How Your Health Can be Impacted by Poor Indoor Air Quality
You protect your car from salt and damaging hail. You likely don’t leave that expensive bike in winter snows. But we frequently expose our most precious possessions, our family, to the discomfort, debilitating effects, or even life-threatening impact of poor indoor air quality (IAQ). How can IAQ impact the health of your loved ones, and what can you do to minimize this risk?
How does poor IAQ impact your health?
Here are some of the health risks associated with the many things impacting poor IAQ – pollutants, mold, dangerous gasses, asbestos, lead, and secondhand smoke:
- Irritation to eyes, nose and throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Congested sinuses
- Increased occurrence and severity of asthma attacks
- Aggravation of other lung diseases including cancer
These risks vary from simple irritation to life-threatening issues, and they put some people more at risk than others. As anticipated, children and seniors, and anyone with heart or lung disease find themselves more susceptible to these health issues.
Some of these health effects are immediate too. The EPA explains “certain immediate effects are similar to those from colds or other viral diseases, so it is often difficult to determine if the symptoms are a result of exposure to indoor air pollution.” Other risks have long-term effects. Chronic exposure to indoor pollutants may prompt cancer, lung maladies or heart disease.
What’s the solution?
As noted above, the immediate symptoms of exposure to poor air quality can mimic the common cold virus, masking the underlying problem. To protect the health of your family, consider testing your IAQ. You can perform some home air quality tests by purchasing air quality monitors, at-home radon test kits, or installing carbon monoxide detectors on each level of your home (a recommended practice). But, what do you do if your IAQ fails the tests? How do you detect if the other pollutants like mold, asbestos, and lead are present in your home?
Addressing some IAQ issues can be as simple as changing your furnace filter. But major problems threatening your family’s health require immediate and professional attention. Consider calling professionals who can test your IAQ, and then advise you on safe and effective ways to improve the quality of your indoor air and professionally remedy the problems for you.
5 Reasons Why Your Indoor Air Quality is More Important Than You Think
You love working in your yard, sprucing up your home’s curb appeal. But the pollens and freshly cut grass make your allergy symptoms unbearable. Oddly, retreating to the house you find little relief. Perhaps your indoor air quality (IAQ) needs improvement as well; like the effects of the seasonal outdoor air, your indoor air can cause similar problems and more.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the “health effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon after exposure or, possibly, years later.”
These five factors remind us IAQ is important, even critical, to our health and comfort in the immediate and long term.
Dangerous gasses (Radon, Nitrogen Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide). Radon, an odorless, colorless gas can, in increased levels, contribute to lung cancer. Nitrogen dioxide, formed from the burning of fossil fuels, promotes increased asthma attacks and a reduction in lung function. Carbon monoxide, also odorless, when released by malfunctioning HVAC systems, can cause fatigue, headaches, dizziness, confusion, and even death.
- Mold. Mold or fungi, growing in and around your home, can release spores into the air, prompting severe allergic reactions in exposed individuals.
- Asbestos. This naturally occurring mineral, frequently found in older insulation, produces fibers when introduced into the air and breathed into the lungs. It can also promote greatly diminished lung function and lead to lung cancer.
- Lead. Prior to 1978, this soft metal was a common ingredient in house paint. When inhaled, however, lead damages the nervous system, brain, blood, and kidneys.
- Secondhand smoke. The smoke produced by burning tobacco products and the smoke exhaled by smokers greatly lowers IAQ. The EPA cites the following health effects of secondhand smoke: “Secondhand smoke causes cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke), lung cancer, sudden infant death syndrome, more frequent and severe asthma attacks, and other serious health problems.”
Addressing poor IAQ in your home can be as simple as changing your furnace filter. However, major problems threatening your health need swift and professional attention. Consider calling a professional who will not only test the quality of your air but advise you on safe and effective ways to improve your IAQ and remedy the problems for you.
