When it comes to impacting your health, there seems to be a major debate over whether the air quality is better inside a building versus outside it. Of course, better air quality is healthier for your body both now and in the long term. This article explores what air quality is, the factors to consider, sources of contamination, and how to improve your home’s indoor air quality.

Understanding Air Quality

Air quality is how professionals talk about the contaminants in the air. These contaminants can range from benign particles like the moisture in humidity to toxic gases and everything in between. Most people recognize that outdoor air quality is affected by many natural and human-generated sources.

Many believe that indoor air quality is better than outdoor air quality simply because it is in a controlled environment. However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air tends to have two to five times higher concentrations of contaminants than the air outside. This increased concentration occurs because of the confined space, pollutant sources found inside, and the lack of air exchange with the outside, known as ventilation.

Exposure vs. Quality

The impact of air quality isn’t only determined by what contaminants are in the air and their concentrations. Rather, a large part of how these contaminants affect the body is the duration of exposure. When you go through a moderately contaminated area but don’t stay long, you may not experience any noticeable impact. However, even in a low-to-moderate-concentration space, if you’re there for frequent and extended periods, your body will have to deal with more of those contaminants entering your airway.

According to the same EPA study, Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors. It’s obvious why improving indoor air quality is imperative for keeping your family healthy.

Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

Indoor air quality, or IAQ, is influenced by various factors, many of which are controllable by what you have in your home. Consider the four primary classes of pollutants you’ll encounter in your living space.

Biological Contaminants

Biological contaminants have drawn a lot of attention, especially over the last few years. Some of these include bacteria, viruses, mold, mildew, and pollen. However, this category also includes pollutants like pet dander, cat saliva, household dust mites, and frass from cockroaches. These biological pollutants are often what cause immediate issues such as allergies, asthma triggers, and illnesses.

Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) refer to chemical vapors that are released into the air. It’s these chemicals that often dramatically affect indoor air quality. They include chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene, ethylene glycol, tetrachloroethylene, and many more.

The sources of these chemical gases are often surprising:

  • Paint
  • Stains
  • Finishes
  • Glues
  • Personal care products
  • Cleaners
  • Air fresheners
  • New carpets and synthetic flooring
  • New furniture
  • Clothes and linens

In the short term, exposure to these compounds, especially in high concentrations, can lead to eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches; loss of coordination; and nausea. In the longer term, many of these have been linked to cancer, liver and kidney damage, central nervous system dysfunction, and endocrine disruption.

Toxic Gases

Aside from VOCs, you may encounter several other toxic or harmful gases in your home. Carbon monoxide gets a lot of attention and is often caused by a cracked furnace heat exchanger, gas water heaters, gas stoves, and gas dryers. You may also encounter radon, which is naturally found in some soil and is a leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers.

Particulate Matter

Particulate matter generally includes solid and liquid particles that a filter could remove. Aside from those discussed in the biological pollutants section, this may also include dirt, soot, smoke, and even water vapor. Proper management of water vapor, often known as humidity, is important in areas like bathrooms and kitchens. The primary control mechanism for humidity is the ventilation fan, so remember to use it whenever activities that generate steam are being carried out.

Outdoor Air Pollution

Outdoor air pollutants are nearly the same as those inside. You’ll encounter biological contaminants and many unnatural pollutants like industrial and automotive exhaust. Unless you’re standing near the pollutant’s source, these disperse so that there is reduced concentration compared to what you’d encounter inside. Further, there are natural filtering mechanisms outside, such as trees and other plants.

Improving Indoor Air Quality

Most homes have simple options for helping improve indoor air quality. However, some situations call for more specific solutions, including various indoor air quality devices.

Improve Ventilation

One of the best things you can do to improve your home’s indoor air quality is to promote better ventilation. This starts with opening windows on days or evenings when the outdoor pollution risk is low. Beyond opening windows, use ventilation fans in your bathrooms and kitchen. You may want to also consider increasing your HVAC system’s mechanical ventilation. A popular option is the energy recovery ventilator, which has an internal heat exchanger to reduce thermal energy loss as air moves in and out of your home.

Tend to Air Circulation

Your HVAC system is one of the key ways to improve your home’s air quality as it removes pollutants with the air filter. However, if your system isn’t circulating air effectively, it won’t improve your air quality to the level it could.

Start by making sure you change your system’s air filter regularly. For common 1- and 2-inch filters, this is often every 30 to 90 days, depending on the filter’s construction and your home’s air quality. Next, make sure all of your supply vents are open and that each has at least 6 inches of clear space above and around it to allow air to flow out and move around your home.

Maintain Your HVAC System

Your HVAC system’s maintenance can also dramatically affect your home’s air circulation. As your system ages, electrical connections and mounting hardware may loosen, increasing the wear on the system and reducing air movement. Contaminants may build up on sensitive areas like your furnace’s heat exchanger and your AC’s evaporator coil. All of this can reduce the air flowing through the system, reducing the effect of your system’s air filter.

Install IAQ Devices

Some homes may benefit from additional indoor air quality devices. The air around Wheat Ridge is typically very dry, which keeps particulate contaminants airborne longer. You may start by exploring a whole-house humidifier to keep your home’s moisture in the recommended 30% to 50% range.

Beyond humidity control, you may benefit from an air scrubber or air purifier. Air scrubbers typically have higher-efficiency filters that remove more than your standard HVAC filter. They may also have an ionizing feature that releases negatively charged ions into the air to make particles clump together and fall from the air. You may also benefit from an air purifier, such as a UV light purifier, that renders many harmful and nuisance pollutants inert.

When people around Wheat Ridge need a home service provider they can count on, they turn to us at Mighty Pine Heating & Air. Our trusted experts provide indoor air quality solutions as well as heating and AC maintenance, repair, and installation. You can also depend on us for a full range of residential electrical and water heater services. Call Mighty Pine Heating & Air today to schedule an indoor air quality consultation with one of our NATE-certified technicians in Wheat Ridge.

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