If you’re like the majority of the population, you assume that the air inside your home is clean and healthy enough for your entire family to breath comfortably.
There’s a certain sense of security that comes from shutting your doors to the outside world and blocking out its many pollutants.
Unfortunately, your indoor air may not be as safe as you think. In fact, research has shown that your indoor air quality is often two to five times worse than the outdoors.
These higher concentrations of pollutants inside can easily cause respiratory issues and illnesses even if you don’t suffer from a chronic condition like COPD or asthma.
If this worries you, don’t panic.
We’re here to teach you how to effectively identify the factors affecting indoor air quality that you should watch out for and how each one can impact your health.
We’ll also walk you through a few simple things you can do to improve your indoor air quality so your entire family can breathe easier and stay healthy.
The Top Indoor Air Quality Factors and How They Can Affect You
1. Chemicals (VOCs)
Every home has some level of chemicals floating around in the air. The common term for these pollutants is “volatile organic compounds” or VOCs.
While having small amounts of VOCs in the air is inevitable, it’s large concentrations of these chemicals that lead to serious health affects, and unfortunately, many homes have have higher levels of VOCs than you may think.
The most common forms of VOCs that people are at risk for indoors are Acetone, Benzene and Formaldehyde. Using cleaning products and aerosol fragrances, burning fuels like kerosene and coal, using solvents and paints, and applying wood preservatives are some of the most common ways that VOCs get released into the air.
Additionally, many types of furniture and building materials are formed with products that have high VOC counts, and over time these chemicals are slowly released into the air that you breathe. We recently published a guide on air purifier for baby reviews that references this same issue. Many people paint and add new furniture to a nursery when expecting a baby and this can lead to the room being unsafe for the child be in.
The severity of what can happen when you’re exposed to VOCs depends largely on which VOCs you inhale and how much.
If you’re exposed to large quantities of Formaldehyde or Benzene, they can cause cancer. They’re ranked as human carcinogens in a report published by the National Toxicology Program. Exposure to VOCs in small amounts can cause respiratory irritation, dizziness, fatigue, and memory impairment.
You can protect your family from high levels of VOCs by storing your paint thinners, solvents, wood preservatives and fuels out of the house. When you do use them, make sure to use them in a well-ventilated space with plenty of airflow to prevent dangerous levels of exposure.
Other ways to cut down on high concentrations of volatile organic compounds is by making smarter choices about the cleaning products you use inside the home. Always look for zero VOC or low VOC on the labels.
Additionally, when purchasing new furniture look at the technical specifications to find out what the risks are for volatile organic compound exposure. Some products that use wood preservatives or manufactured wood materials release a lot more VOCs than others.
2. Dust and Allergens
Dust is one of the most common allergens in the the world and over 20 million people are allergic to dust mites.
Dust mites feed on dead flakes of human skin and they thrive in warmer temperatures ranging from 68°F to 77°F. Additionally, a single piece of dust can contain a multitude of things like dead skin, mold spores and pet dander.
In heavy quantities, people with dust sensitivities or allergies can experience chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing, and difficulty sleeping due to these respiratory issues.
If you have a lower concentration of dust in your home, you can experience symptoms that often get confused with being sick such as itchy eyes, sneezing, cough, congestion, and headaches.
Although it isn’t possible to completely eliminate dust from your indoor air, you can significantly reduce it. Purchasing and using an air purifier is an excellent way to reduce your indoor dust levels.
If your air purifier has a High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filter (HEPA), it comes with a guarantee to trap 99.97 percent of airborne particles that impact your health. Air purifiers with HEPA filters circulate the air inside a room through fine mesh, and these sieves trap dust particles that otherwise would end up in your lungs.
The more times the air circulates through the air purifier, the cleaner it becomes. For example, if you use an air purifier in an space like a bedroom, and keep the door closed at all times, after a few hours the air inside the room will essentially be dust-free.
