As the days get colder, we are making our houses as snug and cozy for the winter as possible. From an energy-use standpoint, sealing up your house tightly is a great idea. From a health point of view, a tightly sealed home without adequate ventilation means indoor air pollutants can build up to dangerous levels. Indoor air is often 10 times more polluted than the air outside. Since we Americans spend 90 percent of our time inside, having clean air to breathe in our homes is crucial. Here are some ideas on how to minimize air pollution where you live.
Eliminate Pollution At Its Source
• Remove your shoes at the door to avoid tracking pesticides, pollen, dirt, and dust into the house.
• Don’t smoke or allow anyone else to smoke in your house.
• Keep indoor humidity around 30 to 50 percent to prevent the growth of mold and mildew.
• Get your furnace serviced and cleaned annually and change or clean the filters monthly during the heating season.
• Use natural, non-toxic personal care products, laundry products, and cleaning products.
• Avoid using chemically scented candles and air fresheners.
• Clean your house thoroughly and frequently. Damp-mop floors often. Choose area rugs that can be removed and cleaned over wall-to-wall carpeting. If you have wall-to-wall carpeting, use a vacuum with a high-efficiency filter. Use a damp cloth to dust so less dust is put into the air.
• Keep pets out of your sleeping areas, shampoo pets weekly, wash their bedding weekly.
• New furniture, carpets, and building materials can off-gas formaldehyde and other toxic substances. Buy and install products and materials with the lowest toxicity possible.
• Clean and maintain humidifiers, dehumidifiers, air conditioners, etc., to avoid the build-up and dissemination of biological contaminants like mold, mildew, viruses, and bacteria.
• Test for radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can seep into your house from the ground and is the second leading cause of lung cancer.
• Avoid disturbing asbestos materials and lead paint, as this could release particles into the air. A trained professional should remove asbestos and lead paint that are deteriorating.
• Maintain fireplace/woodstove chimneys and flues. Do not use unvented kerosene or gas stoves. Keep gas appliances properly adjusted.
Improve Ventilation To Prevent Pollutant Build-up
• Bathrooms, kitchens, and basements can be big sources of airborne pollutants and need good air circulation and frequent cleaning. Keep the exhaust fans and their filters clean.
• Keep doors between rooms open for better air circulation.
• Open the windows and air out the house every day.
• Install a heating system with an air-to-air exchange to bring in fresh outside air. If your heating system does not have air-to-air exchange, see the above suggestion.
• If you must use products that are toxic inside the house, keep the area well ventilated.
Air purifiers work by circulating the air through a filter to remove particles. The most effective air purifiers have a high efficiency filter as well as a high air circulation rate. A combination of carbon and HEPA filter seems to be best for removing the widest range of particles from the air. For significantly less money, some houseplants such as spider plants, golden pothos, peace lilies, English ivy, and others are also thought to help purify the air. Three good-sized plants would be the right amount for the average living room. The EPA says that there is currently not enough evidence to support the idea of plants as air cleaners, but considering how expensive an effective air purifier is, it might be worth trying houseplants (as long as you don’t over water them, which will result in the growth of unhealthy micro organisms and defeat their purpose).
And now that I have covered improving your indoor air quality, I would like to ask a question that has been bothering me since I first heard that we spend 90 percent of our time inside: Why? Come on, everybody—go outside and rake some leaves, ride a bike, take a walk, mulch your garden, play with your kids, and breathe the fresh air in!
For more information on indoor air quality you can read the EPA’s booklet “The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality.”
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