12 Steps to Improve Indoor Air Quality in the Summer
Here’s an interesting fact. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Purer indoor air will create a healthier environment in your home, allowing you to breathe better, sleep better, and protect you from conditions such as asthma and sleep apnea. So here are a dozen things you can do to improve indoor air quality during the summer. Of course, many of these also apply in the winter.
- Open your windows. After all, outside air is cleaner than inside air. So, bring some of that cleaner air inside. Of course, the tradeoff is bringing in hot air from the outside will make your house warmer and increase energy costs. So, find a balance, perhaps opening the windows at night or early in the morning when the outside air is cooler. But monitor the pollen count to make sure the outdoor air is indeed clean.
- You want humidity in the 30% to 50% range. Investing in a whole house dehumidifier can control the humidity and reduce the pests, dust and other allergens that thrive in humidity, and can trigger allergies and asthma.
- No smoking. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals. None are good for you.
- Groom your pets. Pets shed more in the summer months, and pet dander can negatively impact indoor air quality.
- Change the filter in your furnace. Once a month for 1-inch filters and every six months for thicker filters is recommended.
- Have your AC serviced to make sure it is running efficiently (same goes for your furnace in the winter).
- Clean your ducts to remove the pollutants that gather there and then are forced into your living space air by your air conditioner.
- Install UV lighting in your ductwork to kill mold and bacteria that thrive in cool, dark environments.
- Take off your shoes and have your guests take off their shoes to limit the contaminants entering your home.
- Regularly vacuum carpeting, rugs, and upholstery. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to get rid of pollen and dust mites. These vacuums can also reduce the amount of lead in your home.
- Use natural scented products. Aerosol sprays such as hair sprays, deodorants, carpet cleaners and air fresheners launch harmful chemicals into the air. Fabric softeners, laundry, detergents, and even dryer sheets also contain harmful chemicals that get in the air. Instead, buy naturally scented or fragrance-free products.
- Some indoor plants naturally remove toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde from the air. Plant one of the following non-toxic plants every 10 square feet:
- Bamboo palm
- Barberton daisy
- Boston fern
- Broadleaf lady palm
- Spider plant
Indoor Air Quality and Coronavirus
With coronavirus so much in the news, we want to remind you that one way you can help from acquiring and transmitting the disease is to ensure mechanisms are in place to improve the indoor air quality in your home.
Some background. Coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, is a corona virus strain. Corona virus strains have been around for a long time. Covid-19 is the seventh known strain. Four of the strains are related to the common cold and were first identified in the 1930s. These are easily treatable. Two other strains in addition to Covid-19 are more challenging – SARS and MERS.
So, what can you do?
- Since people with allergies, asthma and other respiratory problems are at higher risk for contracting Coronavirus along with other viruses, it is important to maintain healthy air quality in your home to prevent respiratory infections that can compromise your immune system. A few hints:
a. No smoking
b. Bathe your pets
c. Change your air filters
d. Use bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans to ventilate air
e. Clean your bedding, drapes and other items
f. Vacuum carpeting and rugs at least once a week using a vacuum with a HEPA filter
g. Keep your hardwood and other hard surface floors clean
h. Keep humidity between 30% and 50%
- Consider an ultraviolet (UV) air purifier. UV air purifiers use short-wave ultraviolet light to reduce, disinfect and eliminate airborne pathogens and microorganisms. These systems can be sold standalone, or as systems installed into pre-existing HVAC systems. While these purifiers have been shown to be effective with other viral agents such as SARS and MERS, it must be noted that they have not been specifically tested on Covid-19.
- Consider air cleaners with Capture & Contain technology. This technology adds another level of support in controlling the reduction and migration of airborne contaminants. Again, these have not been tested on Covid-19, but have been deemed effective with other airborne microbials.
Improving Indoor Air Quality This Winter
Winter weather means you’ll be spending more time indoors. That means you’ll want the air in your home to be of high quality to ensure your health as well as your family’s health. Poor indoor air quality can contribute to allergies, asthma and other respiratory issues. It can also lead to headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.
