When we think of pollution, the thick plumes of exhaust from cars or billowing smoke from factory chimneys often come to mind. However, according to some researchers, indoor pollution is an equally dangerous and pervasive issue, one that impacts the health of thousands of North Americans every year.
There are short- and long-term effects resulting from indoor pollution that range from respiratory diseases to cancer, and even death, as in the case of carbon monoxide. So how do you ensure the safety of the air inside your home and keep your family safe?
Know your pollutants
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified three major sources of indoor pollutants that, with adequate exposure, could potentially impact your health in a negative way:
These are the off-gasses and particles that come from burning/burned materials and appliances, which will vary according to how well the appliance was installed, maintained and vented and the fuel (if any) it uses. Space heaters, woodstoves, gas stoves, water heaters, dryers, and fireplaces are potential sources.
Common combustion pollutants include: carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. The last two are the colourless, odourless gasses.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
These are a variety of organic chemicals that are released as gases from certain solids or liquids, and widely found in a number of household products – from the obvious like paints and varnishes, cleaning/disinfecting supplies, air fresheners and other synthetic fragrances as well as personal care products and cosmetics, to the less conspicuous like carpets and flooring, vinyl, building materials and furnishings (such as those that are made of composite wood products), pesticides, and dry cleaning.
A few common VOCs: acetone, benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, asbestos and lead.
Asthma and allergy triggers
The common household triggers are mould, dust mites, pollen, secondhand smoke, and pet dander. At any given time a home may have mould growing on a shower curtain; dust mites flourish in soft textiles like pillows, blankets or stuffed animals, and if you have pets, it’s the cat and dog hair and dander embedded in upholstery, floating in the air, or settled on surfaces.
Other asthma triggers include: scented products, cockroaches and pollen that has entered the home.
The health implications of poor indoor air quality range and are dependent on the contaminant. Illness caused by airborne pollutants can easily be mistaken for symptoms of other illnesses such as allergies, stress, colds and influenza. For a full list of potential symptoms, consult the EPA’s Diagnostic Quick Reference Chart.
Reduce your exposure
Once you’ve identified the culprits polluting your indoor air, reduce your exposure with a few simple habits:
To discourage dust mites, encase your pillows, mattresses, and box springs in dust-mite-proof covers. Wash very dirty or dusty laundry in the hottest water.
Air it out
Turn on the fan in the bathroom to reduce your exposure to VOCs when using heavily scented products or chemicals like acetone or bathroom cleaners. This can also help minimize humidity that can cause mould and mildew. If you haven’t got a fan, open your windows.
Activate the exhaust fans when cooking to eliminate heavy odours and smoke from pans.
Before you use your fireplace, make sure the flue damper is wide open. Poor ventilation can allow pollutants to stay in the air.
Ban smoking. Don’t smoke or allow others to do so in your home or car.
Go to the source
Eliminate odors, don’t mask them. Find the source of bad smells (rotting produce in the compost? Musty blankets? Pet accidents?) and clean it up.
Use a box of baking soda in the area instead of air fresheners, which cost more and can contain VOCs and phthalates.
Clean like you mean it
Make your cleaning count. Because dust can harbour allergens, clean your furnishings regularly with a damp rag or an electrostatic duster. Vacuum often with a HEPA-equipped device.
Seal cracks and crevices and put food away. Keeping critters at bay means less need for pesticides and other harmful deterrents. To minimize your exposure to pet dander, keep your pets off out of your sleeping quarters and off of upholstered furniture.
Apply a filter
Clean or change all the filters in your house regularly, particularly those for your heater or furnace, air conditioner, air purifier, and vacuum. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and stay up to date.
Adjust your humidity levels accordingly with a moisture or humidity gauge, available at most hardware stores. Ideal in-home humidity levels should hover around 45%. Anything under 30% is too dry, over 50% is too high and can contribute to mold growth.
To increase humidity, use a vaporizer or humidifier. To decrease humidity, open the windows (if it’s not humid outside), turn on a fan or air conditioner, or use a dehumidifier.
Add some plants to your environment, particularly one or more of the plants on this list from NASA. Just one of these plants for every 50 feet in your home could help reduce VOCs and improve air quality.
Is the air in your home safe? Contact Merenda Real Estate Group today and we can arrange for a thorough home inspection to ensure your home is a healthy one.