Isn’t it fair enough to say that the air we breathe inside our homes is cleaner than what we breathe outside?
Think about it: the harmful carbon dioxide and chemical emissions, chocking smog, waste from manufacturing companies and toxic petrol fumes. Is that not enough to make you want to stay indoors?
Most people think it is only outdoor air that is polluted and tend to ignore the health risks associated with poor indoor air quality.
However, what might come as a shock to many people is that much of the toxic and air polluting substances found outdoors are equally indoors. In fact, according to EPA, the concentration of indoor air pollutants can be 2-5 times higher than the outdoor air pollutants.
For that reason, it is fair to say that health risks associated with indoor air pollution are much higher than outdoor.
To put that statement into perspective, let’s discuss the World Health Organization (WHO) report about household air pollution and its effects on health.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 4 million people worldwide die prematurely each year from illnesses linked to indoor air pollution. In another sturdy, about 7 million death cases are reported every year from illnesses attributed to air pollution.
What do you make of the two reports?
Air pollution is one of the greatest environmental health risks on Earth. It has been associated with the increase in respiratory ailments, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.
Indoor air pollution on the other hand has become a public health priority. It has been linked with several lifestyle diseases including stroke, ischemic heart disease, acute lower respiratory diseases in children, and lung cancer.
That means, the air you breathe inside of your home can have a drastic effect on your overall health. If you don’t take it seriously, you might end up destabilizing your daily functioning. Even worse, you might end up dead.
Therefore, if you haven’t put much thought into what you may actually be breathing into your lungs inside your home, understanding the health risks associated with poor indoor air quality can encourage you to prioritize and make your indoor environment as clean and healthy as possible.
But first, what are the sources of indoor air pollution?
Sources of Indoor Air Pollution
If you are like most people, you probably spend a good portion of your time indoors, with little exchange of air. And as we have learned, indoor air is notoriously worse than the outdoor air, which poses serious risks to your health.
To improve the quality of air in your home, you have to keep it clean and fresh at all times. That not only includes cleaning your households regularly but also identifying the various sources of air pollution in your home and taking the necessary measures to eliminate them, and make sure the air you and your family breathes is clean and healthy.
Indoor air pollutants can be traced to various sources. While one of the common causes of household air pollution is cooking with solid fuels, the list of possible indoor air pollutants that you may find in your home is relatively endless. Therefore, dealing with one source alone won’t be enough to improve the quality of air in your home.
Let’s discuss some of the primary sources of indoor air pollution in your home and simple steps you can take to reduce their effects.
1. Residential wood burning
Wood burning is prevalent in both rural and urban homes because it’s a cheap way of heating your space, particularly during the cold season.
Wood burning appliances in your home include wood stoves, pellet stoves, fireplaces, masonry heaters, wood-fired furnaces and outdoor wood-fired hydronic heaters, or boilers.
Wood burning produces smoke, a complex mixture of hazardous air pollutants that are harmful to your health and the people around you.
The biggest pollutant coming from wood smoke is particle pollution (also called particulate matter). These tiny particles can enter the lungs where they are suspected to cause lung cancer, bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, or other chronic respiratory diseases. Particle pollution can also aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases and are linked to premature deaths in people with these chronic conditions. Children and seniors are at greater risks when exposed to smoke.
Avoiding wood burning in your home is one sure way of preventing smoke pollution. Or you could use eco-friendly and healthy-friendly home heating alternatives, such as cleaner-burning wood stoves. Other options would be solar panels and good electric heaters or geothermal heat pumps.
Another solution would be installing air purifiers equipped with high-efficiency particle air (HEPA) filters. These devices can lower the amount of indoor fine particulate matter and smoke from wood-burning appliances, potentially reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease from exposure to these air pollutants.
2. Carbon Monoxide
Carbon Monoxide is a poisonous gas that is responsible for at least 430 deaths each year in the US.. The odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas is a by-product of incomplete combustion of fuels such as natural gas, wood, petrol, coal, and kerosene.
Motor vehicles and industrial processes are the principal sources of atmospheric CO pollution. Gas stoves, tobacco smoke, wood burning stoves, fireplaces, and other fossil fuel burners are some of the causes of indoor air pollution.
