How To Avoid a “Bad Air Day”
Most of us come across a variety of risks to our health as we go about our day-to-day activities. Driving in cars, flying in planes, joining in recreational pursuits, and being subjected to environmental pollutants all pose differing degrees of risk.
Some risks are simply unavoidable. Some we agree to assume because to do otherwise would hamper our ability to lead our lives the way we want. And some are risks we might choose to sidestep if we were given the opportunity to make informed choices.
Indoor air pollution is one risk that you can do something about.
In the past couple of years, an ever-mounting body of scientific evidence has disclosed that the air in our homes can be more severely polluted than the outdoor air, even in the largest and most industrialized cities. Further research suggests that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. Thus, the health risks may be greater for many people due to exposure to air pollution indoors rather than outdoors.
But don’t panic. With a bit of preventative maintenance and some basic know-how, you can take steps to enhance your indoor air quality almost immediately.
It’s International Day of Clean Air
But, first, we’re inviting you to join us in celebrating International Day of Clean Air – September 7 – a time to recognize the amount of work that must be done to reduce the effects of smog, smoke airborne chemicals like excessive CO2, and other forms of harmful air pollution. It’s estimated that about seven million people worldwide die from diseases related to unclean air each year, and, according to the United Nations, nine out of ten people regularly breathe polluted air.
The theme for this year’s Day of Clean Air is “Healthy Air, Healthy Planet,” which emphasizes the health effects of air pollution, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Day aims to prioritize the need for healthy air for all while keeping conversation broad enough to encompass other critical issues such as climate change, human and planetary health. It serves as a rallying call to action to collectively align efforts and claim the right to clean air.
Common air pollutants
Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air are the chief source of indoor air quality problems in homes. Insufficient ventilation can boost indoor pollutant levels by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources and/or by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the home. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants.
There are a number of sources of indoor air pollution in any home. These include combustion sources such as:
- tobacco products,
- building materials and furnishings as varied as deteriorated, asbestos-containing insulation, wet or damp carpet and cabinetry or furniture constructed of particular compressed wood products,
- products for household cleaning and maintenance,
- outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides out outdoor air pollution.
The relative significance of any one of these sources hinges on how much of a certain pollutant it releases and how potentially toxic those emissions are. In some instances, conditions such as how old the source is and whether it’s properly maintained are noteworthy. For example, an incorrectly adjusted gas stove can produce considerably more carbon monoxide than one that is adjusted properly.
Some sources, including building materials, furnishings, and household products like air fresheners, release pollutants more or less nonstop. Other sources, connected with activities carried out in the home, release these pollutants intermittently. These include smoking, the use of unvented or faulty stoves, furnaces, or space heaters, the use of solvents in cleaning and hobby activities, the application of paint strippers in redecorating activities, and the use of cleaning products and pesticides in daily housework.
How concerned should you be about home air quality?
One of the more common questions asked when someone starts looking into ways to clean their home air is whether or not the everyday contaminants in their houses are causing any genuine problems. While it’s impossible to say whether any one person is being affected by indoor air pollution, there is clear evidence that poor air quality is a contributing factor to a number of chronic diseases, including both heart diseases and diabetes.
Here, then, are 7 things you can do right away to improve the air quality in your home:
Change your air filters and check your air ducts
Air conditioning systems are always working to give your home that perfect temperature year-round. But while they’re cycling all that air, they’re filtering out some of those common air pollutants.
Eventually, these air filters fill up and stop doing their job. Not only does that cause trouble for your indoor air quality, but it also wears down your A/C system, which can lead to costly repairs down the road.
So, be sure to change your A/C filters recurrently or purchase an air conditioning service plan that includes filter change, especially if you’re allergy-prone or live in an area with high levels of pollution.
Likewise, as we’ve emphasized in a number of previous blogs, it’s a good idea to replace your furnace air filter at the start of the heating season.
While you’re at it, if you are truly serious about enhancing the air quality in your home, be sure to check the filters in your other household appliances. Kitchen hoods and vents above your stoves also have filters that collect grease and smoke arising from your food cooking. If you have a built-in microwave, you’ll find a grease filter underneath. These should be cleaned or replaced periodically to keep the fan running efficiently and the air you breathe that much fresher.
Remember, too, those air ducts. These are responsible for distributing hot and cold air throughout your home, providing a comfortable climate in every room. But ducts that aren’t installed properly or maintained can dispense contaminants from one room to another.
