IAQ and hidden killer in our homes. Should you be worried?
You may still not take it seriously, but let us explain in greater detail what the real threats related to indoor air pollution we face every day in our homes are, and how to decrease their impacts on our health.
First of all, let us clarify what indoor air quality (IAQ) means in case you might be new to the topic. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), IAQ refers to the "air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants". That is why understanding and controlling common pollutants indoors can help reduce some serious health risks and concerns.
Unless you live or stay in extremely polluted indoor spaces, you are not likely to suffer immediate severe reactions to indoor air pollutants after a single or even several exposures. But long-term exposure to "hidden pollutants" - emissions from daily activities - may be more dangerous than you can imagine and can worsen your health over time.
While we know already a lot about outdoor air pollution–as it has been researched for decades–air indoors has received very little attention, regulation and control. And we will say this again, we spend most of our lives inside our houses. That is why it is crucial to know your indoor air quality better and why you may want to improve it, even if you are not suffering from noticeable health issues at the moment.
So what are the actual threats?
Outside of all non-human pollutants and their sources that are often beyond our individual control – e.g. cleanliness of the building and ventilation system components, ventilation strategy, airtightness of the building fabric, building and furnishing materials (deteriorated asbestos-containing insulation, newly installed floorings, upholstery or carpet, cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products), combustion appliances etc. – there are many sources of daily emissions in our homes that we can monitor, control and address.
Those that might be the most damaging to our health include:
emissions from products for household cleaning and maintenance;
emissions from personal care products (especially sprays);
emissions from tobacco products;
emissions from heating and cooling systems and humidification devices;
excess moisture from different activities such as showering;
emissions from cooking appliances such as stoves, ovens and toasters;
volatile organic compounds (VOC) and toxic airborne particles released from frying and baking;
vaporized substances like essential oils which are potentially dangerous as they may undergo different chemical reactions with other compounds present in the air.
And then there is carbon dioxide, the most common "quiet" pollutant of all and the one with the most noticeable impacts when in high concentration.
We should also not forget the negative effects biological pollutants have on indoor air quality, as many biological contaminants are small enough to be inhaled. Bacteria, viruses, animal allergens (from dander and saliva), house dust, pollen from pants, mould and mildew can affect human health in significant ways.
High concentration of radioactive radon, which may accumulate in lower condignations due to the fact it is heavier than air, is another thing that puts your health under risk.
According to the EPA, "the relative importance of any single source depends on how much of a given pollutant it emits and how hazardous those emissions are. In some cases, factors such as how old the source is and whether it is properly maintained are significant. For example, an improperly adjusted gas stove can emit significantly more carbon monoxide than one that is properly adjusted. (...) Some sources, such as (...) air fresheners, can release pollutants more or less continuously. Other sources, related to activities like smoking, cleaning, redecorating or doing hobbies, release pollutants intermittenly. Unvented or malfunctioning appliances or improperly used products can release higher and sometimes dangerous levels of pollutants indoors."
It is also important to be aware that "pollutant concentrations can remain in the air for long periods after some activities. (...) If too little outdoor air enters indoors, pollutants can accumulate to levels that can pose health and comfort problems."
What can you really do?
First of all, know your air.
According to GRESB, the "last few years have seen an explosion in the number of devices, sensors, and apps on the market targeted at consumers that claim to measure or monitor air quality related parameters in real-time". We have to agree that there are probably not enough accepted standards or testing protocols available for the verification of product performance, accuracy and reliability. There are, however, more advanced air sensors on the market that allow you to detect and monitor the levels of many aforementioned indoor air pollutants.
Ensuring proper ventilation and effective moisture control are easy ways to help you keep the majority of these pollutants at bay. Moulds and mildews, for example, are biological contaminants that can be minimized by simply controlling the humidity level inside your home.
One clear way to achieve that is to have your machines such as air purifiers, fans, A/C and dehumidifiers function properly according to changing indoor conditions. We recommend integrating them with air sensors for automated air quality control. This will free your head (and hands) from having to remember turning them on or off.
Do you want to learn more about ControlFree and the IAQ management system we provide? Contact us.