April 30 through May 4 is the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Awareness Week; it’s a great time to take a moment to think about the air you’re breathing 95% of the time: indoor air. The average American spends virtually all of his or her time inside, breathing six to ten liters of air a minute. However, the EPA has listed indoor air pollution as one of its top five growing concerns. So, what’s the scoop in indoor air pollution?
Indoor air pollution is particulate and biological matter that builds up in your home when there isn’t enough ventilation. Even on the coldest or hottest days, some fresh outdoor air is necessary in your home so that these pollutants can be removed.
Modern homes are built to be energy efficient; to this end there are very few “leaks” where outdoor air can creep in, requiring homes to use more energy to maintain a comfortable temperature. However, it is this very energy efficiency that is causing our air quality to deteriorate. No fresh air in; no polluted air out.
Indoor air pollution is caused by many things. These include sources of combustion (oil, gas, and tobacco smoke), toxic cleaners, and outdoor sources such as pesticides, radon, and outdoor air pollution. They can also include biological contaminants such as bacteria, mildew, mold, viruses, animal dander, dust, mites, and pollen.
Our bodies are affected by pollutants in the air we breathe; we’ve known about the effects of polluted outdoor air for years. Indoor air that is polluted has much the same effect on us as unclean outdoor air. The effects include:
- Lung diseases, such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and respiratory infections, are aggravated
- Airways can be inflamed, which reduces lung function and makes people more sensitive to allergens
- Heart disease may also be aggravated by difficulty breathing
- Heightened susceptibility to airborne diseases such as flu and colds
Children and the elderly are especially at risk in polluted indoor air.
Ensuring your indoor air is as pollutant-free as possible is easy.
- Open windows for a few minutes every day, even when the temperatures are extreme
- Install a UV germicidal lamp inside your heating and cooling system to kill the mold and bacteria that can grow in the dark, damp environment
- Don’t smoke or burn candles indoors
- Use an air cleaner to remove up to 40 times the pollutants than your air handler’s best air filter; don’t use one that produces ozone, however. That only pollutes your indoor air more.
- Use a HEPA-type filter on your vacuum to reduce the amount of particles that are released.
- Install an air purifier to remove up to 99% of your home’s allergens.
Indoor air quality is something that everyone should think about. It’s a growing problem, but one that is easy to fix: Open a window. Install a mechanical air cleaning or sanitizing device. Breathe easy.