous ingredients, clean your home with more natural options like vinegar spray and baking soda scrub.

WATER DAMAGE. Minor leaks or excessive dampness from high humidity pollute the air in your house by encouraging mold and bacteria growth. If left uncorrected, your family will be susceptible to more frequent illness, respiratory problems and allergic reactions.

DUST AND DUST MITES. Dust mites are tiny pests that thrive everywhere, and can cause inflammatory and allergic reactions. Clean your floors and dust frequently; vacuum furniture and drapes, and change linens regularly. You’ll also want to keep the humidity in your home at an acceptable level.

RADON. Radon is a tasteless, odorless, invisible gas that can cause lung cancer with extended exposure. Radon seeps from the ground underneath houses and becomes trapped in well-insulated homes and basements until it reaches unsafe levels. Anyone is susceptible, so regular testing is an excellent addition to your home maintenance plan.

WINTER’S WORSENING EFFECTS. Winter is the worst season for indoor air pollution, since cold weather inspires people to stay inside and shut all the doors and windows. While your winterization efforts can help reduce your heating bill, the improved insulation keeps household contaminants trapped inside, accumulating over the course of the season.

Wood stoves and fireplaces are a cozy way to combat the chill, but improper ventilation can lead to further air contamination. Microscopic particles enter the air when you burn wood. These dangerous particles can cause allergic reactions, mild respiratory symptoms, bronchitis, heart attack and stroke.

10 Ways To Improve Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air pollution sounds scary and it certainly is something you should take seriously. Luckily, you have several options you can implement in your maintenance routines to improve the air quality and decrease your family’s health risks.

1. MAINTAIN A STEADY HUMIDITY LEVEL. Ideally, you want your home to stay between 30% and 50% humidity. Less than that and your skin, nasal passages and eyes will get dry. With humidity higher than the recommended amount, you risk developing moisture damage, like mold and mildew. When your home is too dry, run a humidifier. If it’s too moist, use a dehumidifier to pull excess moisture from the air. If you use a wood stove, keep a pot of water filled on the top to release extra moisture into the air naturally.

2. CHANGE YOUR HVAC FILTER. To get the cleanest air, consider replacing your HVAC filters every 50 days. Otherwise, they won’t be able to remove dust effectively and other particles from the air pumped through your house. Your HVAC will also have to work harder to do its job when the filter is clogged, wearing your system down earlier than necessary.

3. DUST AND VACUUM FREQUENTLY. Cleaning regularly will keep dust, dust mites, pet dander and other harmful debris from accumulating in the air throughout your home. Pay special attention to carpeting, since it holds onto particles better than any other surface. Look for a vacuum with a HEPA filter for the best results.

4. KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR PIPES. The slightest drip from your pipes can lead to a major problem over time. During the change in seasons, take 10 minutes to look under every sink and in your basement or crawl space to check on all your plumbing. Listen for water running, and carefully inspect for other water damage. Many leaks are easy enough to fix on your own, but extensive mold, mildew or ruined building materials will take the work of a professional.

5. TEST YOUR AIR. Once every year or two, make room in your maintenance budget to have someone test your indoor air quality for harmful pollutants. Radon gas is particularly concerning since it is undetectable to human senses, yet could be lethal. A simple at-home test can alert you to any problems.

6. REPLACE YOUR ALARM BATTERIES. Most houses have carbon monoxide detectors, but they don’t do you any good if the batteries are dead. Once a year check all your detectors to ensure everything is operational and change out any batteries that are no longer working.

7. READ LABELS. Read the labels on everything you bring into your home and research the safest products for your family. Toxic chemicals are hiding in many everyday household items like cleaners, clothing and home renovation materials. A little homework now can save your family from struggling with indoor air pollution-related illness.

8. RUN AN AIR PURIFIER. The simplest change of all is to install and run an air purifier. While they aren’t 100% effective, they work to pull harmful particles out of the air in your house, and make a significant difference.

9. CULTIVATE HOUSE PLANTS. House plants are nature’s own air purifiers. Fill your home with peace lilies, spider plants and English ivy for extra natural air filtration.

10. OPEN WINDOWS REGULARLY. Even during winter months, open your windows and doors occasionally to circulate fresh air throughout your home. This “breath of fresh air” benefits not only your physical health, but will lift your mood as well.

Rose Morrison is the managing editor of Renovated, and has been writing in the home living industry for over five years. Her work has been featured on The National Association of Realtors, the American Society of Home Inspectors and other reputable publications.

Find New England holistic Feng Shui Practitioners in the Spirit of Change online directory.