The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that people spend 90% of their time indoors and that indoor air quality can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Indoor air pollution can threaten the health and the lives of everyone in your family.
The single most effective way to keep the air in your home healthy is to keep things out of your home that cause air pollution, including cigarette smoke, fragrances, excess moisture and chemicals.
The second most important is to ventilate your home to pull dangerous pollutants out of the house, such as a whole house fan or exhaust fans. Run the exhaust fans in your bathroom and kitchen. Open your windows. Make sure you have a good exhaust system in place for appliances and stoves.
Some indoor air pollutants can kill. Among the most dangerous are these three:
1. Carbon monoxide: 400 die and thousands are sickened annually.
2. Secondhand smoke: 7,500-15,000 children are hospitalized or sickened with respiratory tract infections, and older adults with cardiovascular or lung illness are at higher risk of health problems.
3. Radon gas: It’s silent. It’s odorless. It’s found in many American homes, and it is the second biggest cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoke.
Never Let Anyone Smoke in Your House
Each year, second hand smoke sends 7,500-15,000 children aged 18 months or younger to the hospital. Hundreds of thousands of children will develop respiratory tract infections from second hand smoke this year. Older adults and people with lung and cardiovascular diseases are also at higher risks of respiratory problems from cigarette smoke exposure.
Never let anyone smoke inside your home. The Surgeon General states that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke. Ask smokers to take it outside to protect the health of you and your family. There is now evidence of even third hand smoke causing problems for many individuals. Third hand smoke involves someone with cigarette smoke on their clothing or person, and carting the toxins into your home and polluting the indoor environment.
Install a Carbon Monoxide Detector
Carbon monoxide poisoning claims the lives of over 400 people each year and thousands of others become ill or seek medical attention after exposure to the odorless gas. Sometimes the early symptoms may resemble the flu, but look for these differences: if more than one family member has symptoms — and you feel better away from home, you may have a carbon monoxide problem. Carbon monoxide levels can rise very quickly in unventilated areas without anyone noticing the colorless, odorless, toxic gas.
Install a carbon monoxide detector near your sleeping rooms. Have all fuel burning appliances inspected by a qualified technician once a year to keep the deadly gas away from your home. Carbon monoxide exposure can cause weakness, nausea, disorientation, unconsciousness and even death. Each year, hundreds of people become ill and die after carbon monoxide poisoning at home. Some 15,000 go to the emergency room after exposure to the toxic gas.
Don’t Warm Up Your Car in the Garage
Burning gas or other fuels indoors can produce dangerous levels of indoor air pollution and deadly carbon monoxide. Protect your health by turning off carbon-monoxide emitting motors in garages and sheds. Fumes from cars or lawnmowers left running in enclosed spaces, like attached garages, can endanger the health of you and your family. Malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances that emit carbon monoxide can cause life-threatening problems. Use only gas stoves and heaters indoors that vent directly to the outside air. Consider installing an exhaust fan in your garage with a timer. Be sure to turn it on whenever a vehicle enters or leaves the garage to remove any lingering exhaust fumes.
Test for Radon
Your home may be harboring a lethal, invisible killer — radon. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers and the second-leading cause of lung cancer, period. Scientists estimate that radon causes thousands of deaths annually.
Radon is an odorless, invisible gas that occurs naturally in soil and rock and can only be detected through testing. Protect yourself and your family. Test your home for radon. Testing is easy and inexpensive and getting rid of radon may save your life. In most cases if you have radon in your home, it is easily remedied by installing a radon mitigation system above the roof of your home.
Use Safe Interior Finishes
Paints release trace amounts of gases for months after application — even though they appear to be fully dried and the smell is gone. These gases are called VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, and can include highly toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.
Use “low-VOC” paints, varnishes and waxes. Better yet– try a no-VOC paint . If painting indoors, open windows and use exhaust fans to remove gases. Do not store open paint containers indoors.
Rain and high humidity can bring moisture indoors, creating dampness, mold and mildew — big problems for healthy indoor air. Dampness alone — not just mold — is associated with higher risk of wheezing, coughing and asthma symptoms.
Check your roof, foundation and basement or crawlspace once a year to catch leaks or moisture problems and route water away from your home’s foundation. Fix problems as quickly as possible to prevent unhealthy dampness from entering your home. Something as simple as running pipe from your gutters at least 20 feet away from your house can make a huge difference, especially in areas with higher precipitation levels.
Clean Your Air Conditioner & Dehumidifier
Asthma is the leading serious chronic illness of children in the U.S. Help keep asthma triggers away from your house by fixing leaks and drips as soon as they start. Standing water and high humidity encourage the growth of dust mites, mold and mildew — some of the most common triggers that can worsen asthma. Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner when needed, and clean both regularly.
Pet allergies can come from an animal’s saliva, urine, feces and dead skin cells, so no pet is “hypoallergenic.” If someone in your family has pet allergies, keep your pet outdoors. Moving your pet from indoors to out can help reduce exposure to these allergens. However, cat allergens can stay in place for 20 weeks or more.
If you must keep your pet indoors, keep it away from sleeping rooms. Clean floors and upholstered furniture frequently (two or more times a week) to reduce exposure to pet allergens indoors. Unfortunately, two often-recommended actions don’t seem to work: neither washing pets nor using indoor air cleaning devices helps.
Animal lovers should think twice about getting a pet if they are allergic.
Kill Dust Mites
Dust allergies are actually allergies to dust mites — microscopic pests that need moisture to survive. Scientists have also concluded that breathing dust mite allergens can cause asthma in children. Dust mites feed on human skin and live in bedding, pillows, mattresses, stuffed toys, upholstery and carpets.