Unfortunately, some of the things we do contribute to poor indoor air quality. We keep windows closed, which prevents fresh air from entering the home. Plus we seal cracks around doors, windows, etc. While this is good for keeping the heating bills down, it also prevents contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, mold spores and dust mites from escaping.
So here are 10 good suggestions for improving the air quality in your home.
- Invest in an energy recovery ventilator or heat recovery ventilator that will introduce fresh air into your home.
- Don’t allow smoking in your home.
- Bathe your pets regularly.
- If you have ½ inch air filters in your furnace, change them monthly. Better yet, upgrade your filter to a 4” thick pleated filter. Not only will this type of filter remove more airborne particles, it only needs to be changed twice a year.
- Use bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans to ventilate air.
- Regularly clean bedding, drapes and other items that attract allergens in water that is at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Vacuum carpeting and rugs at least once a week using a vacuum with a HEPA filter to avoid blowing dust back into the air.
- More long-term, hard surface flooring will also cut down on allergens.
- Use non-toxic cleaning products.
- When the weather is mild, open the windows for a little bit.
Improving Indoor Air Quality this Season
Last time we talked about contaminants that can impair indoor air quality. Here we will discuss ways you can improve indoor air quality, which will result in better health and can also preserve your home.
To review, contaminants include the following:
- Mold spores.
- Gasses that enter homes from the infiltration of polluted outdoor air.
- Particles such as dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets.
Following are some strategies to improve indoor air quality.
- No smoking. Perhaps the single m most important thing for you to do is to prohibit smoking in your house. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals and second hand smoke is especially unhealthy for children.
- Keep your floors clean. Many contaminants make a home on your floor, and can accumulate for decades. Start by putting floor mats at every door and have people wipe their shoes before entering your home. Better yet, have them take their shoes off. Vacuum the floor a few times a week with a vacuum cleaner that has strong suction, rotating brushes and a HEPA filter. After you vacuum, mop to pick up the dust the vacuum cleaner did not get.
- Keep humidity between 30% and 50%. The best way to do this is to buy a dehumidifier. Here are some other ways to keep humidity under control:
a. Crack a window when cooking, running the dishwasher or bathing
b. Vent the clothes dryer to the outside
c. Empty drip pans in your window air conditioner and dehumidifier
d. Do not overwater plants
e. Fix leaky plumbing to prevent mold
- Test for radon. Radon is a radioactive gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer. It generally enters the home through cracks and holes in the foundation. If your home has radon, contact a professional abatement company.
- Be careful with fragrances. Those lemon and pine scents in everything from laundry products to air fresheners may emit dozens of gasses. Here are some things you can do:
a. Avoid aerosol sprays
b. Buy fragrance-free or naturally scented products
c. Use mild cleaners that do not have artificial fragrances
d. Use sliced lemons and baking soda to create a fresh scent…safely
e. Open the windows to let in fresh air
- Clean and/or replace your furnace air filter. One-inch air filters should be cleaned or replaced monthly; thicker metal filters every six months.
- Install a recovery ventilator. This device constantly replaces a small percentage of the air in your home with fresh air from the outside.
Sources of Poor Indoor Air Quality
With winter approaching, you will be spending more time indoors. Therefore, you will want the air quality in your home to be of higher quality. Here is what homeowners and businesses in Chcago’s North Shore need to know about Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
Indoor air quality is compromised when contaminants are present. As all people are different, so too is their sensitivity to contaminants. But the very young or very old, those suffering from asthma or other respiratory ailments, or anyone with a specific sensitivity will be more susceptible to contaminants in the air.
Contaminants include the following:
- Mold. Mold spores can be a problem if they are allowed to grow and increase in concentration. Growth requires moisture and a food source (cellulose such as wood framing, paper backing on drywall, etc.). The food source must remain moist for 72 hours to start the growth and spread of mold.
