Air quality is a hot topic of conversation in environmental circles, but it’s typically a one-sided discussion. Everyone wants to talk about outdoor air pollution, but few tackle the issue of indoor air quality.
As a result, the latter may be declining steadily, which puts millions of homeowners and their families’ health at risk.
The State of Indoor Air Quality
Studies conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indicate that indoor levels of pollutants are often two to five times higher than outdoor levels. In some instances, they can be as much as 100 times greater.
This should be especially alarming when you recognize that most of us spend roughly 90 percent of our time indoors. Some of the top sources of poor indoor air quality include radon, secondhand smoke, mold and mildew, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, organic gasses (VOCs), respirable particles, formaldehyde, pesticides, and asbestos.
Since Americans spend close to 22 hours per day inside, indoor air pollution is at least as important as outdoor pollution. The more people are exposed to such contaminants, the more likely they’re apt to develop allergies, respiratory conditions, and other serious health conditions and diseases.
Common short-term symptoms include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, sinus congestion, coughing, sneezing, dizziness, nausea, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.
Because the short-term symptoms of indoor air pollution can be blamed on any number of other causes, most homeowners don’t necessarily realize the source of the problem until after their conditions have gotten much worse. Homeowners who take a proactive stance, however, can greatly reduce the risk of future health problems and complications.
How Homeowners Can Improve Indoor Air Quality
Most homeowners either don’t know the air in their home is polluted and unhealthy, or they aren’t aware of what contributes to the pollution. Typically, a combination of the two may be the case.
Very few homeowners know what increases the presence of pesticides, allergens, and combustibles. They judge air quality only by smell, temperature, and humidity levels.
Fortunately, indoor air quality can be improved. Here are some of the steps you can take if you’re a homeowner:
- Test for radon. If you haven’t already tested your home for radon, you should do so immediately. Radon exposure is one of the leading causes of lung cancer in the United States, and it’s most likely to occur inside the home. You can order your own tests and perform them relatively easily and inexpensively. There’s no excuse for not testing.
- Install CO alarms. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that can infiltrate the home and, at high concentrations, cause unconsciousness and death. Lower concentrations are linked to a variety of symptoms, including headaches, nausea, confusion, and fatigue. You can reduce the presence of CO by using electric fireplaces and electric stoves, rather than the gas alternatives. Installing CO alarms on every floor of your home is also a smart idea.
- Improve ventilation systems. There will always be some level of pollution in the air. The best way to lower the concentration of these pollutants is to improve ventilation, which increases the amount of outdoor air that comes in. You can do this manually by running fans, opening windows and doors, and running your central air system for longer periods of time. If you need significantly more ventilation, you can shop for various dedicated systems to install and amplify air exchange.
- Install air cleaners. A variety of air cleaners are available on the market. They range from inexpensive models you can place in the corner of a room to sophisticated whole-house solutions that connect to your HVAC system. Installation of one of these systems will remove at least some of the dangerous pollutants and produce healthier air for your family to breathe.
- Change air filters. Make sure you replace the air filters in your home regularly. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations in order both to improve indoor air quality and to protect your expensive HVAC system from premature wear and damage.
- Keep it clean. Finally, keep your house clean. Ditch the commercial cleaning products and choose natural ingredients like lemon juice, baking soda, salt, borax, and white vinegar instead. Not only will you have a cleaner house — due to removal of germs, bacteria, and allergens — but you’ll also prevent dangerous chemicals from entering your home and polluting the air.
The indoor air quality of your home depends on dozens of factors. If you pay close attention to them, you can improve your family’s health and stay safe.
Adding it All Up
Indoor air quality is a problem in the U.S. as well as around the world. As more Americans spend a greater percentage of their days inside, it could pose a public health crisis.
Thankfully, individual homeowners can take steps to address the issue, reduce their risks, and dispel untoward symptoms. With increased awareness of these strategies, we can hope that levels of indoor air pollution will fall.