Everyone encounters various health risks as we go about our daily lives. One issue that should be a more pressing concern for most of us is the quality of the air we breathe inside our homes.
In the last several years, a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more severely polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities. Other statistics suggest many Americans spend upward of 90% of their time indoors. Therefore, for many of us, the health risks from air pollution may be higher inside than they are outside.
This guide will take an in-depth look at what factors contribute to poor indoor air quality, why you might be uniquely vulnerable to health issues stemming from this issue and how you can improve your indoor air quality.
Most homes have more than one contributor to indoor air pollution, and these sources’ cumulative effects can bring a severe risk. For example, many people believe gas stoves produce healthier, tastier meals, but these stoves can release toxic chemicals like carbon monoxide and formaldehyde into the air in much higher concentrations than are safe for humans and pets. A wide array of common household products are sources of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which can cause health issues when off-gassed into the air.
Insufficient ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels by failing to bring in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources or carry indoor air pollutants out of the home. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants, such as mold and dust mites. All these factors combine to worsen indoor air quality.
Indoor air pollutants can affect building occupants’ health and comfort. All of these have proven adverse effects on human health, and the lingering odors and stale air also make your home less comfortable.
Burning fuels such as propane, wood and natural gas in your home produces gases and particulate matter that may cause asthma or worsen existing respiratory symptoms. To avoid this issue, switch to an electric stove and heater, and don’t use your fireplace – which is not only dangerous, but also extremely inefficient.
Biological indoor air pollutants such as mold, mildew, pollen and pet dander can also pose a severe health risk to you and your household. When these enter your home, they can begin circulating through the air via your HVAC system. Symptoms of health problems caused by biological pollutants include sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, shortness of breath, dizziness, lethargy, fever and digestive problems. You can take steps to reduce biological indoor air pollutants by regularly changing your air filters, controlling your home’s humidity levels and vacuuming/dusting more frequently.
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, odorless gas formed by the incomplete reaction of air with fuel. Fireplaces, gas stoves, cigarette smoke and unvented gas and kerosene space heaters are indoor sources of CO.
CO can cause harmful health effects by reducing oxygen delivery to the body’s organs and tissues. High CO levels can compound existing health conditions, but even people in excellent overall health can suffer when exposed to CO, which is why it’s wise to buy a carbon monoxide detector for your home.
Asbestos is a naturally fire-resistant mineral that is also a known carcinogenic substance. Household items that might contain asbestos include insulation, vinyl flooring, shingles, siding and heat-resistant blankets.
Asbestos consists of microscopic fibers that readily split apart when handled. While these are too small to see, they are easy to breathe in, increasing your risk of lung disease and cancers like mesothelioma.
Indoor air quality can adversely affect every member of your household, especially pets, young children and the elderly. Many people experience nagging symptoms that feel like a constant cold, but are instead the result of the indoor air quality they experience. Some of these health effects may emerge shortly after a single exposure, or years later after prolonged exposure.
Short-term symptoms of poor indoor air quality include:
Long-term health problems associated with poor indoor air quality include asthma, allergies, respiratory illnesses, heart disease and some forms of cancer.
Is there anything you can do yourself to enjoy better air quality and start improving your household’s overall health? Try these strategies.
Better ventilation is the secret to solving many indoor air pollution problems. If the weather is mild, open some windows to welcome in fresh air and get a cross-breeze through your home. Even five minutes of daily fresh air can do wonders for your indoor air quality.
Your HVAC system has built-in filters designed to trap pollutants like pollen, dust and pet dander. However, these filters can’t do their job if they get clogged, so you must remember to change them periodically. Check your owner’s manual for their recommended air filter replacement schedule. You might want to switch out your filters more frequently if you have pets or during peak cooling season.
Air purifiers can help relieve some of the symptoms of common respiratory problems like allergies and asthma. While HVAC filters prevent harmful pollutants from circulating through the air, an air purifier can neutralize these particles and eliminate the threat they pose. If you use your air purifier daily, you might experience fewer allergic reactions and asthma symptoms.
There’s an easy and all-natural way to clean the air in your home: houseplants. Plants absorb some of the particulates in the air while taking in carbon dioxide, which they process into oxygen during photosynthesis. They are also naturally beautiful!
Houseplants can have a soothing effect on your mental well-being, and they benefit your indoor air quality, too. Extensive research by NASA confirmed plants’ ability to relieve symptoms of “sick building syndrome,” a condition caused by volatile organic compounds. Here are our top 10 plants that help improve indoor air quality.
The Barberton daisy, also known as the Gerbera daisy, is a plant known for its colorful, cheerful blooms. These plants, which are native to South Africa, are relatively easy to grow and care for. They prefer moist, fertilized soil and plenty of sunshine. Indoors, place them on a windowsill that gets direct sun for the best success.
English ivy is a low-maintenance plant with hardy vines that can grow over 50 feet long. Indoors, grow English ivy in pots with a stake or other vertical structure for climbing, or in hanging baskets where it can tumble over the edges. You can also grow it in a pot with a shaped wire frame to create a topiary design.
The snake plant is a succulent with generously sized, sword-shaped leaves with bright yellow edges. Alongside the snake plant’s air-purifying qualities, people love their easygoing nature. Snake plants will thrive even in low-light conditions and can go up to two months between waterings in the winter.
Chrysanthemum’s vibrant colors have become virtually synonymous with autumn, but these perennials can thrive year-round with the appropriate care. Growing chrysanthemums in containers is a perfect solution for indoor gardens. Most indoor mums grow to two to three feet in size and require at least a 12-inch pot.
If you have a “black thumb” and are reluctant to commit to a houseplant, a spider plant could be an ideal choice for you because these plants are so easy to grow. With well-drained soil and bright, indirect light, they will flourish. Spider plants also benefit from occasional pruning. Even beginner indoor gardeners can learn how to propagate spider plants from cuttings.
Aloe vera is a succulent plant with many healing properties. Besides being a low-maintenance choice, succulents are part of a home decor trend that has gained traction on Instagram. In addition to its air-scrubbing properties, aloe vera has a range of healing benefits. You can use the gel from the leaves to soothe burns and cuts.
Broad-leafed lady palms are exceptionally good at cleaning toxins from the air. The four they process are carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, xylene and ammonia. They’re also easy to care for, making them excellent for new gardeners.
Also known as the Madagascar dragon tree, red-edged dracaena is a rugged and resilient species that adds tropical beauty to any setting. Dracaena is on NASA’s list of plants that remove toxins from the air.
Weeping fig, or ficus, has one of the top removal rates for air toxins such as formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene and toluene. It is an elegant tree with dense, glossy leaves growing from a light gray trunk. When grown indoors, these plants rarely reach above six feet in height, but in tropical settings, they can reach up to 60 feet tall.
While you’ll need to put in a bit of effort to care for most houseplants, the Chinese evergreen can make even a novice gardener look like an expert. This tropical plant is very forgiving, even in dry, low-light conditions.
Another way to ensure excellent indoor air quality is to work with a professional HVAC contractor. Whether you need repairs to extend the lifespan of your existing HVAC system or are considering a brand-new, energy-efficient unit, let the team at Pileiro Heating & Cooling help.
We are a top-rated pro on HomeAdvisor and a member in good standing of the Air Conditioning Contractors Association of America. Because we are also a Trane Comfort Specialist™, you can feel confident that we will uphold the highest standards for our work. Reach out to us today for routine or emergency service and rest assured that we’ll work to do the job right the first time, every time.