We spend a lot of time inside our homes: cooking, eating, sleeping, playing, relaxing, etc. During that time, we are breathing inside air which contains allergens and pollutants. The quality of the air inside our homes effects our health and comfortability.
What is IAQ?
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) naturally refers to the quality of air indoors and how it relates to our health. Air enters our home by three methods: infiltration, natural ventilation, and mechanical ventilation.
Infiltrations occurs as air flows inside through cracks, building joints and openings, and drafty windows and doors. Leaving windows and doors open creates natural ventilation to move outside air in, and inside air out. Mechanical ventilation, such as outdoor vented fans, removes indoor air and replaces it with outdoor air periodically. These systems are typically seen in kitchens and bathrooms.
Properly ventilated homes increase the exchange between indoor and outdoor air. This reduces the presence of pollutants in the air we breathe inside our homes. A lower exchange rate or lack of clean outdoor air can cause a build-up of airborne allergens and pollutants, resulting in health problems.
Short exposure to air pollutants can manifest as irritation of the eyes, nose, and/or throat, cause headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Long, repeated, or continuous exposure may result in the development of asthma in children, as well as severe respiratory reactions, respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer. Though researchers have yet to identify the concentration of pollutants and lengths of exposure to produce specific health risks. However, poor IAQ poses the highest risk to those with asthma or other respiratory medical conditions.
What Effects IAQ?
We’ve noted that air pollutants effect IAQ, but what exactly are they and where do they come from?
Asbestos—Older building materials may contain a mineral called asbestos. When such a material becomes damaged (by decay or home remodeling), asbestos fibers enter the air. Breathing in asbestos dust is highly linked to mesothelioma.
Lead—Lead-based paint was banned in the U.S. in 1978. However, homes and buildings built before then most likely contain lead-based paint. If left undisturbed, the lead within the paint will remain contained. Flaking lead paint and home remodels will release lead dust into the air. Children are most vulnerable to lead poisoning; however, lead is a serious health risk to all individuals.
Volatile Organic Compounds—Solvents, paint, composite wood products, air cleaners, and other chemical-laden substances contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These chemicals evaporate into the air and can cause problems ranging from eye and throat irritation, dizziness, and nausea, to kidney and liver damage, cancer, and memory impairment.
Radon—An odorless, colorless natural gas called Radon seeps up from the ground and can infiltrate our homes. Continuous exposure to Radon is known to cause lung cancer. Though Radon levels and concern vary by location, Coloradans are at a higher risk of Radon exposure.
Biological Pollutants: Dust Mites/Pet Dander/Smoke/Mold—All of these common household pollutants can trigger asthma attacks or allergic reactions. To reduce these pollutants in your air, clean bedding in hot water; limit where pets can go and clean floors and furniture regularly; if you can’t quit, smoke outside your home and vehicle to limit second-hand smoke; and fix leaks to prevent the growth of mold inside the home.
Our rapidly changing climate also contributes to IAQ.
Rising CO2 and Outdoor Temperatures—As carbon dioxide levels increase and temperatures rise, outdoor airborne allergens increase and can infiltrate our homes.
Severe Weather: Wildfires, Dust Storms, Floods—Warmer outside temperatures means higher likelihood of heat waves and severe weather. Smoke from wildfires, fine particles from dust storms, and water from floods can also infiltrate homes and increase indoor air pollutants. Increased moisture and humidity indoors can also lead to mold and the presence of dust mites, bacteria, and other biological contaminants.
Power Outages—As extreme weather becomes more frequent, so do the chances of power outages. Unreliable or loss of power makes maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature difficult, as well as healthy IAQ. Portable generators are often used as a temporary source of power; however, improper use of generators can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
How to Improve Your IAQ
Increasing or maintaining proper ventilation and the use of portable air cleaners and upgraded filters will improve the IAQ in your home.
Ventilation—Reducing infiltration and ensuring proper ventilation with clean outdoor air is a key factor in increasing your IAQ. Caulk and seal drafts and cracks, open windows or doors when working with VOCs, and keep your ventilation fans and ducts clean.
Portable Air Cleaners—Not all portable air cleaners are the same. Some use one filter only for particles while others have two filters, one for particles and one for gases. HEPA (high-efficiency particle air) and carbon filters are recommended for the best filtration. The size of air cleaner you need will depend on the size of the room you intend to use it in. Portable air cleaners can increase your IAQ in specific areas of your home, but are not intended for the whole house.
Furnace/HVAC Filters—Filters for these systems are rated with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV). A MERV rating of 13 is the recommended minimum on filters for HVAC and furnace systems. An HVAC technician will be able to determine the highest efficiency filter your current system can use. Upgrading your systems to a higher efficiency will improve your overall IAQ throughout your home.
Breathing better indoor air will reduce health risks due to air pollutants. Find out more about IAQ at https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq.
Contact us for radon testing recommendations.