Indoor Air Quality for the Homeowner

Posted by:

Indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental health risks. Americans spend on average 90% of their time indoors, where levels of pollutants can run up to 100 times higher than outdoors. With these pollutants affecting the health of 17 million Americans who suffer from asthma and 40 million who have allergies, millions of days of school and work are missed annually. The health costs alone can be staggering, not to mention lost wages and production. Indoor air quality becomes an even more important issue when there are children to consider. The two EPA websites linked here have a great deal of information on describing the importance of improving the quality of the air inside our homes and how to best manage indoor pollutants.

Three basic strategies to reduce pollutant concentrations in indoor air are source control, ventilation, and air cleaning.

Source control eliminates individual sources of pollutants or reduces their emissions and is usually the most effective strategy for reducing pollutants. There are many sources of pollutants in the home that can be controlled or removed, such as carbon monoxide, radon, formaldehyde, mold, dirt and dust. Today, low or no emission volatile organic chemical (VOC) products are readily available such as paints, carpets and furniture that reduce or eliminate the off-gassing of toxic chemicals. The odors you smell whenever you walk into a freshly painted or carpeted room are caused by the off-gassing of volatile chemicals. Another strategy for source control is to provide some type of walk off matt at the location of the primary entrances to your home, such as the main entry and the door from the garage to the house.

Ventilation is also a strategy for decreasing indoor air pollutant concentrations. It exchanges air between the inside and outside of a building. The introduction of outdoor air is important for good air quality. In a process known as infiltration, outdoor air flows into the house through openings, joints, and cracks in walls, floors, and ceilings, and around windows and doors. Natural ventilation describes air movement through open windows and doors. Most residential forced air-heating systems and air-conditioning systems do not bring outdoor air into the house mechanically. Two primary ventilation methods can be used in most homes: general ventilation and local ventilation. Advanced designs for new homes are starting to add a mechanical feature that brings outdoor air into the home through the HVAC system. Some of these designs include energy efficient heat recovery ventilators to mitigate the cost of cooling and heating this air during the summer and winter. Individual exhaust equipment should always be used at point sources such as bathrooms and cooking appliances.

Air cleaning may be useful when used along with source control and ventilation, but it is not a substitute for either method. The use of air cleaners alone cannot ensure adequate air quality, particularly where significant sources are present and ventilation is insufficient. While air cleaning may help control the levels of airborne particles including those associated with allergens and, in some cases, gaseous pollutants in a home, air cleaning may not decrease adverse health effects from indoor air pollutants. However, in all cases, consideration should be given for installing high efficiency air filters in your heating and air conditioning systems. The EPA has an informative guide to Indoor Air Quality and Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.