How to Improve Indoor Air Quality in Your Home
In the realm of home safety, lead paint and asbestos have long been recognized as health hazards. However, there’s a myriad of other factors that can significantly impact our homes’ indoor air quality. Many homeowners remain unaware of the various elements influencing indoor air quality, which can have profound effects on the health and wellbeing of occupants. This article aims to shed light on these often-overlooked factors and indoor air pollutants, offering valuable insights and practical tips for homeowners to improve indoor air quality. From managing moisture levels to making informed paint and building material choices, we’ll explore ways to assess, enhance, and sustain a healthier living environment for you and your family.
Understanding Indoor Air Pollutants
Our homes are our safe havens, places of rest and rejuvenation. And now more than ever, they are also our places of work. According to the EPA, Americans spend 90% of their time indoors a percentage that is even greater for people who are most susceptible to pollutants like young children, the immunocompromised, and our elderly. Yet we don’t often give much thought to measuring indoor air quality or how it affects our health. In fact, our indoor spaces can have 2 to 5 times higher concentrations of certain pollutants than the outdoors. Most indoor air pollutants come from sources within the buildings themselves, such as:
- Combustion Sources: Combustion of any type, from smoking, wood or coal heating, cooking appliances, and fireplaces can release harmful byproducts such as carbon monoxide and particulate matter directly into the indoor environment.
- Moisture Levels and Ventilation: Excessive moisture levels within your home can lead to mold and mildew growth, a major contributor to poor indoor air quality. Poor ventilation exacerbates this issue by trapping moisture and contaminants indoors. Monitoring indoor humidity levels and implementing proper ventilation systems can significantly mitigate these concerns.
- Paint Choices and VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are emitted by various household products, including paints and finishes. These chemicals can lead to respiratory issues and other health problems. Opting for low-VOC or zero-VOC paints when redecorating can greatly reduce indoor air pollutants.
- Insulation and Building Materials: Insulation materials play a crucial role in maintaining indoor temperatures, moisture, and air quality. Traditional insulation materials, such as fiberglass, can release airborne particles that may affect respiratory health. Closed cell foam insulation can restrict the flow of air and trap moisture, leading to mold and mildew.
All of the above can have negative health effects both daily—irritation of eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue—and in the long term—worsening of existing respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and higher risk of developing various cancers. To protect the health of our families, we need to be stewards of our indoor climate just as we aim to be of our global climate. This starts by identifying what causes indoor air pollution in your home.
Measuring Indoor Air Quality
Assessing the air quality within your home is the first step toward improvement. There are some signs of indoor air pollutants that are easy to spot, like condensation around your hot water heater, damp floors or walls in your basement and attic, discoloration or warps in your walls and ceiling and musty odors. If you know the brand and type of paint used to decorate your home, you can research their VOC content online.
Home air quality testing kits are also readily available and can identify pollutants like mold spores, allergens, and VOCs. These kits provide a baseline understanding of your indoor air quality and highlight areas that require attention.
For a more comprehensive evaluation, consider enlisting the services of indoor air quality professionals. They can perform thorough assessments, pinpointing potential sources of contamination and suggesting indoor air quality solutions tailored to your home and needs.
Improving Indoor Air Quality
The most effective way to improve indoor air quality and protect your home’s inhabitants from adverse health effects is to eliminate sources of pollution or reduce their emissions. Some of these indoor air quality solutions can be done by the homeowner while others may require professional help.
Maintain Proper Ventilation
Adequate ventilation is essential for minimizing moisture buildup, maintaining a steady flow of fresh air and expelling byproducts of cooking or heating.
Most home heating and cooling systems do not bring fresh air into the home. Regularly open windows, turn on ceiling fans, and use exhaust fans in areas prone to humidity, such as bathrooms and kitchens to reduce moisture and increase outdoor air exchange. It’s especially important to increase ventilation when doing activities that produce high levels of indoor air pollutants such as painting, cooking, sanding, welding, or other hobbies. You may need to install, update or clean HVAC systems above your stove or in your bathrooms to ensure your ventilation is working properly in the highest impact areas of your home.
Choose Low-VOC Paints
When repainting your home’s interior, select paints with low or zero VOC content. These options release fewer harmful chemicals into the air, improving indoor air quality and reducing health risks. With different green labels bedecking paint aisles, it can be difficult to pick the right product to keep your home safe. Greenguard is a widely trusted label that tests for VOC emission levels and offers a range of certifications. Look for their gold certification as a safety indicator under the most rigorous qualifications and use their website to search for low emissions products.
Upgrade Your Insulation
Consider upgrading your home’s insulation with vapor open options like wood fiber insulation. All of TimberHP’s wood fiber products are both highly permeable and water resistant. TimberBoard repels water that might get past the siding from the outside as a continuous insulation and will redistribute that water quickly, so the assembly dries quickly and stays protected. Moisture in wall cavities can occur from air leaks in a home creating risky condensation that can support mold growth or eventually water damage. TimberFill and TimberBatt’s higher density reduces the chance for that air to enter the cavity in the first place but if it does get in it absorbs and redistributes that moisture helping everything to dry. Unlike other insulation options that contain harmful particulate, wood fiber insulation can also be cut, handled, and installed without gloves, long sleeves, or chemical respirators. Not only does it contribute to a healthier indoor environment, but it also supports sustainable forestry practices.
Use dehumidifiers to control indoor humidity levels, particularly in damp areas like basements. Keeping humidity within the recommended range (around 30-50%) helps prevent mold growth and allergen accumulation. If your home is prone to moisture or subject to heavy rainfall and snow, consider working with basement contractors to install vapor barriers and sump pumps in your basement and crawl space.
Practice Regular Cleaning and Maintenance
Regular cleaning, vacuuming, and dusting helps minimize the accumulation of allergens and particles in your home. Carpet and upholstery can also be breeding grounds for mold and mildew so regular cleaning is especially important for these items. Use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in vacuums and consider adding an air purifier to your home to capture even the smallest pollutants. Don’t forget to regularly change these filters so they remain effective in improving indoor air quality.
Sustaining a Healthy Living Environment
Indoor air quality is not a one-time concern. Continuously monitor humidity levels, inspect for mold growth, and conduct periodic air quality tests to ensure that your efforts are yielding positive results. Share your knowledge about indoor air quality with your family members and neighbors. Encourage them to adopt habits that contribute to a healthier living environment, such as keeping windows open for ventilation and using eco-friendly cleaning products. And stay updated on advancements in insulation technology, ventilation systems, and other sustainable building practices that influence indoor air quality. As new solutions emerge, consider incorporating them into your home for continuous improvement.
By understanding the nuances of indoor air quality and taking proactive steps to improve it, you can create a safer and healthier living environment for yourself and your loved ones. From moisture management to insulation choices, your actions today can safeguard the wellbeing of your home’s inhabitants for years to come.