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  • How To Improve Indoor Air Quality


  • How To Improve Indoor Air Quality

    September 1, 2020

    People often stay inside — the year 2020 proved this in a big way, but the EPA has been speaking about this since the late ’80s when they reported to Congress that Americans spend about 90 percent of their time indoors where concentrations of some pollutants are 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor concentrations. With recent times, indoor air quality has become quite important.

    Not to mention the fact that the most at-risk populations affected by poor indoor air quality are also those that will likely spend the most time indoors, according to the EPA. These populations include the young and old, and those with cardiovascular or respiratory disease.

    Indoor air quality is sometimes worse than outdoor air quality.

    Aside from protecting the young, old, and sick, improving air quality will provide physical and sensory comfort, enhance quality of life, and promote health and wellbeing. 

    Poor air quality can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. It can also cause other short-term effects like headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea. Long-term impacts of air quality include respiratory diseases, cancer, and heart disease — depending on the pollutants.

    Before you fix it, you have to understand it.

    What Causes Poor Air Quality?

    A low air exchange rate will lead to higher levels of air pollutants. Less fresh air will lead to poor air quality.

    “When building ventilation is inadequate, the resulting low air exchange rate is such that there is insufficient fresh air brought into the building to dilute or flush out contaminants and they can become concentrated within the building. Improving indoor air quality does not mean that the indoor air must become pristine and pure, but rather that building occupants should not be subjected to air quality that is significantly worse than the air outside,” according to a publication from Cornell University’s ILR School Employment and Disability Institute.

    Indoor pollutants include chemicals, allergens, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and biological particles or organisms, according to Green Schools: Attributes for Health and Learning published by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. 

    The text goes on to include nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and carbon monoxide as pollutants stemming from combustion products found in areas of the home like the kitchen. Building materials, furnishings, common products, and electronic equipment can be sources of chemical pollutants as well. 

    Indoor allergens include dust mites, pet dander, insects, rodents, and pollen. Having a duct cleaning every once in a while may just solve any allergies that just won’t seem to go away.

    There are a few common ways to cycle out these pollutants from a building’s interior.

    Methods To Monitor And Manage Air Quality

    Improving indoor air quality is a matter of removing exposure to the previously listed pollutants. 

    How air moves in and out of a building is due to infiltration, natural ventilation, and/or mechanical ventilation. Assessing these three factors will help with assessing the state of air quality in a building. 

    Infiltration is when polluted outdoor air is unintentionally or accidentally cycled into the home due to openings in the structure. 

    Natural ventilation is when air seamlessly moves into and out of a space without any mechanical system, i.e. it comes in through one window and exits through another. 

    Mechanical ventilation is when air is supplied or removed from a building via a man-made system of fans, duct work, ventilators, etc.

    Assessing ventilation will play a significant role in improving the air quality of a home. Opening a window or door, turning on a local fan in the bathroom or kitchen, or installing an air conditioner with a vent are all ways to cycle outdoor air into the home and indoor air outside the home. 

    Ventilation is not always the best way to improve air quality though. Why? It increases energy costs. This is where source control comes into play, according to a report from the Pennsylvania Housing Research Center. 

    “The most effective way to improve indoor air quality is to eliminate individual sources of pollution or to reduce their emissions. Some sources, such as household chemicals or cleaners, can be sealed or enclosed, while others, such as fireplaces, can be adjusted to decrease the amount of emissions. Some, such as paints or stains, can simply be moved to an alternative location outside of the living environment,” according to the report.

    Air cleaners could be costly, but are effective at particle removal. They’re typically measured by their ability to pull pollutants from the air, or percentage efficiency rate, and how much air they draw in cubic feet per minute. 

    However you clean the air, just consider that it’s a serious factor in your health and wellbeing. Quality of air and quality of life are inextricably linked.