Exposure to high concentrations of CO in a poorly ventilated home leads to various health issues. It increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, lung issues, and blood and central nervous problems. One critical outcome of exposure to CO is its reaction with hemoglobin. Once inhaled, carbon monoxide attaches to hemoglobin in the red blood cells to produce carboxyhemoglobin.
Hemoglobin is responsible for transporting oxygen to the brain and all tissues of the body. When it binds to CO, its ability to perform this task is thwarted. Therefore, the amount of oxygen being supplied to all body parts is reduced, creating a wide range of health problems. The higher the percentage of hemoglobin inactivated by CO, the higher the chances of becoming unconscious and dying.
To reduce indoor carbon monoxide pollution and prevent CO poisoning, you need to avoid CO exposure that comes from burning fuel or use of residential appliances. Heating appliances that produce CO should be properly vented and used according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Every home that uses fuel-burning appliances such as natural gas heaters for homes should install a Carbon monoxide detector. They will let you know when the levels of CO are too high in your room.
3. Second hand smoke
We all know cigarette smoking claims many lives. But did you know that approximately 41000 people die each year from smoking without even lighting a cigarette?
Second-Hand smoke (SHS) is a very problematic source of indoor air pollution. Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), as it is also known, is a mixture of smoke that comes from lit cigarettes, pipes, cigars and the smoke exhaled by smokers.
Exposure to second-hand smoke is called involuntary or passive smoking because non-smokers also take in nicotine and toxic chemicals the same way smokers do. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4000 chemical compounds, several of which are known to cause cancer in humans or animals. The more the time you are exposed to SHS, the higher the levels of these harmful chemicals in your body.
These toxic chemicals from second-hand smoke can be harmful in many ways. For instance, they affect the heart and blood vessels, increase your risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and other serious illnesses. Infants and children are at great risk; second-hand smoke causes frequent and severe exacerbation of asthma, respiratory diseases, pneumonia, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
When someone smokes indoors, it is not enough to keep the smoke away by opening a window or using a fan. Making your home smoke-free is the only way to protect your family from second-hand smoke related diseases. If you’re not a smoker, avoid being around people who smoke. If you smoke, quit.
4. Nitrogen Dioxide
If you think carbon monoxide is the only gas that is emitted from home heating appliances, then think again. We also have nitrogen dioxide.
From an outdoor perspective, we would say that exhaust gas of vehicles is one main source of nitrogen dioxide. However, in your home, nitrogen is produced by combustion sources such as gas, wood, oil, kerosene, and coal burning appliances, including stoves, space heaters, water heaters, furnaces, boilers, and fireplaces. Home generators also emit NO2 which can contribute to increased levels of this toxic gas in your indoor air.
Exposure to high levels of NO2 caused by improper home ventilation causes discomfort to the eye, nose and throat irritation. It can also contribute to a variety of respiratory problems including shortness of breath and chronic bronchitis in vulnerable people such as asthmatics and children. In fact, children are more likely to develop respiratory infections or asthma when exposed to even low levels of NO2. These cases can worsen with the accumulation of other potentially toxic gases in your homes, such as N2O, VOC’s and formaldehyde.
A thorough understanding of these sources of indoor air pollution, including other possible toxic gas accumulation, is no doubt a diligent step towards making your home healthy, safe and comfortable. But, one sure way to protect your home from nitrogen dioxide pollution is to have proper ventilation mechanism that exchanges stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air. You can also use NO2 monitoring solutions which can allow you quickly and accurately monitor the levels of nitrogen dioxide in your home.
5. Pet dander
Pets are great companions. No wonder approximately 37 percent of U.S. households contain dogs, and 30 percent of homes contain cats. But did you know these fluffy little friends may bring unwanted allergens into your home and affect the air quality? Sure, pets shed fur and dander which can be a major source for allergens that drastically affect your indoor air quality.
Pet dander are specks of skin that flake off from animals. These tiny particles can be found anywhere and can cause discomfort or allergic reaction in certain people. These allergic reactions can become worse if the concentration of pet dander in the air increases. Other pet-related irritants, such as odors and particles of feces and urine from litter boxes, may also contaminate the air.