If you have a dusty house, or just want to get rid any speck of it, here’s a link to our free guide that teaches you what to look for when selecting an air purifier to remove dust and mites.
3. Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
Carbon dioxide is a naturally-occurring component that you can find anywhere on the earth, including in your indoor air.
C02 is a colorless and odorless gas that is considered to be generally safe in small amounts. If you drink carbonated beverages, use dry ice, have a vehicle that uses gasoline, or burn fossil fuels for heating, you’ve had exposure to carbon dioxide.
In large doses, carbon dioxide acts as an asphyxiant, and this means that it can cut off your oxygen supply in you encounter large amounts of it, especially in confined spaces.
Exposure to high concentrations of carbon dioxide can lead to unconsciousness or even death. Exposure to smaller concentrations of carbon dioxide can lead to congestion, hyperventilation, and shortness of breath.
You can protect your family and monitor your indoor carbon dioxide levels by installing a carbon dioxide detector inside the home. Once you plug the unit in, it monitors your air quality, and will beep or flash to warn you if it detects higher than recommended levels of carbon dioxide.
The easiest way to keep C02 levels down indoors is by ensuring proper ventilation. A simple step you can take is installing screens on windows and doors, then leaving them open whenever possible.
It’s also important to maintain your heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system, if you have one. Have it cleaned and inspected every one to two years to ensure it is working properly and not contributing to high levels of C02 inside your home.
Humidity is unavoidable no matter where you live. Some areas have high humidity levels only in the summer while others experience it year-round.
Humidity indoors can also be caused by several things including water leaks, moisture trapped in the air that comes into contact with colder surfaces, and things like a crawlspace under your house that allows moisture to seep in through the cement from the surrounding soil.
The ideal relative humidity range for indoor spaces is between 30 to 50 percent.
If your indoor humidity level reaches above 50 percent, it sets the stage for worsening indoor air quality factors to develop like mold and mildew. If you breathe these particles in, you can experience lung irritation, shortness of breath, respiratory distress, and at worst, a severe illness.
If your home humidity level falls below 30 percent, it’s also spells trouble. Immediate health effects you may experience include throat soreness, dry eyes and nose, and skin irritation.
Comfort is also a concern when it comes to relative humidity.
To be most comfortable during the summer months you’ll want to keep your humidity levels between 30 to 50 percent. In the winter months, you can aim lower to around 20 percent, if it’s possible, to avoid condensation build-up on your windows.
If you’re having problems maintaining proper humidity levels at home there is a simple solution. If levels are too low, you can invest in a humidifier to add moisture to the air. For humidity levels that are too high, look into purchasing a dehumidifier.
The final thing to consider when it comes to your indoor air quality is the temperature of your home.
Many people don’t know this but if your indoor temperatures are too high, it allows chemicals around your home to leak inside at a more rapid rate. This can then lead to irritability, headache, and fatigue, or something worse.
If your temperatures are too low, the most noticeable impacts you’ll experience are shivering or a decrease in sensation in your extremities like your hands and feet.
Significant swings in temperatures can also affect your productivity and make you sluggish and unmotivated, and factors affecting comfort like air conditioning can improve your indoor temperatures.
In the summer months, you want to keep your temperature between 73℉ and 79℉, and in the winter months you want to keep your indoor temperatures between 68℉ and 76℉.
You can control and optimize your home’s temperatures with a portable air conditioning unit or a window unit. These generally work better than central air systems because they give you greater control over which rooms or areas in your home you want to cool down.
With central air, you’re forced to cool the entire house, and this can lead to increased energy bills and decreased efficiency.
To find out more about how a window AC unit an save you money and improve your comfort indoors, take a look at our in-depth guide on the top window air conditioners for the home.
Although several common household pollutants can affect your indoor air quality, now you know how they can affect you, where they come from, and how to reduce these indoor air quality factors safely and efficiently.
If you follow the steps mentioned above, you can be well on your way to a healthier indoor environment for your entire family.