- Bacteria. Bacteria, which can cause such infectious diseases as typhoid fever, pneumonia, and Legionnaires’ disease, can grow on non-living surfaces.
- Viruses. These can cause diseases such as the common cold, influenza, measles, and N1H1. Viruses often are spread by droplet infection. A human sneeze can add 100,000 droplets of virus-containing moisture into the air.
- Pollen. Trees, flowers, grasses, and weeds produce pollen. Pollen counts increase in the Midwest from March through September.
- Gasses. There are thousands of gaseous chemicals that can enter homes from the infiltration of polluted outdoor air. Gasses can come from ozone and radon, from the use of cleaning and personal care products, and from internal combustion sources such as a water heater, furnace, boiler, fireplace, cooktop, or oven.
- Particles. Particle pollution, also known as particulate matter, is a collection of fine solids suspended in the air. Particles consist of dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets, whose size is measured in microns (one millionth of a meter). For comparative purposes, the average human hair is about 50 microns in diameter. Particles ten microns and larger are visible to the naked eye, will fall out of the air within four minutes, and pose little health risk. Particles less than 10 microns can accumulate in the respiratory system. Particles less than 2.5 microns, usually in some form of smoke, pose the greatest health risk because of their ability to clog the respiratory system. Finally, particles smaller than 0.1 microns are small enough to pass through lungs, directly into the blood stream. Medical research is just now studying the effects of particles of this size on human health.
Next month we will address strategies to improve indoor air quality
Improving Indoor Air Quality
With the miserable weather we are having this winter (cold…snow…snow…cold…), we’ve been spending plenty of time indoors, and breathing the air inside our homes. If the air quality is poor, it can have an impact on your comfort and health. The problem is, if there is an air quality problem, you can’t see it and frequently can’t smell it. But there are some things you can do to prevent air quality problems.
Sources of Air Quality Problems
There are three main sources of air quality problems:
Pollutants, including allergens such as dust and mold, as well as toxins such as chemicals and cleaning agents. Pet dander can also reduce air quality.
Poor ventilation. When it is cold outside, you naturally keep your windows closed. While this keeps your home warmer, the reduced ventilation can cause indoor air pollutants to build up.
Furnace filtration. As your furnace works harder during the cold winter months, dust, mold and other debris can get caught in the air filter.
What You Can Do
There are several things you can do to improve the air quality in your home. Here are a few thoughts that do not have anything to do with your heating system.
Keep your floors (and upholstery and walls) clean
Allergens and toxins accumulate all over the house. Vacuum a few times a week and use a HEPA filter so dust and dirt won’t be blown back into the exhaust. Then mop to get what the vacuum missed. Also, put a floor mat by every door to keep people from tracking in dirt, etc.
Experts believe the single largest source of indoor air pollution is secondhand cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals. So if you smoke, try to do it outside.
Cut down on chemicals
Every day items such as laundry detergents, fabric softeners and air fresheners contain harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Even though they may smell nice, they aren’t good for you. So try to eliminate these aromas as much as possible. Only purchase fragrance-free or naturally scented products. Don’t use aerosol sprays. And keep the windows open to let in fresh air to minimize the impact of these harmful VOCs.
Here are a few suggestions related to your heating system.
Clean and or replace the furnace air filter
You should clean or replace one-inch air filters monthly (or every six months for thicker medial filters). This will not only keep the air cleaner, it will allow your furnace to run more efficiently, extending its life. Dirty air filters are the number one reason furnaces break down before they should.
Keeping humidity around 30% to 50% helps reduce the levels of dust and allergens. Installing a dehumidifier can help maintain the proper level of humidity. You can also reduce humidity by opening the window a crack, venting your clothes dryer to the outside, and fixing leaky plumbing to prevent mold.