Without proper ventilation, pet allergens may build up if left unchecked and im
pact the pet owner’s health. Symptoms such as congestion, sneezing, and wheezing may manifest. Watering eyes, eczema, and rashes may also develop. Continually experiencing these symptoms can be uncomfortable and have detrimental effects on overall health.
Many pet owners usually think that bathing or regularly keeping the hair of their pets short can help mitigate the allergic reactions. But this is not true because there is no correlation between pet dander and the length or type of your pet’s fur. Pet dander can cause an allergic reaction on its own, although pets can also bring in pollen, mold, and other allergens on their fur.
Since they are lightweight and small, pet dander can remain suspended in the air for a long time. If you add to the fact that they’re invisible, they can easily spread through your home or stick to furniture, bedding, fabrics and many items carried into and out of the house.
You can control pet dander and protect indoor air quality if you remove pets from your home. As a pet lover, this can’t a viable solution. So the best thing to do is to keep your pets away from furniture, carpets, and bedding. It’s also imperative to install a high-quality ventilation system which can lower concentrations of pet allergens and other harmful chemicals in the air in your home.
6. Bacteria and viruses
Poor indoor air quality can attract both bacteria and viruses and encourage their growth. Disease-causing bacteria and viruses can live in just about anything. They travel through the air, causing the spread of illnesses such as common cold and influenza. They may also cause reactions in allergy and asthma sufferers.
When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they fill the air with tiny watery or mucous droplets that carry disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Without proper indoor air care, these bacteria and viruses spread through the open air. Inhaling this contaminated air increases the risks of contracting infectious disorders like coughs, colds, influenza, tuberculosis and immunodeficiency disorders.
Because bacteria and viruses thrive and spread through contaminated air, it is wise to ensure that your home is properly ventilated. An infected person can also reduce the spread of these airborne diseases by practicing hygiene etiquette. Coughing or sneezing into a tissue or shirt sleeve – not into the air or hands – is one sure way of keeping germs at bay. Washing your hand and cleaning your household surfaces efficiently using water and soap can help in many ways at preventing them from spreading disease-causing bacteria and viruses to other indoor surfaces.
7. Dust and dust mites
No matter how clean you think your house is, dust mites will always be present. Dust mites occur naturally and can appear in nearly every home. Even though you can’t see them, you can find these microscopic, insect-like pests in almost anything in your house, from mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture, carpets, or curtains.
While dust mites are not parasites, they produce harmful indoor allergens that trigger asthma attacks and allergy in susceptible people. Asthma triggers, in general, may cause symptoms like coughing, tightness in the chest, wheezing and breathing problems.
Luckily, determining whether your house has a high concentration of dust mites and preventing their growth is really simple. It all depends on the humidity of the room.
You see, dust mites absorb moisture and thrive very well in humid environments. So during winter, when the weather is cold and dry, the low indoor humidity is sufficient to support dust mite reproduction, and their levels increase substantially.
However, if you reduce your indoor humidity, dust mites die. That means, to reduce dust mite allergen exposure, properly ventilate your house to allow fresh air and reduce indoor humidity. Regularly changing bedding, cleaning carpets, and improved upholstery cleaning can also be implemented together with ventilation to reduce humidity. All these changes affects the survival and number of house dust mites.
While many insects in your home require your attention, one particular insect that can make your stomach turn is cockroaches. These little critters are not only annoying and unpleasant to look at; they cause different kinds of problems. The obvious concern would be the integrity of your home. But another issue you might not be aware of is how cockroaches contaminate your indoor air and affect your health.
Cockroaches leave behind some substances, usually their droppings, saliva, and shed body parts. These substances contain specific proteins or allergens that can become airborne and contaminate your indoor air. As a result, triggering asthma attacks and causing allergic reactions. Cockroaches also carry some incredibly dangerous parasites, like salmonella typhi, dysentery, and poliomyelitis.
You can prevent cockroach infestation naturally by eliminating their food sources inside and near your home. But we all know that’s not going to kill roaches or prevent future infestation. That’s why you need to hire a pest control company to examine your home and get rid of roaches completely.