Over time, dust, dander, and even mold can accumulate in your ducts, reducing the over air quality.
You might want to hire a professional to make sure your ducts are circulating fresh, clean air.
Buy indoor plants to freshen the air
In addition to making your home look better, houseplants can profoundly impact its air quality. Studies by NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America have discovered that some plants are capable of filtering our common volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are byproducts of chemical-based cleaners.
Which plants do this? Try aloe vera. As a succulent, it’s easy to maintain, plus it’s good to have on hand in case of sunburn. Spider plants are another great choice. Bonus: they’re hard to kill, so even homeowners lacking a green thumb can take advantage of their purifying properties.
Invest in a quality air purifier
Dust and pollen particles can be microscopic. It’s nigh on impossible to clean something you can’t see. Enter the air purifier.
When purchasing an air purifier, be sure it possesses the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) seal of approval. If you have allergies, you’ll also want to find a model featuring a high-efficiency particulate air ((EPA) filter, proven to eliminate 99.97 percent of common airborne allergens such as dust mites and pollen ragweed, mold spores, and pet dander. Also, look for a purifier rated MERV-13 or higher (MERV is a measure of filtering efficiency).
The reason that using an air filter is the best way to clean the air in your home is that the process is predictable and controllable. With a good air filter, you’ll be able to pinpoint how large a space your machine will cover, what contaminants it will remove, how many air changes per hour it will execute, and other important pieces of information.
By employing an air filter, you can aggressively take control of your indoor air quality.
Smokers cause about 85 percent of pollution cases. However, whether or not you smoke, secondhand smoking should be avoided.
Remember, cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals such as carcinogens that can affect the health of those who breathe them. And tobacco smoke can damage the health of the smoker as well as those who passively inhale the smoke.
Consequently, it’s vital that you don’t allow anyone who smokes to do so in your house. This will prevent you and your family from being exposed to smoke that’s hazardous to everyone.
Reduce mold and mildew
The presence of mold and mildew is a sign of high humidity levels. And high humidity levels will trigger the growth of an unhealthy and even hazardous interior environment. Breathing in mold spores is especially problematic for people living with asthma, and immediate action should be taken to block this from occurring. In fact, dampness by itself can trigger breathing and lung problems for people.
Here are a few tips on how to avoid dampness and accumulation of mold and mildew:
- Regularly inspect your house’s ductwork. If you discover mold growth on the outside of the ducts, there just may be mold inside.
- Check and repair the possible roof, foundation, and basement leakage issues.
- Route water away from your house’s foundation.
- Repair leaks and drips as soon as detected.
- Don’t keep inside water in open vessels.
- Don’t dry laundry inside.
- Turn on the A/C to exhaust damp air out.
Reduce dust and rid of dust mites
Surprisingly, home dust can present as much danger as other allergens since it holds harmful microscopic pests – dust mites. These can be uncovered all over – in the bed, on upholstered furniture, carpets, and even on stuffed toys. They feed on human skin (now there’s something you don’t want to picture in your head) and flourish in the humid air.
Cutting dust and indoor humidity are the best way to rid of dust mites. Consider using an impermeable mattress and pillow covers and wash these at high temperatures at least once a week.
Where possible, use a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner and vacuum, and steam upholstered furniture and carpets regularly. Better yet, simply rid of those large carpets and rugs.
Clean after your pet, control dander
Yes, pets are an important part of the family, but they are also animals and, as such, maybe the cause of a number of threats to human health. So, no matter how you and your family adore them, you need to honestly think about tighter pet control to keep away from such hazards.
As a prime example, pets shed a significant amount of dander as they scratch themselves or move around. This can trigger allergies or even asthma.
It’s essential to vacuum the area where your pet spends most of its time, such as where they sleep. Wash bedding, toys, and brushes – anything that can’t be washed you can place in plastic bags and freeze them as this will get rid of other allergens as well, such as dust mites.
Here’s a bonus tip: Use a humidifier for maximum comfort
Although contaminants are the larger concern, dry air can also be a problem. If the air you’re breathing is too dry, you may be subjected to sore throats, headaches, and nasal irritation. To deal with overly dry air in the home, it’s a helpful idea to use a humidifier. By adding some humidity back into your home air in addition to cleaning it, you can experience maximum comfort and breathe better than ever.