Install a recovery ventilator
This piece of equipment will allow you to constantly replace a small percentage of the air in your home with fresh air from the outside. The unit contains an air filter and a heat exchanger to reduce energy loss. Get an indoor air inspection Home heating professionals can inspect your home, identify air quality problems, and make suggestions as to how to improve the air quality.
If You Check Off These 5 Bullet Points It Might be Time for a New Air Conditioner
How do you know if you need a new AC unit? Consider these five bullet points.
My allergy symptoms seem worse.
A poorly functioning air conditioning system can contribute to poor indoor air quality by allowing dirt and airborne pollutants to build up in the air ducts and leak into your rooms. An undersized, less efficient system may not sufficiently dehumidify your indoor air. Excess moisture in the ducts creates a breeding ground for mold, exposing allergy-sensitive family members to irritating mold spores.
My house never feels cool and dry.
Have you remodeled your home adding a home office, enlarging a kitchen or attaching a workout space? Your current AC system, adequately sized for the original space, may not be able to cool the enlarged footprint of your home.
My current AC unit uses Freon.
Older HVAC systems often used an ozone-depleting refrigerant, R-22, frequently appearing under the trade name, “Freon.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the import and manufacture of R-22 as of January 1, 2020. New AC systems use refrigerants friendly to the ozone, and by incorporating “two-stage” compressor technology and programmable thermostats, these AC units save energy, too.
My energy costs have risen.
Aging HVAC systems often require repairs or leak refrigerant. To recharge a system using R-22, you must purchase the dwindling supply of the substance at increased cost. AC units become less efficient as they age and require more energy to cool your home.
My current system is at least 10 years old
The age of your system may prove the biggest factor in your decision to install a new AC system. Well-maintained AC systems generally operate up to 15 years, but poorly maintained AC units can fail in as little as five years. According to ENERGY STAR®, the EPA’s arm rating product effectiveness and efficiency, owners should replace their systems when the AC units exceed 10 years of age.
If you checked off several of these bullets, consider consulting with an HVAC professional who can assess your current system and, if necessary, help you find and size an energy-efficient AC unit to meet your needs.
Spring is Here! Now’s a Good Time to Check your Home’s Air Quality
Spring is here! It’s time to throw open the windows and give the house a good airing. But wait – before you let the outside air inside your house, think about testing your home’s indoor air quality (IAQ). You’ll want to add improving IAQ to your spring cleaning list.
Poor IAQ lowers the quality of your health and comfort, creating issues as simple as a dry throat to illnesses as severe as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). By testing your home’s air quality, you can identify the sources of pollutants threatening IAQ and improve the situation.
Some of the pollutants commonly found in homes include:
- Radon: an odorless, colorless gas which, in increased levels, can contribute to lung cancer;
- Nitrogen Dioxide: a gas formed from the burning of fossil fuels, such as wood or natural gas, can prompt an increase in asthma attacks and overall reduced lung function;
- Carbon Monoxide: an odorless gas released by malfunctioning HVAC systems blocks the body’s use of oxygen, causing fatigue, headaches, dizziness, confusion, and even death;
- Mold: fungi that release spores into the air and can cause severe allergic reactions in exposed individuals;
- Asbestos: a naturally occurring mineral whose fibers, if introduced into the air and breathed into the lungs, can lead to lung cancer and greatly diminished lung function;
- Lead: a soft metal, used in some house paints until banned in 1978, when inhaled, severely damages the nervous system, brain, blood, and kidneys;
- Second Hand Smoke: environmental tobacco smoke when inhaled can prompt the same health issues as direct smoking of cigarettes, cigars, or pipes.
You can perform some home air quality tests as DIY projects by purchasing air quality monitors or at-home radon test kits, or by installing carbon monoxide detectors on each level of your home (a recommended practice). However, what do you do if your IAQ fails the tests? And how do you test for the other pollutants like mold, asbestos, and lead?
Addressing the issues you discover can be as simple as changing your furnace filter. But major problems threatening your family’s health require swift and professional attention.
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