Carpeting has become ubiquitous in many American homes, businesses, and institutions. They are loved for their softness, dirt-hiding ability, acoustic muffling and the inviting-look and value they add to the rooms.
However, as one of the most popular flooring options, carpets are one of the difficult sources of indoor air pollution. Carpets that aren’t regularly cleaned and maintained are highly susceptible; they easily trap pollutants like dust mites, pet dander, cockroach allergens, particle pollution, lead, mold spores, pesticides, dirt, and dust. All these pollutants are airborne and can cause different kinds of allergies and diseases.
Also, carpet manufacturers and installers use certain chemicals that can harm your health. These chemicals and glues are usually made with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or acetaldehyde, which emit odors and pollutants. The largest release of VOCs from new carpeting normally occurs in the first 72 hours after installation.
In your home, children, asthmatics, and the elderly are at great risks if your carpet is dirty. When they react to these contaminants, they are likely to develop allergies, skin irritations, and respiratory problems.
You can properly extract trapped contaminants from your carpet and significantly improve the quality of air in your home by using correct vacuuming and cleaning methods. Cleaning with CIR-approved vacuums effectively removes any trapped allergens from the carpet and helps keep them out of your indoor air.
10. Cleaning supplies or household chemicals
You think that the cleaning supplies and household products that you use are safe and doesn’t affect the quality of air in your home? Think again.
While regularly cleaning and disinfecting may reduce your risk of contracting certain bacterial and viral illnesses, what you might not know is how potentially harmful many cleaning products are.
The use of chemical-based cleaning products, air fresheners, and personal care products can cause an increase in indoor concentrations of both gaseous and particle air pollutants. In fact, even the “friendly” soaps and disinfectants are not safe.
One harmful chemical that is emitted continuously by these products is VOC. Other harmful ingredients include ammonia and bleach. Just because your cleaning product says it’s green does not mean it is not releasing VOCs or affecting your indoor air quality.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to these cleaning fumes, especially VOCs can contribute to headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and throat, eye, and nose irritation. They are also linked to cancer and can even harm developing fetuses. Besides, continuous exposure to VOCs coupled with lack of ventilation is known to decrease cognitive functions and behaviors, impairing reasoning and thinking capabilities.
You are in luck though, because you can take simple steps to reduce the production of these air pollutants and their effects on your home. One step is reading the labels before purchasing any cleaning and household products. If possible, go for VOC-free products. If not, buy products that contain low amounts of VOCs, fragrances, irritants and flammable ingredients. And please stop if you still using air fresheners.
11. Mold and dampness
One of the irritating sources of indoor air pollution that homeowners struggle with is mold and mildew infestations.
These simple microscopic organisms live and grow both indoor and outdoor, and thrive in damp, warm, and humid environments. Warm, poorly lit and ventilated spaces can also be good breeding grounds for molds. Shower stalls and basements are common muggy areas prone to mold growth. However, any moist area in your home may harbor mold.
To get rid of mol, check out our basement heater options for more inspiration on gas heaters to use in your basement.
Molds are a major-league nuisance as they produce a musty, nasty odor. But that’s not all. If left unchecked, these types of fungi can cause serious damage. Molds can cause a host of health problems, as well as structural damage to your home especially when you experience flooding. If thick on the ground, molds can cause respiratory problems, burning or watery eyes, skin irritations, and nervous systems disorders.
Remember, everyone reacts differently to molds. Add the fact that there is uncertainty about how much mold you must be exposed to, or how long you must be exposed to mold to produce a certain health effect.
However, there are simple guidelines to follow to prevent mold in your home. One important thing to do is to control humidity levels. Promptly fixing leaky roofs, windows, and pipe; thoroughly cleaning and drying after flooding; and ventilating shower, laundry, and cooking areas can help reduce moisture in your home, hence preventing mold growth.
We all know molds are resilient microorganisms, and even after taking all the above precautions, you’re still likely to find them in your house. A long-term solution would be to hire mold inspectors and remediators who are trained in mold detection and removal.
12. Volatile organic compounds
Volatile organic compounds is a topic that every homeowner must have down pat as they are found in hundreds of everyday household products, and are generally harmful to your health.