To fight dust mites in your home:
• Keep humidity levels below 50% indoors. Use a dehumidifier if necessary.
• Intensive vacuuming and steam cleaning of upholstered furniture may help.
• Remove carpets.
• Using dust-mite-resistant covers and washing your bedding in very hot water may help as part of a comprehensive approach, but don’t rely on those steps by themselves.
Ventilate to Control Humidity
Properly ventilating your home is one of the best way s to protect and improve air quality.
High levels of moisture in your home increase dampness and the growth of mold, which not only damage your home but threaten health. Dampness and mold are linked to increased wheezing, coughing and asthma attacks in people with allergies. Normal daily household activities — including cooking, washing and even breathing — produce water vapor, so having adequate ventilation is essential to remove moisture from the air.
Try these dehumidifying tricks to keep the humidity in your home below 50%.
• Install and run exhaust fans in bathrooms to remove unhealthy moisture and odors from your home.
• Make sure that vents exhaust air outdoors and not into other parts of your home.
• Remove any mold damage or growth and fix all leaks.
• Consider an attic fan or fresh air exchange.
Don’t Dry Clean Your Clothes
Dry cleaning solvents are strong chemicals, and are toxic to breathe. Dry cleaned clothes outgas toxic chemicals in your home. Look for green dry cleaners and research why they are green. Is it simply the way they remove chemicals from the building, or is actually the products they are using on the clothes? If someone in your home insists on dry cleaned clothes, let dry cleaned items air outdoors before bringing them inside. Hanging them on an outdoor clothesline will prevent many of these chemicals from entering your home.
Beware of Formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is a nearly colorless gas found in many home products. Disinfectants, adhesive or bonding agents, insecticides, urea formaldehyde foam insulation, foam padding in your furniture and particle board may all contain formaldehyde. It is a carcinogen and can cause health problems that include coughing, eye, nose, and throat irritation, skin rashes and asthma-like symptoms. People with asthma may be more sensitive to formaldehyde.
Keep formaldehyde away from your home by choosing wood panel products that are not made with urea formaldehyde glues, lumber or materials. Cigarette smoke is also a major source of indoor formaldehyde — another reason to ban smoking from your home.
Pesticides used to curb household pests can allow harmful chemicals into your home and may cause added health dangers to children and pets. Still, some pests can trigger allergic reactions and worsen asthma.
Practice integrated pest management to keep your home free of pests and harmful chemicals alike. Integrated pest management includes simple things like blocking holes and keeping food in tightly sealed containers. Cover your trash cans and keep your floors and counter free of crumbs. Use bait traps if necessary to catch pests.
Avoid Toxic Products
Consumer products can produce harmful air pollution indoors. Hair and nail products, cleaning products, art and hobby supplies and other common products can increase the levels of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. Some of the VOCs in these products include substances linked to cancer, headaches, eye and throat irritation and worsened asthma.
Look for healthier alternatives for cleaning, or consider making your own, which costs pennies and save the health of your indoor air. Click out the DIY section of this site for non toxic cleaning recipes.
Eliminate Asthma Triggers
If you or someone you live with has asthma, you know that most homes contain a wide assortment of irritants and allergens that can trigger dangerous attacks. Take a comprehensive approach to identify and fix problems in order to maintain a healthy home. Studies show that doing just one or two things — like using mattress covers alone — won’t make much of a difference. Make sure you ban smoking from your home, keep the humidity level below 50% and regularly look around your home for problem areas or the specific trigger that causes problems. Remove all carpeting, drapes, area rugs and things that tend to hold dust.
Ventilate Your Kitchen
Cooking can be a big source of indoor air pollution, especially if you have a gas stove. Scientists who measured indoor air quality found that cooking a single meal on a gas stove can produce levels of nitrogen dioxide that the EPA considers unsafe to breathe. Nitrogen dioxide can worsen asthma and increase your risk of respiratory infection.
Ventilate your kitchen stove directly outside or open a kitchen window when you cook. Keeping exhaust — including cooking odors and particles — outside of your home prevents dangerous fumes and particles from harming you or your family.
Ventilate Your Bathroom
Bathroom fans can help reduce the level of moisture in your home and prevent the growth of mold. Make sure to use them whenever possible. If you are building a home or remodeling, install a fan with a separate timer that can continue to remove moisture after you turn out the light.
A little common sense goes a long way. If a bathroom smells like mold or you can see water spots, you need to reduce the moisture level of your home. Always start by identifying the source of household problems, and then find the simplest step to fix it. Taking small steps to improve the air quality of your home can have tremendous results.
Know the Limitations of Air Purifiers
Air cleaning devices can help reduce some of the tiniest airborne particles, and as part of a comprehensive strategy, will help reduce indoor air pollution.
However, they have limits. Do your research carefully. Every air cleaner has limits. Many companies now make air cleaners for a variety of living situations and will custom blend air cleaners based on your need to remove smoke, voc’s, mold, and chemicals.
Don’t Install Carpets
Avoid using carpet whenever possible. Carpet traps unhealthy particles — including chemicals, dust mites, pet dander, dirt and fungi — and vacuuming can make them airborne.
If you do have carpets, use a HEPA (high efficiency particle air) vacuum cleaner to ensure better air quality.
Hard surface flooring, like wood, tile or cork can be readily cleaned by damp mopping.
Photo Credit: Arch Window Curtains 400 x 224 · jpegfootage.shutterstock.com