Americans spend nearly 90 percent of their time indoors. With winter approaching, it’s a good time to evaluate and take steps to improve indoor air quality.
Chief offenders leading to poor air quality include: biological (includes allergens mold, mildew, pollen and infectious disease agents); carbon monoxide; formaldehyde; voc’s (off gasses released from chemicals used in household products and building products); pesticides
1. Keep floors fresh.
- Suck it up. Chemicals and allergens can accumulate in household dust for decades. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to get rid of toxins, like brominated fire-retardant chemicals (PBDEs), as well as allergens like pollen, pet dander, and dust mites.
- Mop it up. Mopping picks up the dust vacuuming leaves behind. Skip soaps and cleaners and use plain water to capture lingering dust or allergens. New microfiber mops capture more dust and don’t require any cleaning solutions.
- Keep it out. Put a large floor mat at every exterior door. People track in all sorts of chemicals via their shoes and mat reduces the amount of dirt, pesticides, and other pollutants from getting into your home.
2. Keep a healthy level of humidity—Humidifiers and Dehumidifiers
Dust mites and mold love moisture. Keep your home’s moisture in balance by using both humidifiers (winter months) and dehumidifiers. Aim to keep humidity around 30%-50% which keeps allergens under control. Less than that and nasal passages can become dry. At higher levels? Mold can grow.
- Fix leaky plumbing or moisture intrusions to prevent moisture-loving mold. Note: f you suspect a severe mold problem, contact a professional.
- Empty drip pans in your window air conditioner and dehumidifier.
- Humidifiers should be emptied daily and disinfected regularly because mold can grow within 24 to 48 hours on wet surfaces. Mold and bacteria in the tank can be released into the air.
- Bathroom exhaust fans also reduce humidity but need cleaning to avoid dust buildup, a medium for germs.
- Make sure all the exhausts, vents, and fans in kitchen, bathrooms, laundry area, garages and attics are in working order and vented properly to the outdoors. Kitchen hoods and exhausts benefit from regular cleaning.
- Timers on fans will assist with extending their life and save energy. Separate fans/timers should be added to the garage and can be synced with door openers.
3. Invisible Killers – Test for the Deadly Duo—Carbon Monoxide and Radon
Carbon Monoxide Carbon monoxide (CO), an odorless, colorless gas, which can cause sudden illness and death, is produced any time a fossil fuel is burned. Prevention is key:
- Do have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
- Do install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds leave your home immediately and call 911.
- Don’t use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window.
- Don’t run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
Radon is a natural radioactive gas that you can’t see, smell, or taste and breathing too much radon over time can cause lung cancer. About 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States has a level of radon that needs to be reduced. You can test for radon yourself or hire a professional to do it for you.
There are two main types of radon test kits.
- Short-term tests take between 2 and 90 days.
- Long-term tests take more than 90 days.
- Start with a short-term test. Test for radon in the lowest level of your home that people spend time in. Test kits are available at most home improvement or hardware stores.
4. Smell Fresh Naturally
In recent studies, plug-in air fresheners were found to emit 20 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including phthalates that are known to disrupt hormones in animals. What can you do?
- Look for fragrance-free or naturally-scented laundry products.
- Stop using aerosol sprays—deodorants, hair sprays, carpet cleaners, furniture polish, and air fresheners.
- Let in fresh air. Open windows so toxic chemicals don’t build up in your home.
- Use sliced lemons, baking soda and vinegar in the kitchen and baths to get a clean scent.
- Bring nature indoors. Any room is prettier with a fern, spider plant, or aloe vera. It’s also healthier. Research shows that indoor plants act as living air purifiers—if you have kids or pets, make sure the plants aren’t poisonous if ingested.
5. Use a High Efficiency Air Filter—and change them!
- Using a high-efficiency air filter is one of the least expensive—and most effective—things you can do to remove harmful allergens and pollutants from the air in your home, improving indoor air quality and the health of your family.
- Replace your air filters regularly. Most air filters should be replaced every 30-60 days, but if your family has severe allergy problems, replace filters more frequently. An added bonus is that your HVAC system will run much more efficiently, which can save you money.
- Replace your furnace filter. 25% of home owners have never cleaned or replaced their furnace filter!