VOC’s, as they are commonly known, are a group of chemicals that are found in almost everything that you use. From building materials (paints, varnishes, adhesives, composite wood products, vinyl flooring, carpets); home and personal care products (air fresheners, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, fuel oil, gasoline); to activities carried out in your home (smoking, wood burning, cooking).
Once these products are in your home, they release chemicals or gases that affect the quality of air in your home. Typical examples of VOCs that may be present in our daily lives are benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, tetrachloroethylene, toluene, xylene, and 1,3-butadiene.
The effects of inhaling these chemicals depend on various variables, including, how much is in the air, how often or how long you’re exposed, and your home ventilation patterns and effectiveness. Be warned that breathing in low levels of VOCs for an extended period increases your risk of health problems. Numerous studies have proven that exposure to VOCs may exacerbate asthma symptoms or cause allergy in people sensitive to chemicals.
Since VOCs are so widespread, getting rid of them altogether is a huge challenge. However, you can limit your exposure to products and materials that contain VOCs. Purchasing low-VOC products and having a good ventilation system is one step towards fighting VOCs.
Another step to protect your health is to schedule regular VOC testing in your home. Also, removing supplies of unused chemicals, such as paints, varnishes, solvents, adhesives and caulks can help improve indoor air quality.
Like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde is another cause of indoor air pollution found in virtually all homes and buildings. It is a colorless, flammable, and highly reactive gas with a pungent smell.
Also called methanal, formaldehyde use was previously limited to medical laboratories and mortuaries because it’s a natural preservative. However, its use has become rampant in other products, such as chemicals, particle board, household products, glues, permanent press fabrics, paper product coatings, fiberboard and plywood. It is also widely used as an industrial fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant.
Even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has listed formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen (cancer-causing agent), still, many people don’t experience any health problems from small amounts of formaldehyde in their homes. However, as its levels elevate, it can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty in breathing. If left unchecked, airborne concentrations may trigger attacks in people with asthma. There is evidence that some people can develop a sensitivity to formaldehyde.
Again, like VOCs, formaldehyde is found in so many products. And removing it completely from your home would be an insurmountable hurdle. However, with the right tools and dedication, you can win the fight against formaldehyde. One simple thing you can do is to purchase low-formaldehyde products, including real wood furniture, or wood products made with phenol resin. Purifying your home and having a good ventilation system are other possible solution. When you open windows, you let in fresh air and give toxic substances that build up in your space an opportunity to exit. As for personal products, it’s a choice you have to make between organic/natural products or chemical-based products.
A naturally occurring metal, lead is very prevalent in the environment. Because of its toxicity, lead use was banned in the late 1970s. But many people living in homes built before then could still be affected by lead. You can also be exposed to trace amounts of lead through inhalation of lead vapors found in various consumer products and paints.
Since lead is very harmful to human health, both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) agree that there is no risk-free level of lead in the air. It is, therefore, crucial to test for elevated lead levels in your home to preserve the well-being of your family.
Lead can cause a host of adverse health effects, especially to children. Continuous lead exposure causes delays in normal physical and mental development in babies and young children. It also leads to deficits in the attention span, hearing, and learning abilities of children. Adults are likely to experience an increase in blood pressure and kidney problems and even cancer. Very high lead exposure can cause death.
Unlike many pollutants, lead doesn’t go away over time. That means only professionals should remove lead from your home. If you have aging paints that begin to crack or chip, you need to hire a lead paint company to examine the situation. After that, they’ll be able to take appropriate health and safety precautions to prevent airborne lead dust from affecting your indoor air quality.
Did you know that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer? Only smoking comes first. And did you know that Radon gas kills more than seven times the people each year as home fires? Interestingly, many people still neglect to test their homes for radon.
Radon is a colorless, odorless, and radioactive gas. It naturally occurs from the breakdown of uranium in the earth. Though invisible, radon enters your home through the soil in your foundation. It seeps into homes through dirt floors; floor drains, cinder block walls, sump holes and cracks in foundations. Other radon sources are well water and certain building materials.
