30 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality
Improving Indoor Air Quality – An Introduction.
Breathe Easy in your Home.
Indoor Air Quality can get overlooked. Often, we focus on the air quality outdoors instead. How many times during the summer do we close windows in Calgary? Despite the heat, we shut up our homes to stop smoke from forest fires from entering our living space. Although not so obvious, our indoor air quality can get just as compromised, if not more so. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests that pollutants indoors can be up to five times higher than those outdoors.
According to the EPA, we spend 90% of our time indoors. During the winter months, we keep everything sealed up, draft-free. Unfortunately, protecting ourselves from those extreme cold Albertan temperatures can have a detrimental effect on people who suffer from respiratory problems or allergies. Alberta winters can be long. Even early spring can be too cold to open up the home to fresher air.
Who is affected by Poor Indoor Air Quality?
Asthmatics and those suffering from respiratory problems are at high risk of being affected by Indoor Air Pollution. People with existing allergies may be more susceptible too. Children, the elderly, people with weakened immune systems or autoimmune illnesses are also vulnerable. Yet anyone exposed to air pollution over a prolonged period may suffer its effects.
How do I know if I am being affected by Poor Indoor Air Quality?
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), it is not unusual to experience one or more of the following symptoms.
- Allergy Symptoms – Coughing and Sneezing
- Respiratory Problems
- Dry Skin
- Irritated Eyes, Nose, or Throat
- Blocked Sinuses
- And over time, more severe conditions can materialize.
Of course, some of these symptoms can be attributable to other illnesses. So no assumptions can be made that the above symptoms directly result from poor indoor air quality.
Seeking the advice of a Health Care Provider is always recommended in the first instance.
Nevertheless, if symptoms lessen once you are away from your usual indoor environment, it may be worth investigating the causes of Indoor Air Quality.
What causes poor Indoor Air Quality?
Several factors could be affecting your Indoor Air Quality, and the following list is not exhaustive.
Unfortunately, the very thing we use to freshen up a room could be a culprit in polluting the air. Some aerosols include chemicals such as formaldehyde and xylene.
We are not experts in Asbestos; suffice to say, we know it can be a serious and dangerous hazard. Therefore, you are advised to seek out the advice of an Asbestos Abatement Expert. Please note that Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Code requires workers to take government-approved training and hold a valid asbestos worker certificate.
Carbon Monoxide is a hazardous, odourless, tasteless gas and therein lies its danger. It can be deadly. It is found in combustion gases in fuel-burning appliances such as:
- Gas-Fired or Oil-fired Furnaces, Boilers and Water Heaters.
- Wood Fireplaces or Stoves.
- Portable Heaters run on propane, natural gas or kerosene.
You should get your appliances checked and serviced regularly.
Please see Combustion Gases in Your Home – Things You Should Know About Combustion Spillage. In particular, note their recommendation for installing Smoke and CO Alarms in your home.
Dust, Dead Skin Cells and Dust Mites
Dead Skin Cells
According to ScienceDaily, people shed particles of skin at a rate of 500 million cells per day. A layer of skin is replaced every two to four weeks. It is a significant source of dust which might explain why we are forever dusting!
Dust not only comes from dead skin cells but from dirt bought into the home on shoes. It also comes from Dust Mites.
Dust Mites, whilst microscopic, are relatives of Spiders and Ticks! They feed off dead skin lingering in fabric, bedclothes, upholstery and carpets. They flourish in warm humid conditions.
Dryer Lint and Dryer Vents
Dryers can be a high source of lint and dust collection. Most dryers are designed to vent to the outside but when the vents get clogged, air does not flow as it should. Additionally scented dryer sheets can give off toxic chemicals.
Chemicals used by some Carpet Cleaners
Yes, chemicals used by some carpet cleaning technicians can pollute the air. Ask whether they use products that are environmentally friendly. Of course carpets, themselves can be a magnet for dust if not cleaned properly. Carpet Cleaning can be beneficial.
Retardants are sometimes used on Furniture, Mattresses and Fabrics to prevent the spread of fire. Chemicals used in retardant treatments can be toxic.
