The Inside Story: A Guide To Indoor Air Quality


Indoor Air Quality Concerns

We spend 80% of our time in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces, whether in housing, workplaces, schools, leisure areas, shops, transport, etc.
The air we breathe there can affect comfort and health, from simple discomfort (odors, eye, and skin irritation) to the aggravation or development of pathologies such as respiratory allergies.
However, these places are home to many sources of air pollutants (wall covering, furniture, cleaning products, DIY products, etc.).
In the absence of sufficient ventilation, high concentrations can then appear and generate a health risk. Depending on the pollutants observed, even in town centers, the pollution rate is higher in a building than outside.

Why A Safety Guide On Indoor Air?

While individual pollutant levels may not pose a major health concern by themselves, most homes contain multiple sources that contribute to indoor air pollution. The cumulative effects of these sources can pose a major threat. Fortunately, most people may take some measures to lower the risk from existing sources and prevent the occurrence of new problems. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) created this safety advisory to assist you in deciding whether to take steps to reduce indoor air pollution levels in your own house.
Because so many Americans work in offices with mechanical heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, there is a brief section on the reasons for poor office air quality and what you can do if you feel your work has a problem.

Indoor Air Quality In Your Home

What Causes Indoor Air Problems?

IAQ problems arise from the interactions between the materials used in the construction and the furniture of the building, the climate, the occupants of the building, and the latter’s activities. They may be due to one or more of the following causes:
  • Indoor environment – temperature, humidity, poor circulation, problems with the ventilation system.
  • Indoor air contaminants – chemicals, dust, mold or fungus, bacteria, gases, vapors, odors.
  • Insufficient outside air supply.

Pollutant Sources

Here are few examples of common indoor air contaminants and their main sources:
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2), tobacco smoke, perfume, body odor from building occupants.
  • Dust, glass fibers, asbestos, gases (including formaldehyde) from building materials.
  • Toxic vapors, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from household cleaning products, solvents, pesticides, disinfectants, glues used in the workplace.
  • Gases, vapors, odors – fumes from furniture, carpets, and paint.
  • Mites from carpets, fabrics, foam seat cushions.
  • Microbial contaminants, fungi, molds, bacteria from damp areas, stagnant water trays, and condensation collection trays.
  • Ozone from photocopiers, electric motors, electrostatic air purifiers.

Amount Of Ventilation

Pollutants can build up in a home if there isn’t enough outside air. This might cause health and comfort issues. Homes that are planned and constructed to minimize the amount of outdoor air that can “leak” into and out of the residence may have greater pollution levels than other homes unless they are equipped with particular mechanical means of ventilation.

How Does Outdoor Air Enter A House?

There are three major processes through which outdoor air enters and leaves the house: infiltration, natural ventilation, and mechanical ventilation. In infiltration, the natural air passes through joints, openings, and especially the cracks in floors and ceilings. In natural ventilation, as the name suggests, the air flows from windows and doors. Apart from natural sources, several mechanical ventilation devices such as outdoor-vented fans and air handling systems remove indoor air and distribute filtrate air throughout the house at strategic points.

What If You Live In An Apartment?

There is no significant difference between the apartments Indore air problems and single-family homes. The pollution source is almost the same such as interior building material, furnishings, and household products. Solutions to this brimming problem involve:
  • Controlling or eliminating the primary source of pollution.
  • Setting up air-cleaning devices.
  • Increasing ventilation.
The resident’s responsibility is to take appropriate actions; however, only the building owner or manager can suggest solutions.

Improving The Air Quality In Your Home

Indoor Air And Your Health

Repetitive exposure to air pollutants can show immediate harsh effects on health, including irritation of eyes, throat, nose, dizziness, and infections. Though these effects are generally short-term and treatable, specific long-term effects may be experienced years after excessive exposure, including asthma, humidifier fever, and hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
If one is on preexisting medications, the effects tremendously vary from person to person. Apart from chronic diseases, other health effects may show up years later. These effects mostly include respiratory infections, lung cancer, and heart diseases that can be life-threatening. While pollutants commonly found in the indoor air lead to adverse health issues, there is considerable uncertainty about what concentrations or periods of exposure are necessary to produce specific health problems.

Identifying Air Quality Problems

Certain signs or indications of an indoor air quality problem generally show up once the person moves to a new place. If you feel you might have suffered from the same, consult a board-certified allergist or a medical specialist for all answers.
An ideal way to identify that your house suffers from air quality problems is to find potential sources. Though these sources do not guarantee air quality problems, it’s an essential step towards safety and security.
Look for signs that may direct you to identify whether your home suffers poor indoor air quality. These signs are moisture condensation on windows or walls, dirty central heating, air cooling equipment, smelly or stuffy air. To detect the problem, step outside for a few minutes and re-enter to feel the change.

Measuring Pollutant Levels

Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that can adversely affect the health of an individual. The federal government recommends that you measure the level of radon in your home so that the necessary steps can be taken into consideration, such as mitigation techniques that have proven useful to minimize the risk of radon to avoid further health risks.

Weatherizing Your Home

The federal government recommends home weatherization to the amount of energy needed for heating and cooling. During the process, steps should be taken to minimize the sources of indoor air pollution in the home. In addition, the residents should be on-to-toes to acts upon the signs and symptoms in case of any emergency. After weatherization, indoor air pollutants from sources inside the home can increase as the process does not give rise to indoor air problems.

Three Basic Strategies

Source Control

Out of the three, one of the most preferred approaches to improving indoor air quality is eliminating individual pollution sources or reducing emissions. The source control means minimizing the use of materials and products which cause indoor pollution. By employing good hygiene practices & housekeeping practices, you can minimize biological contaminants (including the control of humidity and moisture, occasional cleaning and disinfection of wet or moist surfaces) and control particles.
Instead of increasing ventilation, source control is a more cost-effective approach to protecting indoor air quality because increasing ventilation can increase energy costs.

Ventilation Improvements

Improving ventilation is another way to reduce the concentration of pollutants in our interiors. Increase the supply of clean air from outside by opening windows or doors and using a fan or window air conditioner with the vent open. Exhaust fans can remove contaminants directly. Ventilation is essential for all activities using pollutants such as painting, paint stripping, cooking, welding, or sanding.
  • Open doors and windows when temperature and humidity permit, but watch out for seasonal outdoor allergens.
  • Ensure proper maintenance of mechanical filters.
  • Hot air generators, fireplaces, heaters, hobs, exhaust fans, and other devices must be vented to the outside safely from windows. And air intakes for HVAC systems.

Air purification or filtration

In some cases, indoor air quality can also be improved through air cleaning processes. Various types of devices can filter or adsorb indoor air contaminants, both particulate and gaseous. Although the effectiveness of these devices has not always been demonstrated in a residential environment, they can be proven helpful in certain circumstances (e.g., episode of contamination of the outside air). And, for some more vulnerable people (e.g., children with asthma), especially HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters.

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