Radon particles are not harmful until breathed in. When the lung tissues absorb these particles, they are deposited into the cells lining your airways and begin damaging DNA structure. Repeated exposure leads to lung cancer.
You can test for radon in your home and get to know how much of this gas you and your family member are exposed to. The process is simple and inexpensive, using do it yourself test kits that are available in many stores. If your home has high radon levels, it’s prudent to hire a qualified radon service professional to fix your home immediately. Some mitigation options include sealing your lowest levels, depressurizing the soil under your home, or installing a radon mitigation system.
16. Building and paint products
Building materials and paint products are relevant materials. They not only add character and personality to your home but serve as primary lines of defense against weather, insects and other damage.
But, what you might not know is that some of these elements may emit fumes, chemicals, or dust which affect the quality of air in your house as well as your health.
Take, for example, any room within your home, like your kitchen; did you know that every other building material and paint product you can spot has the possibility of containing toxicants?
The solid wood cabinet is finished in chemical-based sealers; paint on the wall may emit toxic VOCs; floor may contain phthalates, cleaning products may give off formaldehyde, benzene, and other toxic chemicals. Most of these toxicants may be carcinogenic. Others may have serious impact on the health of your respiratory, neurological, endocrine, or other systems of the human body.
To protect yourself from these pollutants, you need to use caution when building or remodeling your home. Look for building materials and paint products with low or zero emissions. Most importantly, you need to have a proper ventilation system.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. Made up of millions of fine fibers, it exhibits substantial resistance to heat and deterioration. Because of these properties, asbestos was a preferred material for a variety of commercial and industrial purposes, including construction of buildings and creation of other consumer products.
Even though the federal government has banned the use of asbestos, it still remains one of the hazardous sources of indoor air pollution, especially in old buildings. People working with or around asbestos also face greater risks of developing asbestos-related diseases.
While asbestos is only dangerous if it is distributed or crushed, it can have detrimental effects on your health. Crushed asbestos releases microscopic fibers into the air which can be inhaled or swallowed. Because the body has a difficult time expelling asbestos fibers, repeated exposure increases accumulation of asbestos fibers in the lungs or abdomen.
Common asbestos-related diseases include asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Asbestosis is characterized by scarring of the lungs that leads to breathing problems and heart failure. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the linings of the chest and abdomen. Beware that smoking can also drastically increase the risk of lung cancer from asbestos exposure.
If you suspect the air inside your house to be contaminated with asbestos, you need to hire a professional for an inspection. Remember, the risk of asbestos exposure is minimal if the asbestos-containing material is left undisturbed. Unless you want to renovate or remodel your home, you leave the asbestos material alone or hire trained contractors who know control measures that might not disturb asbestos.
18. Flood and water damage
Heavy rain is not the only cause of household flooding. There are other causes such as groundwater and home water system malfunction.
No matter what the cause, nothing is more devastating than encountering heartbreaking destruction and losses from extensive water damage. However, when you’re so distracted with water damage restoration, a more devastating problem you might take no notice of is your indoor air quality.
You see, during flood water seeps into your house through cracks in the foundation or absorbed by drywall. Over time, moisture builds up, and together with organic materials, soggy carpets and waterlogged furniture, your indoor air can be contaminated even after flood cleanup.
One major problem that you’re more likely to face is mold infestation. And even if mold won’t be visible, the telltale musty smell is a positive indication that mold is lurking somewhere in your home. If the humidity and contamination are left unattended, mold can grow and multiply quickly than you can ever imagine. In just a matter of days, you and your family will be complaining of allergies, asthma exacerbation, and fungal infections.
Apart from ensuring your home is properly ventilated, another best thing to do, if you have a flood and even after cleaning up, is to consult a professional restoration company to help dry and decontaminate your house. If you have damaged furnishings and drywall, they need to be renovated. The remaining structures should be thoroughly cleaned and treated with a biostatic agent to reduce concentrations of microorganism that might contaminate indoor air.
19. Air conditioning systems
We all purchase air conditioning systems with an aim to keep our homes comfortable in both our summers and winters. And it’s easy to see why we consider very thoughtfully the selection of units that are not only appropriate to our specific needs but live up to their service in times of need.
