The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has shown that air pollution levels can be up to 100 times higher indoors than outdoors.
It’s time for the bi-annual whole house cleaning. Baseboards get dusted, curtains get washed and rugs get dragged outside for a good scrubbing and while all that dust is flying, it’s a perfect time to think about cleaning the air inside your home.
Pollutants in your home come from everywhere – carpet, aerosol sprays, air fresheners, even most of the products you use to clean your house, emit gases that can pollute the air. Paint, for example, emits formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen. These gases, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can circulate throughout indoor living spaces and affect the air you breathe. Poor indoor air quality has been linked to headaches, fatigue, concentration problems, allergies, asthma and more. When you consider that most people spend approximately 90% of their time indoors, indoor air quality can be a real concern.
Deep breath. We have some easy suggestions for you.
One of the biggest hindrances to healthy indoor air is proper ventilation, and while ventilating may sound like a big, intimidating concept it’s pretty easy to improve your house’s airflow with things already in your home.
Open your windows. Turn off the air or heat and open your windows. According to the Green Home Guide, using a natural ventilation system (i.e. open windows) in your home not only improves air quality, but it can also reduce your energy consumption. For best results they recommend opening both the top and bottom sashes of double-hung windows (move the glass to the middle), create cross-ventilation by opening windows on opposite sides of the room, and open windows at night once things cool off.
Use your fans religiously. They are already there (or they should be) just turn them on. You should have exhaust fans in each of your bathrooms as well as over your stove. In the bathroom use the fans while you shower, and 5 to 10 minutes after, to manage moisture build up. Also, turn it on if you are cleaning to dissipate harmful fumes.
In the kitchen, use the fan on your stove, every time you cook. Richard Shaughnessy, Ph.D., Indoor Air Quality Director at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma told New York Times reporter Arianne Cohen, “Any time you’re cooking or searing something in a pan, you’re producing ultra-fine particles coated with all sorts of other chemicals that you don’t want to be breathing.” This is of special concern for people with respiratory concerns and children. Need more convincing to turn on you exhaust fan? Read the full article.
Remodel in fall or spring. Construction can involve all sorts of toxic chemicals – paints, glues, sealants. Attacking these projects when the temperatures allow for doors and windows to be open can really help keep these chemicals from building up in the house. Add floor fans and angle them towards open doors and windows to really help get things moving.
While we’re on the topic of renovations select materials that are low-emitting and low-VOC. There are many products from a variety of manufacturers to choose from – for example, Benjamin Moore makes a zero VOC paint. Eco-bond offers a range of non-toxic adhesives and sealants. CertainTeed offers a variety of insulation options that are GREENGUARD® Gold Certified ensuring very low VOC, and a drywall product called AirRenew® that passively removes formaldehyde from the air, traps it into the wall, and turns it into an inert, or harmless, compound. Unlike air filters AirRenew removes chemicals continuously, no filters or batteries needed.
Check your vents and filters. A simple lap around the house is all that is needed for this one. Make sure air returns and vents are not blocked by furniture – or your son’s dirty laundry. Also, check the filters in your HVAC system, vacuum and dryer. Clean or replace as necessary.
Buy a mum. Research conducted by NASA shows mums cleaned the air of ammonia, benzene and formaldehyde, a toxic trifecta, but really any house plant will do. Plants absorb unwanted compounds along with their CO2; they also bring air-cleaning microorganisms in their soil, a combination that has been shown to reduce air particulates.
With a little awareness and diligence we can make big strides in improving our indoor air quality. Healthy Child Healthy World reports opening a window for even five minutes a day will significantly decrease the concentrations of indoor air pollutants in your home. See mom was right – a little fresh air will make you feel better.