The indoor air quality of your home is a key part of you and your family’s overall health, because indoor air quality health effects can be wide ranging and have a long-term cumulative effect.
Indoor air quality isn’t always easy to spot the way that a burst pipe or a broken refrigerator is – unlike those household appliances, there’s no switch you flip only to find out your indoor air quality is broken. In the busyness of modern life, it’s often easier to think that smell is coming from the neighbors or the headaches you experience are from your stressful job. But indoor air quality plays a key role in our long-term health, and as we spend up to 90% of our lives indoors, having good indoor air quality is important.
Know What Your Indoor Air Quality Is
In most homes, both urban and rural, people have become much more environmentally conscious than ever before. And while much is made of the air quality outdoors and around the world, we often overlook the air quality inside our living space. It really shouldn’t be that way, especially since we spend so much of our waking hours indoors. The bigger question is how to ensure that indoor air quality is at an acceptable standard. The best way to start is with an air quality test.
Most every home could use an air quality test, including those that seem to be just fine. The truth is, a homeowner doesn’t have to wait for physical symptoms to arise before exploring the indoor air environment. For that matter, symptoms could be ambiguous and wide ranging, including everything from allergies, to sinus conditions, to headaches, to respiratory irritation. But when symptoms do persist, checking a home’s air quality and air circulation might have great benefit.
In the majority of homes, dust and debris is commonplace. And this could be anything from plain dirt, to plant materials, to skin particles, to home cleaning off-gases. For those with respiratory issues, polluted indoor air may be playing a part, especially when irritation is exacerbated. Even furnace filters have their limits – and poor maintenance can easily contribute to poor air quality. In cases where furnace filters clog up quite quickly, an air quality test might diagnose a problem.
Knowing what your indoor air quality is and why it’s important is the first step to having a healthier, safer home. Indoor air quality refers to the condition of the air inside of and around the building, especially as it relates to the comfort and health of the occupants within. Indoor air quality health effects appear when parts of the systems that support a high level of indoor air quality are faulty or broken. Some of these systems include your Heating, Ventilation and Cooling systems (HVAC), fans, HEPA filters, windows, doors, and moisture barriers.
Indoor air quality is more than just clean smelling air, it’s also about keeping allergens and pollutants out, while constantly refreshing and renewing the air within. When indoor air quality health effects appear, it can be the first symptom of a larger problem within your home.
High Off-Gas Levels in Your Home Can Make You Sick
Off-gassing is the release of chemicals from the things we bring into our homes, or that our homes are actually made of. In drafty old houses with lots of air changes it wasn’t much of a problem, but as we build our houses tighter for energy efficiency, these chemicals can build up inside. The craziest part of it all is that we go out and buy them without knowing what’s in them, and often stockpile them in the bathroom, the tiniest room of the house with the worst ventilation.
Poor indoor air quality can affect your health in a number of ways, and research has shown that certain toxins or chemicals can build up in people’s systems and cause trouble years down the road. Children, elders, or people who suffer from chronic illness or weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to poor indoor air quality which can worsen symptoms or complicate existing illnesses.
While the symptoms of poor indoor air quality health effects are broad, there are a number of them that can be mistaken for other illnesses such as colds, influenza, or allergies. They are:
- itchy, watery eyes
The key sign that your trouble may be with indoor air quality health effects is that they often completely disappear as soon as you leave the room or building.Indoor air quality health effects can be experienced at any time, by any person. But when indoor air quality is a problem in your own home, these effects can become serious. Air pollution can affect asthma, COPD, or allergies, but also heart conditions like angina; it can even be a contributing factor to heart attacks or strokes. Air pollution from some pollutants like asbestos or bacteria like legionella (which causes Legionnaires’ disease) can be fatal.
Some indoor air quality health effects may show up after one exposure, while others take repeated exposure to cause symptoms, which often makes it difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the problem.
These small chemical compounds are common in many household items like wood, perfumes, paint, cleaners, glues, and solvents. They may be stable as a liquid or solid, but when exposed to air, they rapidly become gaseous and can become problematic for your indoor air quality.
Here are some of the worst offenders of off-gas and volatile organic compounds in the home:
Particle Board and Plywood
Judging by words of the American Chemistry Council, Formaldehyde is positively benign, a natural part of our world. And it is, in small doses. Unfortunately, it is part of the glue that holds particle board together, the stuff our houses and furniture is made of. It is a recognized carcinogen and causes eye and nose irritation. But hey, it’s a natural part of our world.
The best way to avoid formaldehyde is to buy used, whether it is an older home where it has had the time to off-gas, or furniture that has stood the test of time. Or, buy solid wood furniture instead of particle board.
Here is a completely useless product that does nothing but add VOCs to your clothing. Chemicals include chloroform and pentanes, which the Material Safety Data Sheet suggests can cause eye and skin irritation. Ultimately, anything that is designed to make your clothes smell nice is releasing compounds you don’t want in your house. To reduce wrinkles, static and drying time, use dryer balls instead.
There really are few products stupider than air fresheners, which are actually designed to pump chemicals into your home. The NRDC notes that 75% of houses now use them. Most of them are pumping out phthalates, the gender bender hormone disruptor that is the main villain in vinyl. The NRDC says:
Phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals that can be particularly dangerous for young children and unborn babies. Exposure to phthalates can affect testosterone levels and lead to reproductive abnormalities, including abnormal genitalia and reduced sperm production. The State of California notes that five types of phthalates—including one that we found in air freshener products—are “known to cause birth defects or reproductive harm.” Young children and pregnant women should be especially careful to avoid contact with these chemicals.
To enhance the scent in your home, you can use essential oils and a diffuser instead of chemical sprays. They’re safe and natural, and smell much better, anyways.
Example: These Lagunamoon Essential Oils are premium grade, natural and 100% pure. The set includes lemongrass, peppermint, orange, lavender, eucalyptus, and tea tree.