We spend much of our time indoors. The air that we breathe inside our homes can put us at risk for health problems. These risks can come from chemicals, gases and living organisms like mold and pests.
Several sources of air pollution are in our home. Some pollutants cause health problems such as sore eyes, burning in the nose and throat, headaches or fatigue. Other pollutants cause or worsen allergies, respiratory illnesses (such as asthma), heart disease, cancer and other serious long-term conditions. Sometimes individual pollutants at high concentrations, such as carbon monoxide, can cause death.
The most common pollutants are radon, combustion products, biologicals (molds, pet dander, pollen), volatile organic compounds, lead dust and asbestos. Poor indoor air quality in your home can lead to problems like asthma, allergies, lung disease, high levels of toxicity and more.
Sources of indoor air pollution.
Understanding and controlling some of the common pollutants found in our homes may help improve our indoor air and reduce your family’s risk of health concerns related to indoor air quality.
- Radon is a radioactive gas that is formed in the soil. It can enter indoors through cracks and openings in floors and walls that are in contact with the ground.
- Secondhand smoke comes from burning tobacco products. It can cause cancer and serious respiratory illnesses.
- Combustion pollutants are gases or particles that come from burning materials. In homes, the major source of combustion pollutants are improperly vented or unvented fuel-burning appliances such as space heaters, woodstoves, gas stoves, water heaters, dryers and fireplaces.
- Volatile organic compounds are chemicals found in paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, varnishes and waxes, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment, moth repellents, air fresheners and dry-cleaned clothing.
- Molds are living things that produce spores. Molds produce spores that float in the air, land on damp surfaces, and grow.
How to improve the air quality in your home:
- No Smoking – Declare your home a smoke-free zone. Secondhand smoke can cause serious health problems, especially for children. Ask smokers to take it outside and preferably away from your house.
- Ventilate – Good ventilation reduces indoor air pollution. Ideally your home is ventilating enough to bring in fresh air, but not so much that you are losing heat or cooling. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends a ventilation rate of 0.35 ach (air changes per hour) for new homes, and some new homes are built to even tighter specifications. Particular care should be given in such homes to preventing the build-up of indoor air pollutants to high levels. You should also leave doors between rooms open most of the time for better air circulation. Open windows when possible to allow for a good supply of outdoor air. Install exhaust fans in bathrooms to remove moisture and chemicals from the house.
- Control Humidity – Keep humidity levels low with a dehumidifier or air conditioner, as needed. Clean both regularly so they don’t become a source of pollutants themselves. Fix all leaks and drips in the home, as standing water and high humidity encourages the growth of mold and other biological pollutants. A relative humidity of 30-50% is generally recommended for homes.
- Prevent CO Poisoning – To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, have all fuel burning appliances inspected by a qualified technician once a year. The fall and early winter is the most likely time to have issues with improper ventilation of combustion gases or inefficient burning. Install a carbon monoxide detector near your sleeping rooms.
- Control Allergens – To keep dust mites and other allergens to a minimum, clean regularly. Wash bedding materials in hot water (at least 130°). Carpet collects allergens, dirt, dust and mold and can be very unhealthy for those who suffer from allergies. Consider replacing carpet with area rugs that can be taken up and washed often.
- Vent While Cooking – Fit your gas range with a hood fan that exhausts the air outside. Use the fan or open a window when cooking to remove gas fumes.
- Use Safe Cleaning Products – Check commercial cleaning products and pesticides for toxic ingredients, and use according to manufacturers’ directions. Keep your home well ventilated when using these products. Consider switching to less toxic alternatives.
- Test Your Home For Radon – Learn more about radon exposure and how to eliminate it from your home by visiting Radon.Utah.Gov.
- Turn It Off – Never leave a car, lawn mower or other gas fired equipment running in an attached garage or shed or near an open window. Avoid the use of unvented heaters or charcoal grills indoors.
- Shop Smart – When purchasing new furniture or products from your home, find the least toxic that you can. Avoid furniture and products that contain formaldehyde or VOCs, opting for natural products and lower VOC options.