Many of us have this nagging worry in the back of our minds. We may be reminded of it when we hear a health story on TV, or when we cough and sneeze.
We all know that the air you breathe is important to your overall health, but how do you know if your home has poor air quality? How do you fight a threat you can’t even see? Fortunately, there are simple and easy steps that everyone can take to protect their home from the most common sources of unhealthy air.
Poor indoor air quality can occur in any home as a result of both artificial and natural factors. These include dust, smoke and fine particles, as well as volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), pesticides and mold.
A small amount of these contaminants are unavoidable, no matter what you do. But if they accumulate unchecked, they can lead to health problems over time. For example, dust can cause irritation and allergic reactions, especially when dust mites which feed on the dust multiply and create contamination.
Like dust, mold spores are found in every home. Normally this is not a cause for concern, but if you have had flooding in your basement, a leaky roof or you live in an area where humidity is a concern, then mold can take hold and spread. This can lead to allergies and irritation of the eyes and throat.
Sometimes we contribute to indoor air pollution ourselves. We all know about the hazards of smoking indoors, but any indoor burning can reduce air quality, including candles and improperly ventilated fireplaces or gas stoves.
Problem air can also come from careless use and storage of chemicals, including paints, solvents, cleaning products and pesticides. Even some air fresheners and scented products can release harmful gases. So much for fresh air!
But even innocuous household materials like furniture and building materials can emit irritating chemical gases like formaldehyde. These chemicals are normally released only in small quantities, but the more chemicals you introduce into your indoor environment, the greater the chance of developing health problems.
You can protect the health of your home’s air like you protect your own health – by taking preventative steps to maintain it. An effective way to maintain indoor air is by promoting air circulation. Keep windows open on opposite sides of the home so air can move through easily. If you have a furnace with mechanical ventilation, you can keep the fan running continuously to keep air moving.
Ventilation helps to keep humidity down and control mold. Use an exhaust fan in the bathroom and a range hood in the kitchen. Inspect your basement for mold growth and use a dehumidifier if necessary.
If you use a fireplace or wood stove, have it inspected yearly for leaks and blockage. Good quality air purifiers can also significantly reduce dust and smoke.
Avoid the use of chemicals in the house whenever possible. Use natural alternatives to chemical cleaners like baking soda and vinegar. For pests, use ant traps and sticky paper, rather than chemical sprays. Keep paint cans and chemicals in the garage or shed.
Maintaining and protecting indoor air isn’t difficult if you make a habit of it. By reducing the contaminants in your home, you will reap the rewards of better health and well-being.