There’s nothing like taking a walk on a beautiful North Carolina day. Unfortunately, people don’t spend as much time outdoors as they used to. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “people spend about ninety percent of their time indoors, where air pollution levels are typically two to five times higher than outdoor levels.”
Poor indoor air quality can lead to all sorts of health problems including allergies, asthma, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and some forms of cancer. You can prevent these problems, as well as other symptoms like eye, nose, or throat irritation, headaches, and fatigue, by eliminating risk factors and following some of our tips for enhancing the air quality in your home.
The Big Risks
Smoke of any kind, whether from cigarettes, candles, or incense, is always detrimental to air quality. You should never allow cigarette smoke inside your home. The repercussions of inhaling smoke extend beyond the person who is smoking the cigarette. Secondhand smoke is extremely dangerous. According to the surgeon general, “the only way to protect people from secondhand smoke is to eliminate their exposure.”
Radon gas is the leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. after cigarette smoke. It’s a naturally occurring substance that comes from the ground through rock, soil, and water. Outdoors, radon is not a problem. In enclosed spaces, however, high concentrations of radon can build, seep through your walls, floors, or pipes, and become extremely dangerous.
You can limit exposure to radon by sealing cracks and holes in floors or walls and opening your windows occasionally to let your home air out. You can’t smell, see, or taste radon, so the best way to make sure you are safe is to have your home tested. There are many do-it-yourself kits available or you can hire a professional to come in and take samples.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is another extremely dangerous colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas. It is a by-product of combustion, so any appliances that burn gas, wood, or other fuels will release carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed around your home to alert you to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
Most of the appliances that release carbon monoxide are in your kitchen. Kitchen fans that ventilate to the outdoors will help keep carbon monoxide from building up.
One of the leading causes of death due to carbon monoxide poisoning comes from people running their cars in enclosed garages. This is extremely dangerous. Always open the garage door before starting your car and if possible, pull out of the garage as soon as you can after starting the vehicle.
Keep it Clean
Now that we’ve seen some of the ways in which air quality can be negatively affected, lets look at some ways you can improve the air quality in your home.
The ideal level of humidity in a home is 35-50%. Staying within this range will help to keep allergens under control. If you’re interested in testing your homes humidity levels, your local garden center should sell a device that will help you out. One way to maintain humidity levels is to always use a bathroom fan during and for 15 minutes after your showers. A good air conditioner will not only maintain comfortable temperatures in your home, but will help to regulate the humidity as well. Think about having your A/C serviced and cleaned by professionals at the beginning of each season in order to make sure it’s always in good working condition. You can make your air conditioner more efficient by repairing leaks in your walls, floors, roof, and plumbing.
Reduce Pollutants and Allergens
Keeping your home clean is one of the best ways to maintain good indoor air quality. Dust and mop regularly to reduce pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and mold. Invest in a good quality vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and vacuum a few times each week. These filters are specifically designed to reduce allergens. If possible, think about switching to hardwoods or tile, as pollutants and allergens can linger in carpets.
To prevent dust, dirt, and debris from entering your home in the first place, place outdoor floor mats at every door. Ask your family and any guests to wipe off their shoes before coming inside and to remove them and leave them by the door.
Finally, be sure to regularly check and replace the air filters in your home. You should change your air filters every couple of months.
Common cleaning supplies often contain chemicals that can be harmful if inhaled. They can irritate our skin, eyes, and lungs, and cause all kinds of health problems. Limit exposure to these chemicals by using mild, natural cleaners in your home. You can find many books and websites that will show you how to make effective, natural cleaners from common household supplies. Who knows; you may even save yourself some money!
To give your house a fresh start, pick a dry day and open all of the windows in your home. Let the whole place air out. It’s amazing what a little fresh air can do. To really bring nature indoors, try putting some potted plants around your home. The plants will naturally filter out pollutants and will pump clean, fresh oxygen into your home. Plants like English ivy, peace lilies, and bamboo palms will enhance the beauty and the air quality in your home.
There isn’t much that can do more for the quality of life of your family than providing them with fresh air to breath. By eliminating risks and keeping your home clean, you should be able to significantly improve the quality of air in your home.