Many of us are correctly concerned about the pollution and contaminants in the outside air we are breathing. Where I live, for example, the community is concerned about the amount of emissions from the nearby factories and the growing amount of traffic on the roads. We are concerned about inversion during the spring and take steps to improve the quality of the air.
Indoor Air vs. Outdoor Air
However, one place that many of us overlook, when it comes to breathing clean air, is the air inside our own homes. While we should take steps to improving the air quality of our communities, we also need to focus on the air inside. Information from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and other scientific sources tell use the air inside our homes, work places, and other buildings is often much more polluted than the air outside. This number ranges from two times more polluted to over a thousand times more polluted than the outside air. Consider the fact that most of us are spending the majority of our time (about 90%) indoors and this means that we are subjected to many more contaminants inside than those which are breathing while we are outside.
The Causes of Poor Indoor Air Quality
Just where does all of that indoor air pollution come from? There are two main causes of indoor air pollution: the contaminants themselves and the lack of proper ventilation.
Indoor Air Contaminants
There are quite a few natural and man-made air pollutants which lead to indoor air pollution. These include: Natural Contaminants
- Moisture leading to mold and mildew
- Animal dander
- Cockroaches, dust mites, and other pests
- Bacteria, viruses, and other airborne pathogens
- Building and furnishing materials
- Household cleaning supplies
- Central heating and cooling systems
- heating materials used by furnaces
Lack of Proper Ventilation
Many of us work hard to prevent the flow of air between the inside of our homes and the outside of our homes. After all, the costs of heating and cooling the building are much less when we can keep out the chill of winter and the heat of the summer. As we work to improve the insulation of our homes, however, we do need to keep in mind the fact that the pollutants inside our home will continue to accumulate until our health can no longer withstand the levels of contaminated air. In the struggle to save money on our energy bills, we mustn’t lose sight of the healthcare costs that can be attributed to preventing fresh air from making its way through our homes, offices, and the other buildings where we spend so much of our days.
The Effects of Poor Air Quality
There are many different effects of poor air quality and these will be felt more or less depending upon each individual. In some cases, the introduction of fresh air throughout the building can remove the effects and in other situations entire buildings will need to be renovated in order to remove pollutants which are causing life-threatening symptoms.
What are some of the first symptoms you’ll feel when you have poor air quality in your home?
Everyone, whether they suffer from asthma and allergies or not, can feel the effects of air pollution over time. The most common symptoms include:
- headaches, itchy irritation of the eyes, the nose, and the throat, unexplained fatigue, typical allergy symptoms, and dizziness
Unfortunately for many people, by the time the cause of these symptoms has been discovered, the physical effects of breathing in poor quality air may have developed into more serious conditions. These may include:
- asthma, humidifier fever, pneumonitis, respiratory tract infections, deep coughs, and general susceptibility to other damaging health conditions
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, other effects of poor indoor air quality include reduced attendance and productivity and decreased abilities to concentrate, calculate, and memorize information. The same document describes the deterioration of buildings as indoor pollutants take their toll. It also goes on to state that family, work, school, and other social relationships will feel a strain when the people involved are suffering from the effects of poor indoor air quality.
The Good News
With the realization that your home, the place where many of us feel safest, may actually be the cause of your discomfort or the development of health-threatening conditions, you may wonder what you can do to correct this situation. Fortunately, there are some simple steps which you can take; and in many cases, you can implement these steps at the work place as well. First, take steps to improve the ventilation of your home. Open the windows when the weather is nice. During the summer months, you might open the windows during the cool nights. Use fans to circulate this cooler air through your home, improving the ventilation of your home and reducing the costs associated with running the air conditioning through the night. Second, pay attention to your ventilation system. Make sure that any appliances are properly vented to the outside. Pay attention to where that vented air will flow once outside. (Vents near windows could exacerbate the problem.) Routinely clean vents and filters. Third, think about your use of cleaning chemicals. In some cases, you may be able to eliminate some of the air pollution in your home by switching from the use of chemical cleaners to warm water and a mild detergent. You may also consider only using certain cleaners on days when you can ventilate the home as you clean. Fourth, contact a professional in the field of air purification. These qualified men and women can work with you to install a heating and cooling system with a home dehumidifier (when needed) which will provide sufficient ventilation and which will also filter out pollutants. In some cases, the qualified professional may be willing to consult with you about other steps you can take to improve the air quality in your home. Fifth, choose plants which have air purifying effects. While plants can’t undo all of the effects of indoor air pollution, when they are used in conjunction with the above steps, air purifying plants, such as the Peace Lily, English Ivy, and the Gerber Daisy, can improve the air and provide other important benefits in your home.
Lauren Hill does her best to live a green life and takes air contaminates seriously. You’ll find her writing on subjects from gardening to air quality all over the internet. You can follow her on Google+ or at www.laurenqhill.com