According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indoor air quality is one of the top five environmental risks to public health. To have a healthy home and healthy family, it is important to do everything possible to reduce indoor pollution which is often 2 to 5 times greater than outdoor pollution. The EPA suggests three basic strategies to improve indoor air quality:
Prevention is always easier than cure, so going to the source of indoor air pollution to avoid harmful practices and products is the best way to have cleaner air in your home. The second strategy, improving ventilation, addresses appliances and other causes of gas emissions in your home. Air cleaners, the third strategy for improved indoor air quality, can remove particulates and some fumes from your home's air. Picking the right air cleaner for your home can be difficult since they come in many sizes and shapes, but there are factors to consider that help with the decision.
- Source Control
- Improved Ventilation
- Air Cleaners
Going To The Source
The National Institute of Health (NIH) indicates the following as common sources of indoor air pollution:
Common household dust contains all of the above so frequent dusting and vacuuming can cut down on indoor contaminants in the air and improve indoor air quality. Mold is all around us, so be aware of water damage and musty odors and take immediate steps to eliminate or manage mold and mildew. Please see our July 2011 Newsletter about mold for more information.
- Biological contaminants like mold and pollen
- Tobacco smoke
- Household products and pesticides
- Gases such as radon and carbon monoxide
- Materials used in the building such as asbestos, formaldehyde and lead
The American Lung Association (ALA) recommends asking yourself the following questions to become aware of sources of pollution that could exist in your home:
Please see the January edition of the Home Today Educational E-Letter for more information on VOC's, volatile organic compounds, found in household cleaners and personal care products.
- Can you see or smell mold or mildew?
- Is the humidity regularly above 50 percent?
- Are there leaks or standing water anywhere-kitchen, basement, attic?
- Are all fuel-burning appliances (gas stoves, water heaters, fireplaces) fully vented to the outdoors?
- Is there an attached garage or basement where cars, lawnmowers or motorcycles are stored?
- Are household chemicals, paints or solvents stored indoors or in an attached garage or basement?
- Have you recently remodeled or added new furniture, carpeting or painted?
- Do you use odor-masking chemicals or "air-freshening" devices?
- Have you tested your home for radon? Although radon doesn't cause noticeable, physical symptoms, you should test your home for this dangerous substance.
Opening windows to let in fresh air can lower indoor air pollution, but sometimes the pollen and other particles that come in with the fresh air can be a problem, especially if you have allergies. Weigh the benefits against the possible harm before opening windows or use a window filter to reduce the particles entering your home.
But there is more to ventilation than opening the windows on pretty days. Ventilation also refers to fumes emitted in your home that need proper exhaust paths to allow the gasses to dissipate instead of collecting and adding to indoor air pollution. The ALA suggests taking these measures to make sure you have adequate ventilation in your home:
Proper maintenance is key to good indoor air quality. The ALA says that "10% of Americans have never changed the filter on their heating and air conditioning unit." Changing HVAC filters when the season changes is a handy way to remember to change them every three months.
- Use exhaust fans in bathrooms to remove moisture and gases from the house.
- Fit your kitchen with an exhaust fan that moves the air to the outside. Use the fan or open a window when cooking to remove fumes and airborne particles.
- Make sure gas appliances vent completely to the outside. Do not use ventless stoves.
- Have gas or oil stoves, dryers or water heaters inspected by a qualified technician once a year. Install a carbon monoxide detector near your bedrooms.
- If you paint or use hobby supplies or chemicals in your home, add extra ventilation. Open the windows and use a portable window fan to pull the air out of the room.
- Never idle your car in an attached garage.
Picking The Right Air Cleaner
HEPA air cleaners work by using a motor to run a fan that pulls the air in the room through the HEPA filter and prefilter to capture particles in the air. Many HEPA air purifiers also have a carbon filter or other additional filter that removes certain gasses from the air. Choosing the right air purifier for your home can be confusing because there are no many brands and models. However, there are factors to consider and compare that can help you make your decision:
Our Air Cleaner Comparison Chart gives much of this information in a way that makes it easy to compare models. Further information is available on each model when you click the air cleaner's name on the chart.
- The size of the room where the air cleaner will be placed determines the size of air cleaner you will need. This is because the fan power needs to be strong enough to reach the entire room and circulate the air through the filters. The air cleaner needs to be powerful enough to pull all the air in the room through the filter 4 to 6 times per hour. Choose an air cleaner that has a recommended room size at least as big as the square footage of your room. It is fine to choose an air cleaner with a room size larger than your room - that just means you clean the air in your room more times per hour.
- The next thing to decide is the filtration level you want. Do you just need to filter airborne particles or do you need the extra filtration of gasses? The carbon prefilters will absorb some odors, but for advanced odor or fume filtration, look for an air cleaner that has an additional filter designed for this purpose.
- Once you have narrowed the search to the right size air cleaner, compare the cost of the unit and the cost of annual operation to find the units in your price range. Look at the cost of filter replacements and how often they need to be changed.
- Then you can consider what features appeal to you - are you a bare-bones basic type of person or do you like all the bells and whistles? Some units have remote controls, automatic turn off, several fan speeds, sleep mode, and more. While these features are convenient, they do not make the unit more effective, so these bells and whistles are optional and a matter of personal preference.
The best policy to improve air quality in your home is avoidance of the offenders to keep indoor air pollution at a low level. Of course, some particulates, odors, and fumes will always be found in your home's air, so improving ventilation and using air cleaners to scrub the air further are also wise steps to have healthy air in your home. Reaching the goal is accomplished in small steps and improving your indoor air quality is a process, so just pick a step and get started toward having a healthier home.