The air we breathe is one of the basic building blocks of our existence; we need it to sustain us for all other activities and can only go mere minutes without it. So the quality of that air is something we should take very seriously. And while we’re all focused on the big picture of industrial air pollution produced by chemicals, fossil fuels, etc. and its potential for some very serious long-term effects, most of us overlook the implications of air quality on a smaller, everyday scale.
For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency warns that the interior air quality of your home can actually be worse than the air quality outside – even compared to larger cities or more industrial areas. While the implications of poor indoor air quality are not on the scale of smog or ozone warnings, there are still very real dangers related to the structure and fire protection in your home as well as fumes from chemicals found around any house and natural gasses like radon.
In addition, there are less alarming pollutants that can linger in your home like pet dander, mold, allergens – such as dust mites – or even the dirt you track in from the yard. Fortunately, you do have the power to dramatically improve the air quality within your home, and here are a few helpful tips that can help you breathe easier around the house.
Know Your Enemy
In order to efficiently safeguard your home air quality, you need to first find out what you’re up against. According to the EPA, the types of air contaminants that can potentially cause health issues fall into three categories: Asthma and Allergy, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and combustible pollutants.
Combustion refers to any gases or particulate resulting from something burning such as your stove, fireplace, dryer, water heater, etc. Poor ventilation is usually to blame and it can expose you to dangers like carbon monoxide – a toxic gas with no odor or color. VOCs are organic chemical gasses that can come from many common products around your house including cleaning products, glues, pesticides, paints, disinfectants, construction materials, cosmetics and even air fresheners. This is why it’s important to read product labels and avoid toxic cleaners. Allergy and asthma irritants can be found all over a house at any time – from pet hair, to mold in the shower, to dust mites on a teddy bear, and so on.
Attack the Source
Now that you know what to look out for, you can take action to improve your air quality. The most important thing to keep in mind when combating indoor pollutants is that you need to attack the source. Controlling the origin of the pollution – sealing off asbestos or reducing gas emissions from your stove, for example – is the most efficient way to protect yourself from contamination. Also, since you can’t fix a problem you don’t know about, be sure to test your home for gases like radon. From there you can take additional steps to further guard the quality of your air.
Keeping your interior humidity at a healthy level – 30%-50% – will help control allergens like mold, mildew and dust mites. Using your air conditioner in the summer and dehumidifier when it gets cooler helps moderate moisture levels in your house – and the AC also helps control pollen too. You can also combat interior humidity by cracking a window open while showering and cooking as well as fixing leaks to avoid damp spaces.
Keep regular tabs on your HVAC system and change out old, ineffective filters, which can need replacing every 1-3 months depending on conditions. You may even want to look into upgrading to an electrostatic air filter as well, as they capture additional air particulates that regular filters may not catch. It’s also a good idea to open a few windows and turn on some fans to circulate in fresh air occasionally.
Secondhand smoke is less of an issue than it used to be, but it’s still a major pollutant that can linger in your house and severely affect air quality. The thousands of chemicals found in tobacco smoke are detrimental to both the user and anyone else exposed to them – especially children.
Clean Up Your Cleaning
A good vacuum with a HEPA filter is a smart investment as it captures the smaller allergens and dust other vacuums can blow out in their exhaust – and mopping more often will pick up additional particles vacuuming alone can miss. You can also enhance your efforts by investing in better doormats and having people take off their shoes to avoid tracking in pollutants from outside.