Written by contributor Tiffany Larson.
During the summer I don’t think much about our indoor air quality because we are outside breathing in the fresh, mountain air. But when the snow comes, we often spend ninety percent of our day inside breathing air that can be more seriously polluted than even the largest and most industrialized cities.
There are three methods of improving indoor air quality: controlling the source of pollution, ventilation and cleaning the air. The most effective? Eliminate or reduce the source of pollution.
Let’s review our options:
Controlling the Source of Pollution
Radon is a radioactive gas in the soil that enters your home through cracks and openings near the ground. It’s also the leading source of lung cancer among non-smokers. This hits close to home – I know someone that died of lung cancer, and she didn’t smoke. You can order a radon test or look for one at your local home improvement store.
Children are particularly vulnerable to secondhand smoke. It causes cancer, asthma and increases risk of ear infections and SIDS. If you must smoke, do it outside only and not in cars as lingering smoke residue, “thirdhand smoke”, is currently being studied as dangerous, too.
3. Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless and can kill you before you know it’s there. It comes from leaking gas appliances, fireplaces, space heaters, furnaces and more. In fact, I discovered a natural gas leak at my current house that the previous owners hadn’t – because I had a carbon monoxide detector installed the day I moved in.
Firefighters recommend that you have a carbon monoxide detector installed on each level of your home, at floor level preferably near a furnace vent and replaced every five years, whether you think it’s working well or not.
Photo by ohmeagan
VOC’s are chemicals found in cleaning supplies, paint, pesticides, air fresheners, dry-cleaned clothing and more. They can damage the liver, kidneys, central nervous and cause cancer. A few ways to control VOC’s:
- use natural cleaning supplies, Simple Homemade has easy recipes and tips
- paint items outside and buy non-VOC paint
- buy used painted goods or plastics so they’ve had time to off-gas before they get to your home
- avoid buying clothing that needs to be dry-cleaned or learn how to wash them gently at home
- minimize or avoid use of aerosol cans (hairspray, sunscreen, air fresheners, etc.)
- buy PVC-free products when you can, such as plastic shower curtains (Ikea also sells inexpensive shower curtains made of PEVA, a safer plastic)
5. Mold, Dust Mites and Pet Dander
These allergens can irritate allergies and asthma in both adults and children. My husband used allergy medication most of his life until eight years ago when we moved into a home that was newer (and no damp basement) and had never had pets in it. You can reduce these allergens in your home in the following ways:
- use exhaust fans and/or open windows in the bathroom while showering or bathing
- don’t over water plants
- wash bedding and stuffed animals in hot water once per week
- when the person with allergies/asthma is not home, vacuum floors and upholstered furniture with a HEPA filtered vacuum, mop with a microfiber dust mop and dust
- keep mattress and pillows in allergen free protectors
- if you have pets, keep them outdoors as much as possible and don’t allow them in sleeping areas or on upholstered furniture
6. Outdoor Pollutants
Lead, pesticides and other outdoor pollutants are brought into your home on clothing and shoes. You can reduce this by offering one or two doormats (one outside the door and one inside the door) to clean off shoes. We instituted a “no-shoes” policy in our home about three years ago and it has really cut down on the amount of floor cleaning we need to do.
Using the exhaust fan in the kitchen will evaporate the gas, smoke, and humidity while you cook. When you are bathing or showering, turn on the bathroom fan. Attics often have fans that can be operated, particularly in the summer to help keep the house cool.
Photo by diego3336
8. Old-Fashioned Ventilation
Open a few windows every day for five to ten minutes to get fresh air circulating in your house. During the winter, I do this in the afternoon to minimize lost heat.
Cleaning the Air
Houseplants have been shown to remove chemical vapors and grow “fresh air”. Contributor, Stephanie Langford, has compiled a list of effective houseplants here.
10. Air Filters
Air filters can run the gamut from inexpensive furnace filters to whole house filters. Two inexpensive ways to filter the air in your home are to use HEPA air filters in your furnace and a HEPA filtered vacuum. HEPA (high efficiency particular air) filters remove 99.97% of all particles greater than 0.3 micrometer from the air that passes through.
Do you use any of these tips in your home to improve air quality? Are there any techniques you plan to use now?