How To Maintain Good Indoor Air Quality When Weatherizing Your Home
Being closed up tight in the house with the thing that makes you sick, the thing you are trying to avoid like the plague - allergens - can make life hard. This winter we will all be trying to keep the heat in and the cold out to save money on the heating bill. Unfortunately, that means we are hunkering down with dust mites, pets (we can't leave them out in the cold), mold, fumes, and gases. It is well known that the air in our homes can be more polluted than outside air. However, we can weatherize and still maintain a healthy level of indoor air quality by minimizing the airborne particulates in our homes.
Why Should I Be Concerned About Indoor Air Quality?
There are many sources of pollution inside the home that can cause or exacerbate health problems. Fine particles (less than 2.5 microns in diameter) are inhaled and can remain in the lungs. According to the EPA, indoor air quality is often 2 to 5 times worse than outdoor air quality. So, considering that Americans average 90% of the 24-hour day indoors, the indoor air quality is very important.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives the following health effects of poor indoor air quality:
What Is Affecting The Indoor Air Quality In My Home?
- increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing, for example;
- decreased lung function;
- aggravated asthma;
- development of chronic bronchitis;
- irregular heartbeat;
- nonfatal heart attacks; and
- premature death in people with heart or lung disease.
Pollutants that have come into your home through open or poorly sealed doors and windows may be trapped when you weatherize your home. However, indoor air quality is not just a matter of what is outdoors being trapped indoors.
Indoor air can contain pollen, pet dander, tobacco smoke particles, and dust mite allergen. Also included are "things like floating dust and the various ingredients of dust; tiny airborne spores from mould and mildew; carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and various other byproducts of combustion from furnaces and gas stoves; tiny particles of soot from cooking; and off-gassing of form-aldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from some types of plywood and particleboard found in cabinetry as well as from paints, glues, solvents and some wall-to-wall carpeting. ("Tackling the scourge of indoor pollutants", Sylvia Putz, October 2008.)
The EPA lists the following volatile organic compounds that have adverse health effects: paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions. In addition, the EPA says that organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products such as paints, varnishes, and waxes as well as many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products. Fuels are also made up of organic chemicals. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.
How Can I Tell If The Indoor Air Quality In My Home Needs To Be Improved?
There is no standard by which to grade your indoor air quality. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that what is an acceptable pollution level in your home may depend on the following:
If you are concerned about air quality in your house, you can make a common-sense diagnosis by documenting health complaints. You can also have tests done or samples taken to test for various pollutants. Professionals often use the following questions when considering the possibility of indoor air pollution:
- whether or not family members have chronic illnesses - especially respiratory or illnesses aggravated by pollutants;
- whether there are children or elderly family members who may be more sensitive to pollutant effects;
- whether products or materials used in the home produce pollutants and how often they are used;
- and the effectiveness of your home ventilation system and the distribution of air throughout the house.
There are some signs to look for that would be unhealthy in any home. If you have inadequate ventilation, you may notice stuffy air, moisture condensation on cold surfaces such as windows, or mold and mildew growth.
- What health complaints have been experienced by you or members of your family?
- Are complaints reported by more than one family member?
- When were these complaints first noticed?
- Can you associate these complaints with certain events or activities, like moving to a new house, remodeling, or adding new furnishings, carpeting or draperies?
- Do the health complaints occur seasonally, at a particular time of the day, or when a family member is in a particular part of the house?
- How often do the complaints occur and how long do they last?
- Do the complaints or reactions go away when you are away from the house? Do they return when you return home?
- Do visitors have the same reactions or health complaints?
- Are the complaints or reactions less severe when you ventilate the house?
What Can I Do To Prevent Poor Indoor Air Quality?
As with so many things, preventing the problem is a lot easier than curing it, so you can eliminate some potential sources of trouble by taking these steps:
What Can I Do To Improve Poor Indoor Air Quality?
- Forbid smoking in the house.
- Do a visual inspection of your roof from the outside and from the attic to catch any small leaks before they cause big water damage.
- Check around pipes in the basement or under sinks for signs of water.
- Inspect windows for condensation that may cause mold on window frames and sills.
