Mom playing on a sofa with toddler girl.

Freshen Up: A Quick Guide to Indoor Air Quality

Feb 18 2021

If you had to guess, how much of your time do you think you spend indoors? 

Think about your typical day.  

Hopefully, you’re sleeping 8 hours per night. Off the bat, that’s 33% of your time. Work in an office or at home? There’s another 8 hours or so. We’re up to 66%. Then, you have to cook, shower, do laundry, and of course, sprawl out on the couch to relax.  

On average, Americans spend 87% of their time indoors.  

Don’t worry, we’re not about to tell you to get out more! We fully support lounging around at home as much as possible. But when it comes to your health, the environments where you spend your time matter, and the quality of the air you breathe is especially important.   

What is quality air?

Quality air is fresh and free of pollutants. In its purest form, air is mostly composed of nitrogen, oxygen, and some water vapor. “Pollutants” are all the other substances in the air, which can negatively impact your health.  

Car exhaust, fumes, aerosols from cleaners, or smoke from cigarettes or forest fires are some obvious examples of pollutants. Dust, mold, bacteria, and viruses can also be considered pollutants, even though they occur naturally.  The more these substances are in your air, the lower its quality will be.  

Before we dive in further, let us note that this post isn’t meant to scare you. We’re just providing some information to help you keep your household healthy and happy. Scroll down for a few simple tricks and tips to improve the air quality in your home.  

What are common sources of poor indoor air quality?

Indoor air can get stagnant, especially during the winter when doors and windows are closed. Without airflow, pollutants build up, leading to poor indoor air quality.   

The following are common pollutants that lead to air quality issues at home:  

  • Mold: Mold is a naturally occurring fungus. It can be almost any color, but black or grey spots that show up in clusters are most common. It needs water to grow, so it’s usually found in bathrooms, under sinks, and in basements where the air is damp.  
  • Dust: Dust is a mixture of tiny particles. It can be airborne or stick to surfaces. If you tested the dust in your home, you may find dead skin, clothing fibers, pet dander, pollen, dust mites, and bits of other dead bugs. 
  • Viruses and bacteria: Viruses and bacteria are naturally occurring organisms that can make you sick. Fortunately, most bacteria are harmless. Viruses can lead to anything from the sniffles to serious illness.
  • Carbon monoxide, radon, and other gasses: Gasses, such as carbon monoxide or radon, can cause serious health issues, which can be fatal. They typically come from appliances that burn fuel, such as furnaces and stoves. Some, however, like radon, are naturally occurring and must be vented from your basement or crawlspace.
  • Cleaning supplies and pesticides: Cleaning supplies and pesticides are made of strong chemicals that can enter your body through your nose, mouth, or skin. Some release fumes that you can breathe in, while others can linger on surfaces that you might touch.
  • Asbestos, lead, and other building materials: Building materials often contain products that can be harmful. Modern materials are safer than those used before 1980. Prior to 1980, asbestos and lead were common in paint, flooring, and plumbing. Carpeting or pressed wood products (used for cabinets and flooring) also need time to release gasses produced by the chemicals used to make them.  

How can I tell if my home has good air quality?

There are a few ways to assess your home’s air quality. The easiest is to check in with yourself. How are you feeling? If you always feel fatigued, have a scratchy throat or itchy eyes, or have headaches, you may have an air quality issue.  

Another option is to pick up an air quality monitor, detectors for carbon monoxide or radon, and lead or asbestos tests from a hardware store. 

You can also hire an air quality professional or environmental expert to test the air inside your home. These tests can be pricey, but they’re likely to be the most accurate. A pro can also offer recommendations for improving your home’s air.  

Poor air quality isn’t always easy to diagnose. Pollutants are often invisible and scentless, and the health issues they cause can occur gradually over time. Because of this, it helps to schedule an annual reminder to assess your air quality and consider whether you’re actively keeping your air fresh and clean. 

How do I improve my indoor air quality?

To improve your home’s air quality, there are two rules to keep in mind:  

  1. Stop the source
  2. Increase airflow

Stopping the source means getting to the root of the issue. For example, if you have a mold problem, you need to get rid of the moisture that causes it to grow. If carbon monoxide is the culprit, you may need to replace the HVAC equipment that’s producing it.  

If you’re concerned about your indoor air quality, be sure to let some fresh air in. Ways to increase airflow include opening windows, running fans or air conditioners, and using bathroom and kitchen vents.   

Check out these posts for more tips to improve your quality of life indoors:

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