We humans tend to spend a lot of time indoors. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average American spends 90% of their time inside. Consequently, that same fact sheet asserts that the concentration of some air pollutants is two to five times higher indoors than out.
But what can we do to improve our indoor air quality? To answer that question, let’s explore where air pollutants come from, what risks they pose and what we can do to breathe easier.
What Makes Indoor Air Quality So Bad?
More often than not, the air in our homes is filled with pollutants. If that’s not bad enough, things we use and come into contact with every day are the most common sources:
- Carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide come from stoves, fireplaces, generators and heaters.
- Lead gets tracked in with polluted soil.
- Volatile organic compounds emit from cleaning products, cosmetics, paints and varnishes.
- Formaldehyde makes up many home construction materials.
- Biological contaminants come from pet dander, roaches, mites, mold and pollen.
What Effect Does Bad Air Quality Have on Our Bodies?
Listing all of the known long- and short-term effects of those pollutants would take a depressingly long time. In small doses, most of the above contaminants cause irritation of the skin, nose, throat and other biological systems.
Long-term, high-concentration exposure to formaldehyde causes cancer, though it’s more of a risk to industrial workers than the average homeowner. Biological contaminants irritate the respiratory system and aggravate allergies. Prolonged exposure to odorless carbon monoxide is associated with chronic fatigue, flu-like symptoms and ultimately death if left unchecked.
Other symptoms and diseases from poor air quality and high concentrations of contaminants range from merely irritating to life-threatening. To learn more, check out the EPA’s extensive guide to indoor air quality contaminants.
Tips to Improve Air Quality
Those scary facts do come with some good news, though. Studying the effects of pollutants has given us a better understanding of how to improve air quality. Surprisingly, improving your home’s air quality often leads to a more energy-efficient lifestyle.
To control carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, adjust the knobs on your gas stove so the burners emit less gas. This is, however, best done under advisement from your stove’s manufacturer or user manual.
For pet dander, brush your pets frequently. Unfortunately, if you have an uncooperative pet, it probably didn’t come with a user manual.
Lastly, shut off the A/C and open your windows. Turn on a fan to circulate fresh air. Natural ventilation reduces the concentration of air pollutants in your home. For an added layer of breathability, decorate your home with a number of beautiful, air-improving plants.
Take A Deep Breath
Don’t let facts about poor air quality overwhelm you. Through understanding pollutants and taking some simple day-to-day measures, we can make our homes more welcoming places to live and breathe.