However, air conditioning systems are becoming part of our unfortunate and bad indoor air quality problem. And the reason is, we are leaning towards mechanical ventilation, which makes homes and offices over-reliant on air conditioning units 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The problem, therefore, begins when these systems become faulty and inefficient. If not properly maintained and repaired, air conditioning systems can provide a suitable environment for the proliferation of microorganisms.
One such microorganism is indoor bioaerosols, which are natural or artificial airborne particles usually suspended in the air. Because they can be airborne, air conditioning systems can help spread them in the air, causing several febrile illnesses if inhaled.
Two of the common diseases are hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) and humidifier fever. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is related to an immune response to organic dust or microorganism bioaerosols from humidifiers or air conditioners. Humidifier fever is linked to toxic effects of inhaled bacterial endotoxins, fungi and amebae also found in humidifier reservoirs, air conditioners, and aquaria. These diseases are usually characterized by fever, headache, chills, myalgia, and malaise.
With all these dismaying health problems, it’s only wise to ensure all your home air conditioning systems are working effectively. It’s also important to consider natural ventilation.
I wanted to make this the last point, and for very important reasons. You see it doesn’t matter if you can buy the best mold remediation product or install CO detectors in every room of your house. If you can’t maintain humidity at optimum levels, then don’t be shocked if all the other sources of indoor air pollution become uncontrollable.
An extremely high and extremely low humidity affects the quality of air in your home. Molds, dust mites, and other allergens survive well in humid environments. Gas pollution, including CO, NO2 and other gaseous pollutants are very rampant during summer when the temperature is warm, and the air is sticky. The levels of noxious chemicals (ozone and formaldehyde) in the air increase during high humidity. And by now, you know how much risk you put yourself when the levels of these pollutants are elevated in your house.
You can regulate your indoor moisture through passive ventilation – you open windows for cross ventilation. You can also control humidity at a source, for instance, using a portable humidifier in your bedroom, an extract fan in the bathroom, or a rangehood in the kitchen. Remember, these devices do more than increase the humidity — they monitor it.
You could also use a hygrometer to measure and help you monitor the amount of moisture in the air. That way, you can keep your indoor humidity level at optimum, so it doesn’t get too dry or overly saturated.
Symptoms of Indoor Air Pollution
Now that you know continuous accumulation of toxins and contaminants can reduce the quality of air in your home, it’s equally important to be aware of the symptoms likely to indicate that your home is polluted.
Recognizing these symptoms can help you be alert when your indoor air quality is polluted. Many times, people ignore these symptoms and link them to other issues.
However, if these symptoms persist over a long time, that’s a clear indication that you need to address air quality in your home.
Some people are far more sensitive to contaminants and would be affected immediately (begin to notice symptoms immediately after a single exposure or repeated exposures to a pollutant). Others might take time, but it won’t take long before you develop a cough, realize that your nose is becoming stuffy or have difficulty breathing.
So, here are common symptoms you are likely to experience when your indoor air quality is poor.
- Sneezing or coughing
- Irritated or sore throat
- Itchy or runny nose
- Itchy or watery eyes
- Dizziness or nausea
- Inability to concentrate.
Remember, these early and relatively minor symptoms are often easy to eliminate. All you have to do is allow some fresh air into your house, and you’ll immediately notice some symptoms subsiding. If you don’t realize any major changes, you can visit a doctor and treat specific symptoms.
While the best thing to do would be to clean your home or hire an HVAC technician to test the quality of air in your home, avoiding any affected rooms within your house that may be making you sick can help a great deal decreasing the symptoms.
Health Risks Associated with Poor Indoor Air Quality
While the symptoms mentioned above tend to be quick and immediate, they are entirely treatable or disappear after some time if you avoid the polluted area.
But we all know poor indoor air quality does not affect us the same way. Some people may not notice these symptoms until some time has passed. This is very dangerous because the continuous flow of contaminated indoor air can cause or contribute to the development of some deadly diseases.
Moreover, being that we are uncertain about what concentrations or periods of exposure are necessary to produce specific health problem, it is prudent to try to improve the quality of air in your home even when symptoms are not noticeable.
With all that in mind, here are the life-threatening health risks associated with poor indoor air quality.
