The air that we breathe is, quite literally, our life source. But it could also, quite possibly, be killing us. Air quality is becoming a modern crisis, with the World Health Organization (WHO) classifying air pollution as the world’s largest health risk, linking one in eight total global deaths to air pollution exposure, both indoor and out.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the air inside our homes is commonly five times more polluted than that of the outdoors, and in some cases, up to 10 times. So, what can you do to protect your health, and that of your family, from this silent killer lurking in your home? Detect and correct. Find out what is causing air pollution in your home and then take whatever steps you can to help correct or mitigate those causes. Here we’ll look at how you can achieve this.
What Is Indoor Air Pollution?
Poor indoor air quality is caused by particle matter in the air, most commonly from dust and smoke (commonly released into the air from burning oil, gas, wood and coal in the home); carbon dioxide from those same sources; volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released by both natural and manmade materials (primary culprits are paints, stains, cleaning solutions and glues in furniture and carpets) and humidity, which can cause mold to grow in our homes and offices.
According to the WHO, pollutants found in indoor air that are known to be health hazards include:
- carbon monoxide
- nitrogen dioxide
- polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
How to Get Cleaner Air
“Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents non-communicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly,” says Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General.
One of the simplest ways to do this in your own home is to regularly change the filters in your heating and air conditioning system. Check them at least once a month for build-up, and replace them at least every three months. Invest in high-efficiency air filters with a MERV rating of 8 or higher. (This is the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value that assesses the overall effectiveness of air filters. A higher rating equals finer filtration.)
The second simplest step to take is ventilate your home. Open doors, windows, turn on fans and get the air circulating, especially if you have recently introduced something into your home that may be off-gassing chemicals—such as new carpet or flooring.
What to Get Rid Of
You can help keep your air cleaner by banishing or reducing some of the following from your home:
- Don’t allow anyone to smoke in or near your home.
- Never idle a car in or near the garage.
- Remove all chemicals and toxic materials from your garage, especially if its attached to the house.
- Reduce carpeting, which traps unhealthy particles that are released again when vacuuming.
- Replace chemical based cleaners and detergents with those with natural ingredients, and avoid using products with “fragrance” (such as air fresheners and carpet deodorizers), as these can contribute to the formation of formaldehyde and other nasty VOCs.
What to Invest In
Use alternatives to traditional items that give off VOCs and invest in some tools and tests to keep your home’s air healthier:
- Install a carbon monoxide detector to alert you when levels of this deadly gas, produced by the incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels, rise rapidly.
- Buy no- or low-VOC paints/stains when redecorating or doing projects in the home.
- Have a radon test done on your home. A colorless, odorless gas, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.
- Fix leaks in your roof and/or basement, to avoid creating conditions that can grow mold.
- Combat humidity to further reduce the risk of mold with a dehumidifier. Keeping levels below 50 percent also helps keep dust mites, another indoor air pollutant, at bay.
Go High Tech
One of the challenges in combating indoor air quality is knowing exactly what the problem is. As we’ve seen, indoor air quality is affected by myriad different elements. If you or your family are suffering from specific ailments or are at higher risk from contaminated air, consider purchasing an indoor air quality (IAQ) monitor. The good news is these devices, which used to cost thousands of dollars, are now a lot more affordable thanks to advances in wireless and sensor technology.
An IAQ monitor can measure VOCs, humidity, particulate matter and carbon dioxide, and alert you when levels rise so you can take action. They will also help you understand what pollutants are present in your home and at what levels, so you can work on eradicating them over the long term. Many new IAQ monitors are Wi-Fi connected and use data from the internet combined with learning software to monitor your air quality and help you understand what is specifically causing your air pollution.
A few examples of consumer IAQs on the market today include Foobot and AWAIR (both around $200). They can track VOCs, particulate matter and CO2, as well as temperature and humidity. They also work with some smart thermostats, such as Nest and Ecobee, triggering them to activate the fan if levels rise too high and give you “actionable insights” into your air quality.
If you are specifically concerned about humidity and temperature, less-expensive devices such as the Leeo Smart Alert ($50) and First Alert Onelink Environment Monitor ($70) can track both. The Leeo can also “listen” for the sound of smoke and CO alarms and alert you on your smart phone. The Onelink is also a CO monitor, making it a good option for a baby or child’s room.
The important thing to remember about indoor air quality is that everything you bring into your home is contributing to it in some way—good or bad. It’s crucial to be proactive: Check products for VOCs before you purchase, add houseplants to help filter the air naturally, and be sure to ventilate properly when cooking or burning any fossil fuels.
As an earth-conscious mom and tech guru, Jennifer Tuohy writes for The Home Depot about how you can use technology to become more sustainable. She provide tips on how to save money and energy, from switching to LED bulbs to using an Wi-Fi-enabled monitor to alert you when you need to change your air filters.