According to a Government of Canada Report on Formaldehyde in your Home, generally, Canadian Homes are below the recommended exposure limit of 10 to 40 μg/m3 or 8 to 32 ppb. However, it also depends on the number of different sources of formaldehyde in the home. Formaldehyde can be found in household items ranging from floor finishes to wallpaper, to drapes, glues, varnishes, and wood-plastic composites. Sometimes higher levels occur in newly built homes.
Do you live near a busy road? Then caution is advised when opening windows to let in the fresh air. You may find it is not so fresh. Try instead opening windows away from the road when airing the home.
HVAC, Forced Air Systems and Dirty Air Ducts
Cleanliness of the Ductwork and Plenum may contribute to better Air Quality. Cleaning the Ductwork for the purpose of improving Indoor Air Quality is still up for debate. A discussion on the Merits of Duct Cleaning can be found on our Furnace and Duct Cleaning Page.
Mould, Mildew and Fungi
Mould, Mildew and Fungi occur where there is excess moisture. Whilst naturally occurring outdoors and a necessity for decomposition purposes, the same cannot be said for indoors. If your home has a lot of humidity, you may find mould growing on wood, drywall, upholstery, fabric, tiles or carpets. This is especially likely if moisture from water leaks or plumbing issues have not been addressed and the moisture is not allowed to dry sufficiently. Mould Spores can become airborne.
Unfortunately, as loveable as Pets are, they bring a host of issues from pet dander to urine accidents.
Particulate Matter (PM)
Particulate matter is a range of microscopic contaminants in the air. Many are invisible or just barely visible. This matter can nonetheless cause problems breathing. PM is measured in Microns as follows:
- PM10 – for particles with a diameter of less than 10 microns,
- PM2.5 – for particles with a diameter of less than 10 microns.
Pollen (an allergy culprit) can find its way into the home through the breeze of an open window. Then, when the season is ripe for it, pollen can easily be tracked in by members of the household.
Radon Gas can seep into the lower levels of the home. It is caused by the breakdown of uranium found in the soil and rocks under our homes. Hence it is usually detected in basements. Inhaling Radon Gas can damage the lungs and cause cancer. Fortunately, it is possible to test for Radon Gas. See below.
Vehicle Exhaust Emissions from Attached Garages
One should avoid running a vehicle in the garage, especially in a garage attached to a home. The same goes for lawnmowers or any gasoline-powered appliance. They all give off Benzine, not to mention the risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
VOCs Volatile Organic Compounds
VOCs are chemicals found in numerous household items such as perfume, hairspray, and paint, to name three. One VOC is Benzine mentioned above. In a Study by Health Canada – Guidance for Benzine in Residential Indoor Air, they found that homes with an attached garage had three times the level of Benzine than homes with a detached garage.
How to check your Indoor Air Quality?
Here are five ways to check to see if Indoor Air Quality is not as good as it should be:
If you notice an increase in some of the symptoms mentioned above, they may act as a trigger to check for issues that might cause poor indoor air quality. While Cabin Fever is often thought of as the indoor or winter blues, it may well be that a low indoor air quality index contributes significantly to your feelings of depression.
Unfortunately, it is not just humans that can suffer the consequences of poor Indoor Air Quality. It can be a problem for your pet too. Pets may show symptoms before you do. Surely you have heard of coal miners using canaries or mice in the past to detect carbon monoxide and other dangerous gases? Look out for signs of lethargy or trouble breathing in your pet.
Gas, Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Alarms that are checked regularly and have batteries replaced as indicated will sound when toxic, odourless gas levels are getting dangerously high.
Do a Radon Test.
Check out the site: “Take Action on Radon” for details on purchasing Radon Test Kits in Alberta.
Get an Indoor Air Quality Monitor
A company whose testing products seem to be popular is called AIRTHINGS. At least one of their products: Airthings Battery Operated Wave Plus Indoor Air Quality Monitor with Radon Detection (Free App), can be found locally in Calgary at places like Home Depot and Canadian Tire. The Wave Plus tests for Radon, VOCs and Humidity. Recently Airthings bought out a new product called View Plus. This appears to do all that the Wave Plus does but also measures Particulate Matter (PM).
Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality
Use an Air Cleaner or Air Purifier.
- Air Cleaners filter the air using HEPA filters.
- Air Purifiers attempt to sanitize the air by neutralizing it using negative ions.
Install an Air Conditioner.
- In the summer, air conditioners can help control Indoor Air Quality.
- With an apology for being simplistic, the act of taking air from inside the home, pushing it through filters then over cold coils and returning it through a series of vents is not just good for cooling the air. It helps remove particles that pollute the air too.
Avoid burning commercial and Scented Candles.
- Use candles made of Beeswax. Some candles, such as those made of soy wax or paraffin, pollute the air, but Beeswax, by contrast, helps clean the indoor air.
- Beeswax candles emit negative ions, which help counteract positively charged ions in the air.
Avoid burning wood indoors.
- Some love the traditional feel of wood-burning fireplaces and stoves, but it is not good for Indoor Air Quality.
- The smell of wood-burning might feel homely and comforting, but smoke contains ‘particulate matter’ that can get into the lungs and cause breathing issues. In addition, there are risks from CO and VOCs and PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons).
Pay attention to the chemicals in household cleaners.
- Household Cleaners contain toxic chemicals such as VOCs.
- Try natural cleaners or homemade ones instead, or select a Safer Choice.
Take care with sprays you use to freshen the home.
- Aerosols Sprays (mentioned above) are detrimental to air quality.
- Instead, choose Natural Products to Freshen the Kitchen and Home.
Regularly change filters in forced-air heating systems.
- If you choose only one thing from this list, regular furnace filter replacement would be our suggestion. Its importance cannot be overstated.
Check AC Vents
- AC Vents typically refer to the return air supply for your Air Conditioning System. They should be open, clean and free from blockages. However, one should note that portable air conditioning units need to be vented, and the vents may need cleaning too.
Check Your Air Ducts
- Evaluate whether a duct cleaning would be beneficial. NADCA (National Air Duct Cleaners Association) not only recommends regular furnace filter replacement, but they also recommend furnace cleaning in their video: “Indoor Air Quality and Your Home’s Heating and Cooling System."
Clean Dryer Vents and Lint Traps
- It goes without saying that the lint filter should be changed between each dryer load. However, that screen can only trap so much lint. Unfortunately, some lint and dust still find their way past that screen resulting in the need for regular dryer vent cleaning.
Clean bedding and mattresses regularly.
- Beds and their coverings can be a breeding ground for dust mites if not regularly cleaned. So, in addition to changing those covers, you may wish to get a mattress cleaning.
Routinely clean Drapes, Curtains & Blinds.
Keep dirt from outdoors to one spot with mats.
- I.e. remove shoes at the door.
Consider a Trickle Vent.
Check Humidity Levels and Plumbing.
Do the Dusting frequently.
- When you can let fresh air into the home
Remember to empty Indoor Compost Bins.
- We all want to do our part for the environment but watch out for those indoor compost bins. Ideally, invest in a high-quality countertop bin with charcoal filters. Replace the charcoal filters every 4-6 months. If your province still has Daylight Saving Time, changing the filter on that day would be a good practice to get into. Add a Newspaper or kitchen paper towel to the bottom of the bin.
Keep garbage cans tightly covered and empty frequently.
Avoid Tobacco Smoke in the home.
Look after your pets and control where they roam.
Reduce Clutter where dust can accumulate.
Steam Clean Carpets and Rugs.
Turn on Bathroom and Kitchen Fans that extract and vent outside.
Make use of House Plants.
- Plants work for some, but they can be a haven for mould for others. An exception could be cacti that do not require much watering. This is because cacti are not as likely to accumulate mould in the plant pot.
Use Salt Lamps.
- Himalayan Salt Crystals emit negative ions. Therefore, they create a great ambiance and are safer than candles.
- Get a Vacuum cleaner with a Hepa Filter and change as required.
Vent while you cook.
- Venting is crucial when you have a joint open-spaced kitchen and living area.
Wash Hardwood and Tile Floors.
Take steps when Outdoor Air Quality is high.
- When outdoor air is high due to smoke, create a cleanroom.
Finally, educate yourself about Indoor Air Quality.
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