The old cliché “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” has been proven true many times, but never so poignantly as it is when applied to state of indoor air quality. The air you breathe is an easily underappreciated commodity—and most of the real health concerns are odorless as well as invisible. So even though airborne hazards are easily overlooked, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), your home is most likely a very toxic environment. Believe it or not, your home is 2 to 5 times more polluted than the air outside.
This is why the EPA rates indoor air quality as one of the top five environmental risks to public health. The truth is that energy-efficient construction techniques save money on utility bills, but make your home into catch all for air contamination. Elements that are found outside easily make their way indoors and become collected and concentrated—but many of the items that we furnish our homes with have potent effect on the air as well.
The good news is that there are ways to make a huge impact on the quality of indoor air—and here’s 9 simple ways to make it happen:
1. Fresh Air
Modern homes are almost comparable to a Tupperware container in the manner in which they collect and store pollution. Older, “drafty” houses are proven to not hold onto contaminants like newer homes do, because those drafts allow air quality offenders to escape back outside. So make a point to “air out” your house. On a certain day each week, flick off the heater and open a few windows. In the winter, you can either time the airing out with a grocery store trip, walk around the neighborhood or while you’re baking or cooking. In the summer, it is advisable to open windows at night and keep them closed during the hottest points of the day
2. Health-Conscious Heating
The American Lung Association has cited that more than 70% of Americans have forced or central heating, but 50% of those heaters never get a regular filter change. Alarmingly, 10% have never had a filter replacement at all. It is important to have your heater inspected annually—and to replace the filter every 3 months. Most filters are very easy to change, and merely need to be slid out and thrown away. For extra protection, many people install HEPA grade furnace filters like those made by Dynamic Air Cleaners. These filters remove more particles in general, but also can catch the tiniest ones that pass right through regular filters. The Dynamic Air Cleaner furnace filters are as easy to install as a regular filter.
3. Hold Off on Household Cleaners
For the most part, household cleaners are as tough on soap scum, stains and grease as they are on your health. The fragrances used in the cleaners are often their only redeeming point when it comes to how they impact the people who use them. There are several natural cleaning agents that you might want to consider, such as baking soda and white vinegar. In addition there are a few brands with specially formulated non-toxic ingredients.
Another source of air pollution that we introduce to our house comes in the form of air fresheners. Whether they plug in or are “spritzed” into the air, it is guaranteed that most all of them have ingredients with toxic qualities. Many of the ingredients used in air fresheners have no been adequately researched to determine whether they are dangerous or not. For some tips to cure the cause of unpleasant smells, see my post on air fresheners.
4. Green Thumbs = Clean Air
The very same elements in the air that are dangerous for people are not a problem for plants, which not only thrive in spite of household air contaminants, but also help to remove them from the air. Airborne formaldehyde (a carcinogen that comes from materials like plywood, adhesives, carpet and paint) and carbon monoxide (produced by heating or cooking equipment) are readily removed by house plants. For more information on what plant types are the most effective at cleaning the air and most easily grown, check out this article on plants and air quality.
5. Fend Off Mold and Mites
Two of the most pervasive allergens and air quality foes are dust mites and mold spores. The primary requirement for both of these pests to thrive is moisture—so the trick to eliminating mod and mites at the same time is to keep indoor humidity under check. In rooms where humidity is usually high, like bathroom, kitchens and unfinished basements, try running a dehumidifier. For those with allergies, you might want to check out more quick tips dealing with mold and dust mites.
6. De-Shoe at the Door
An alarming statistic shows that 90% of a person’s exposure to pesticides occurs in an indoor environment. How do these chemicals make their way into homes? –they hitch a ride on shoes and are tracked throughout the house. Simply removing your shoes at the door is the best way to avoid importing pesticides.
7. Smoke Removal 101
Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 different chemicals, and lighting up indoors is one of the worst things that you can do for your living environment. If you or your friends smoke, try to keep smoking limited to the outdoors. Stepping outside to smoke can save your home and your health.
8. Test for Radon
Radon is the second most common cause of lung cancer and is right behind tobacco smoke, which is the number one cause of lung cancers. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is found in high levels in every corner of America. It leaches out of the ground and permeates homes through basements and building foundations. It is estimated that one out of 15 in the United States has radon levels that are considered unhealthy by the EPA.
Test kits for radon and cheap and easy to use and can be purchased at hardware stores. So test your air and make sure your home isn’t that one out of the 15.
9. Hazardous Home Improvements
Most all of the surfaces and substances that are found inside are home have been treated, coated or glued. This means that most carpeting, upholstery, furniture will introduce formaldehyde into the air. Beyond the risk of cancer, formaldehyde also causes mild to severe eye, nose, skin and throat irritation.
Look for furniture and other home goods that are made with “green” materials—or air out new furniture in the garage or backyard for a few days before bringing them inside.