When most people discuss air pollution, they’re often focused solely on outdoor air. Conversations that concern air pollution rarely focus on indoor air. While it’s true that outdoor air quality is important and that pollution does impact it, it’s important to understand that indoor air can be just as negatively impacted by pollution. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that it’s estimated that indoor air is often between 2 and 5 times more polluted than outdoor air, and in extreme cases, indoor air can even be as much as 100 times more polluted than outdoor air!
Given the fact that the average person spends up to 90 percent of their time inside, coupled with the fact that the air you breathe has a direct impact on your overall health and well-being, it’s kind of important to be aware of your home’s indoor air quality. How can you do that? By making arrangements to have home air quality tests performed on a regular basis, even if you don’t suspect that your indoor air is polluted.
What is indoor air quality? How does it impact your health? How does it become polluted? What should you expect during a home air quality test? How can you improve the quality of your home’s indoor air? Read on to find the answers to these questions and more.
Put simply, indoor air quality (IAQ), as the term suggests, refers to a metric that is used to measure the quality of air that circulates inside a structure or building, particularly as it relates to the health and comfort of the occupants of the structure or building. Airborne pollutants have a direct impact on indoor air quality. The greater the amount of pollutants that are circulating through the air in your home, the worse your indoor air quality will be; conversely, the lower the level of pollutants that are circulating through your home’s air, the better your indoor air quality will be.
Now that you have a basic understanding what indoor air quality is, in order to understand why it’s so important, you need to know what factors contribute to poor quality indoor air. There are several factors that can affect your home’s air quality, including activities that occur indoors, things that you bring inside, your home’s ventilation system, and the climate in general.
With that said, here’s a look at some of the most common pollutants that can impact the quality of your home’s indoor air:
And that’s just a handful of the contaminants that can impact your home’s indoor air quality. These elements, combined with poor ventilation, can dramatically decrease the air quality level inside your home. If the problem isn’t addressed, the level of contaminants will continue to increase, and the chances that you and your loved ones will suffer adverse effects will also increase. Depending on the kinds of airborne pollutants that are present in your home’s air and the level of exposure, the overall health and well-being of you and your family can be dramatically impacted.
As per the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average person spends about 90 percent of their time inside. As such, it goes without saying that if you’re spending the majority of your time in your home and the quality of the air that you and your family are breathing is poor, your chances of being exposed to airborne pollutants will dramatically increase. When left undetected or untreated, exposure to poor indoor air quality will most certainly be detrimental to health; particularly for individuals who suffer from pre-existing health conditions, such as chronic respiratory illnesses, like COPD, asthma, and emphysema, as well as allergies.
The effects that poor air quality will have on your health and the health of your loved ones varies and depends largely on the types of contaminants that are circulating through your home’s air, as well as the level of the contaminants, and existing health. With that said, examples of some of the effects that poor indoor air quality can have on health and well-being include the following:
In cases where the symptoms that are associated with poor indoor air quality levels are minimal to mild, and are often quite similar to a mild bought of allergies or a slight cold or flu, it can be hard to tell if, in fact, contaminated indoor air is to blame. With that said, however, there are some things that can help you determine if the cause of the symptoms that you or your loved ones are experiencing is, in fact, directly related to exposure to unhealthy air that is laden with pollutants.
The most obvious sign that poor indoor air quality is to blame for the symptoms you or a family member are experiencing is relief upon being out of the house for an extended period of time, with the symptoms returning upon returning home. Additionally, there are numerous signs that can indicate that your home’s air quality is poor. Examples include:
These are just a few of the signs and signals that indicate the adverse health effects that you or a family member is experiencing are related to poor air quality.
While there is a broad range of airborne pollutants that can circulate throughout your home, as per the EPA, the most common include:
Below is an overview of the health effects do the most common household airborne pollutants that have been identified by the EPA cause?
As per the US National Institutes of Health, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) refer to organic compounds that turn into gaseous matter; hence why they are volatile in nature. The “organic” part of the VOC definition requires that the compounds that can turn into gaseous matter must contain carbon. There are some types of organic chemicals that occur naturally in living things; however, a lot of chemicals that contain organic compounds are synthetic, meaning that they are artificially created.