- Avoid the use of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces since toxins and particles are released indoors and outdoors. If you must have a fire in your fireplace, burn only seasoned wood and no substitutes. The American Lung Association recommends converting to gas logs.
- Have furnaces and air conditioning units inspected and serviced on a regular basis, and replace filters as needed (usually every 3 months).
- Look at the ingredients on cleaning supplies and choose those that are vegetable-based or very low in chemical content.
- Wash bedding in hot water every 2 weeks to eliminate dust mite allergen build-up or use a cold water allergen detergent or additive.
- Built Green (an environmentally-friendly, non-profit, residential building program in the greater Seattle area) recommends using a low-pile or less allergen-attracting carpet and pad, installing carpeting by tacking rather than using glue, choosing natural fiber carpets available such as jute, sisal and wool, or using alternate flooring made from sustainably harvested wood, bamboo or stained concrete.
- Built Green also recommends the use of low-VOC and low-toxic interior paints and finishes to reduce toxins ordinarily associated with other paints.
- Install a carbon monoxide detector.
- Never store fuel in a garage or shed connected to your home.
- Choose pump sprayers instead of aerosol cans.
The use of an air cleaner is a good first step to take in improving indoor air quality since the job of an air cleaner is to remove particles from the air. Also important are good cleaning practices such as dusting and vacuuming often.
According to the CDC, the effectiveness of an air cleaner depends on the following factors:
The American Lung Association states that "HEPA filters are the most efficient mechanical filters for removing small particles which can be breathed deep into the lungs. The highest efficiency air cleaners, widely available today, remove 0.3 micron (1 micron = 1 millionth of a meter) sized particles at a minimum of 99.97% efficiency."
- how well it collects pollutants from the air (percentage efficiency rate);
- how much air it draws through the cleaning or filtering element (cubic feet per minute) and
- whether it removes particles, gases or both.
The amount of air drawn through an air purifier can be stated in CFM (cubic feet per minute), but the more generally accepted measure today is CADR (Clean Air Delivery Rate). CADR was developed by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) and its participating members to test and certify room air purifiers. Based on the recommended standard for particulate removal originally adopted in 1988 by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), CADR measures removal of tobacco smoke particles, dust, and pollen.
If an air cleaner has been certified by AHAM, you will find a seal on the box that gives the measurements for all three particulates. The CADR indicates the volume of filtered air delivered by the air cleaner, and the higher the numbers for tobacco smoke, pollen, and dust, the faster the unit filters the air.
The rule of thumb is to choose a unit with a tobacco smoke CADR at least 2/3 your room's area. AHAM says that "if you have a 10' x 12' room (120 square feet), you would require an air cleaner with a tobacco smoke CADR of at least 80. If your room size is smaller, the unit will simply clean the air more often or faster. If you have ceilings higher than 8', you'll want an air cleaner rated for a larger room."
Some air cleaners have filters designed to removed VOC's (fumes and gases) from the air in addition to the HEPA filter that removes particles.
To minimize particles that contribute to poor indoor air quality, clean often and efficiently. An electrostatic dust cloth or damp cloth are best for keeping dust from becoming airborne, and dusting tools designed for particular jobs can make the chore easier. In addition, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter or an allergen bag can help when improving indoor air quality because allergen and other particles are contained in the vacuum instead of being expelled through the exhaust. Also, an allergen reduction disposable furnace filter or electrostatic permanent furnace filter can also help capture particles from the air.
Tools For Improving Indoor Air Quality
Weatherizing your home is important to your comfort and pocketbook, but it is also important to take into consideration what your indoor air might be doing to your health. As you take measures to seal your home against the cold such as caulking and installing storm doors and windows, also take measures to reduce the particles that are being trapped indoors by controlling the sources of indoor pollutants, utilizing the tools below, and being constantly aware of the quality of the air you are breathing in your home.
| To order by phone, call us any time - 24/7. For expert care and answers to specific product-related questions, call one of our experienced customer service representatives to guide you through the options for allergy, asthma and sinus relief at 1-800-522-1448 Monday through Friday between the hours of 9:00 am and 5:30 pm Eastern Time. You can also e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. |
The information in this newsletter is for educational purposes only. Always consult with your doctor first about your specific condition, treatment options and other health concerns you may have.
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