Asthma is a chronic disease that is characterized by shortness of breath, and trigger coughing, wheezing and chest tightness.
The best ways of keeping asthma under control are maintaining a healthy lifestyle and working closely with a health professional. More importantly, you have to avoid asthma triggers, which are some of the common sources of air pollution in your home. They include pollen, mold, dust mites, animal dander, and fragrances, etc.
When exposed to the above pollutants, asthma symptoms usually tend to worsen. In fact, asthma exacerbation is 40 percent higher during summer, when the quality of air takes a turn for the worse, than on days with average pollution levels.
As you can imagine, people who spend most of their time indoors, especially asthmatics, are more likely to suffer if their indoor air quality is poor. Over time, their immune system weakens, making them susceptible to other heart diseases.
Chronic respiratory infections
Apart from allergic disorders like asthma, another health risk associated with poor indoor air quality is chronic respiratory infections.
Some of the common chronic respiratory infections that develop as a result of poor indoor air quality are chronic respiratory failure, chronic sinusitis, chronic bronchitis, rhinitis, pneumonia, and influenza.
Source of indoor air pollution that causes chronic respiratory infection are smoking, cooking, home renovations, and the use of cleaning disinfectants or air-fresheners.
Chronic respiratory infections repeatedly occur over time. Disease severity increases in the fall and winter seasons when people are spending more time indoors and in groups. This is because there is a high number of contaminants in the air which makes it easy for the virus to spread.
All these diseases are characterized by difficulty in breathing, coughing, chest problems, sore throat, and mucus production.
Chronic lung infections
Chronic lung infections are some of the common debilitating health conditions in the world. In the US alone, all chronic lung infections were linked to the death of 1 million Americans in 2010.
While lung cancer might be the first condition to come to your mind when you hear the word chronic lung infection, there are actually other diseases too. They include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), interstitial lung disease, pulmonary hypertension, cystic fibrosis, and chronic pneumonia.
Several risk factors can contribute to chronic lung infections. However, the most common indoor air pollutants come from cigarette smoking and cooking using polluting open fires or simple stoves fueled by kerosene, biomass, and coal.
Because these diseases progress slowly over a period, continuous exposure to indoor air pollutants their diseases severity which can lead to premature death.
If you experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, or feeling of not being able to get enough air, you need to visit a doctor for examination and treatment.
Inflammation From Air Pollution Affects Your Overall Health As Well
Respiratory conditions like those listed above are among the more obvious issues associated with air pollution. But the inflammation caused by air pollution can increase your risk of other systemic health issues.
For example, air pollution is associated with insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes (which increases your risk of most other chronic illnesses).
General health measures that lower your risk of diabetes (like eating unprocessed foods, exercising, or getting enough sleep) may also reduce the impact of air pollution on your health.
Water fasting is another way to reduce overall inflammation, which may be beneficial if you have any of the symptoms or conditions we’ve mentioned here.
Simple yet Effective Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality
1. Keep your AC filters Spotless
By simply drying the air out and refreshing stale air, ACs can help improve your indoor air quality.
And since all air conditioning units come with a filter to prevent impurities and other contaminants from entering the system, the filter requires regular cleaning.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to clean your air conditioner filters.
A clean indoor environment is all we need for a healthy, disease-free lifestyle.
If you thought that outdoor air pollution is worse, it’s high time you focus on indoor air because now you know that the opposite is true.
However, what’s important to note is, unlike outdoor air, which you don’t have total control over, you have all the power over what happens in your home, and you can use it to remove allergens and pollutants regularly.
Continuous build-up of contaminants will increase your chances of getting sick. And since there is uncertainty about what concentrations or periods of exposure are necessary to produce specific health problems, cleaning your home and maintaining an efficient flow of air in your home are your best solutions.
All these health risks associated with poor indoor air quality, whether short-term or long-term, are preventable if you give the air inside your home the attention it deserves.
Melanie Mavery is an aspiring HVAC technician who is fascinated by the trends and opportunities in the HVAC industry. She spends most of her day writing content on home improvement topics and outreaching to prospects. She’s always looking for ways to support HVACs!