Most people have a variety of products in their homes that are comprised of chemicals, and when they are used, they can release organic compounds in the air; however, you might be surprised to learn that some products can even release organic compounds when they are dormant and tucked away in storage. Some of the most common products that contain VOCs include:
Other products that you might not suspect but that certainly can contain VOCs include:
The likelihood that VOCs will cause adverse health effects depends on two factors: the toxicity of the VOC and the amount of the VOC that is in the air in your home. Some volatile organic compounds are extremely toxic and can cause severe health problems, while others do not cause any known health issues. With that said, some of the side effects that can be associated with long-term exposure to VOCs include damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver. Short-term exposure to VOCs can cause respiratory tract and eye irritation, dizziness, headaches, coordination problems, fatigue, skin irritations, nausea, vomiting, and impaired memory.
The US Environmental Protection Agency offers actionable tips that homeowners can use to reduce the level of VOCs in their indoor air. These suggestions include:
Biological pollutants include toxins that originate from microorganisms, as well as bacteria and viruses. Examples of some of the most common biological pollutants that can impact indoor air quality include:
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that exposure to some types of biological pollutants can result in allergic reactions, such as:
Symptoms that can occur as a result of exposure to biological pollutants can include:
There are several tips that you can use to minimize the amount of biological pollutants that build up in your home, as well as your exposure to those pollutants. Examples include:
There are several types of chemical pollutants that can negatively impact indoor air quality. According to the EPA, some of the most common combustion pollutants include the following:
In order to reduce the risk of exposure to combustion pollutants, the US Environmental Protection Agency offers the following advice:
It goes without saying that the health and well-being of yourself and your loved ones is of utmost importance. As such, you should get into the habit of keeping tabs on your home’s indoor air quality. How can you do that? Here are some tips that you can use to measure your indoor air quality.
One of the easiest and most affordable ways to keep tabs on the quality of your home’s indoor air is by simply relying on your senses. The sense of smell is powerful, and the scent in your home is one of the most obvious indicates of poor air quality. While it’s true that after a while, you can become desensitized to certain odors as your sense of smell does adjust, you can accommodate for this by simply leaving your home for a few hours and when you return home, take a deep breath.
If you notice a stale, musty odor, that’s may be a sign that mold is growing inside your home. Mold growth commonly occurs when moisture or humidity levels are high; for example, if there’s a space in your house –such as the bathroom, that isn’t properly ventilated, or if you’ve recently had a flood or a pipe burst, there’s a chance that mold growth can occur.
If you smell a tar-like odor, similar to a newly-laid roadway, that may indicate that you have asbestos in your house. Homes that were constructed prior to 1980 often contain asbestos, particularly In floor and ceiling tiles, as well as insulation, pipes, ductwork, furnaces, and boilers.
If you suspect mold or asbestos in your home, you’re going to want to contact a professional as soon as possible. These issues need to be addressed by a licensed and trained professional, because they can be hazardous to handle on your own. If left alone, you and your family could suffer severe adverse health effects.
There are several airborne pollutants that do not cause any odor; carbon monoxide, pollen, and dust, for example. With that said, however, exposure to pollutants that do not produce a scent can cause physical symptoms. For example, exposure to carbon monoxide can cause dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, impaired memory, and/or blurred vision. Exposure to airborne contaminants like pollen and dust can cause itchy, watery, and irritated eyes, coughing, wheezing, sore throat, etc.
If you experience any adverse health effects, particularly if they seem to worsen when you are home and subside when you leave, that’s a good indication that you your home’s indoor air is poor and could be contaminated with a variety of pollutants.
If you want more definitive answers, you could try measuring your home’s indoor air. There are several tools that are available that you can use to measure for specific airborne pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, mold, and volatile organic compounds. If you’re going to attempt this route, make sure that you invest in a quality instrument to ensure that you will get an accurate reading.
We recommend purchasing a VOC meter that can detect the most common household contaminants, such as molds, bacteria, and airborne chemicals, like radon, and carbon dioxide. Check your local home improvement store or search the internet for online retailers that carry these tools. A quality tool will come with detailed instructions. Make sure that you read the instructions thoroughly and that you adhere to them. If the reading does indicate that your home’s indoor air is polluted with contaminants, you should get in touch with a reputable professional, who will be able to assist you with the problem. A licensed and trained professional will perform further and more thorough testing, and will offer you insight and tips to address the problem.
If you suspect that indoor mold growth is growing your home or you’re positive it does, get in touch with the pros at Mold Inspection and Testing. Our highly experienced team of technicians uses the most advanced tools, the latest technologies, and the most proven techniques and strategies to perform the most comprehensive testing. Air and surface samples of your home will be taken and the results will be analyzed to determine if, in fact, mold is growing in your home. If so, we’ll make helpful recommendations so that you can address the problem and protect the health, safety, and well-being of yourself and your loved ones.