Indoor air quality is as important as outdoor air quality. Many of the pollutants that affect Americans today are found inside their homes and offices. Most homes have more than one source of pollutants that can make family members sick. There are steps you can take to reduce the risks of indoor pollutants in your home.
Sources of Pollution in the Home
- Building materials
- Home furnishings such as furniture made of compressed wood, carpets and drapes
- Combustion sources such as oil, gas, kerosene or wood
- Cleaning products and personal care items
- Hobby products such as paints, varnishes, etc.
- Heating and cooling systems and humidifiers
- Tobacco smoke
- Outside sources that come into the house such as radon, pesticides and outdoor air pollution
Ventilation in the Home
Good ventilation brings in fresh air and decreases the rate at which fresh air from the outside replaces stale indoor air is called the air exchange rate which can happen in several ways:
- Natural ventilation with air coming through open doors and windows
- Infiltration with air coming through joints, around windows and doors, up from the basement or down from the attic
- Mechanical ventilation with air circulating with fans, air handling systems, etc.
Even if your home has a good air exchange rate, pollutants are sometimes held in by carpets, curtains and other surfaces.
Recognizing Pollutions in Indoor Air
Pollutions in indoor air can cause health problems. If you notice symptoms after moving to a new home or after remodeling your home or treating it with pesticides, you should contact both your doctor and your health department. Many long-term illnesses, such as respiratory problems and cancer can occur from exposure to indoor pollutions. Ask these questions about the air in your home:
- Does the air in your home seem stuffy or smell funny?
- Do you see signs of moisture condensation on walls or windows?
- Can you see signs of water leakage – have objects such as books or shoes become moldy?
- Have you checked the filters and ducts in your heating and cooling systems lately?
- Have you checked for damaged chimneys or flues?
- What About Radon?
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that occurs naturally and is found everywhere at very low levels. Exposure to radon becomes a concern when radon gets trapped indoors so that concentrations build up in indoor air. Lung cancer is associated with exposure to elevated levels of radon. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that between 5,000 and 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year may be attributed to radon. It is recommended that you measure the level of radon in your home. You can purchase inexpensive devises for this purpose.
Improving the Quality of Indoor Air
- Eliminate sources of pollution by sealing off insulation, adjusting gas appliances to emit less leakage, ridding your home of chemicals and tobacco smoke, etc.
- Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors, turning on exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens and adding mechanical devices where necessary.
- Maintain extra ventilation while painting, using chemicals, cooking with unvented gas stoves, smoking, etc.
- Increase mechanical ventilation rate by installing heat recovery ventilators or air-to-air heat exchangers. They draw outside air into the home and conserve energy by recovering the heat from the air that is exhausted to the outdoors.
- Have a professional check your chimney, non-electric furnace, water heater, stove and other appliances regularly.
- Make sure you burn the correct kind of wood and have good ventilation for fireplaces and wood burning stoves.
- Check product labeling to make sure you have the safest products possible for cleaning, personal care, etc.
Using Air Cleaner
Air cleaners and purifiers are available for purchase – from small units to whole-house systems. Check how much air they draw through the cleaning or filtering element (expressed in cubic feet per minute) and maintain good performance by following the manufacturer’s instructions and keeping in them good working order.
- Humidifiers can improve the quality of air in your home during the winter. Keep the level of humidity below 50% to prevent the growth of molds, spores and dust mites. Take proper care of your humidifier so that you don’t increase the pollution levels in your home.
- Clean water reserves often
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for care and cleaning, especially in places where condensation occurs like pans or coils
- Don’t let water sit. Fill the humidifier with clean or distilled water right before you use it and empty the water when the mechanism is turned off.
- Run humidifiers only at night when the heater is running to avoid excess humidity.
- Don’t run humidifiers in rooms with the door shut.
Keeping the air fresh with commercial air fresheners isn’t easy. Most of them just mask smells and can cause allergic reactions. Try these alternatives:
- Boil cinnamon and cloves on the stove or put in a potpourri pot. When boiling on the stove, place in cheesecloth.
- Use herbs and spices that you like for making fresh potpourri. Keep around the house in small baskets or bags.
- Dampen cotton balls with Oil of Wintergreen and tuck up into the windowsills to freshen air.
- A bowl of vinegar will help eliminate cooking and cigarette odors.
- Dampen a cotton ball with vanilla and place in a saucer in small enclosed spaces like cars, bathrooms, inside the refrigerator or on a closet shelf where it won’t touch clothes.
- Baking soda in the refrigerator helps to eliminate odors. It can also be poured down the sink to help keep down odors and keep the drain clean.
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