Indoor air quality has a direct impact on contemporary quality of life. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), most U.S. residents spend up to 90% of their time indoors. The World Health Organization also reports that 4.2 million people worldwide die prematurely due to indoor air pollution. While many people think of pollution as toxins that come from factories or automobiles, the air inside buildings can also suffer from contamination.
Indoor air pollution is an issue in developing countries because families often burn fuel inside for cooking or heating. But it is also a problem in the developed world as more people live in airtight, energy-efficient homes that can trap polluted air inside. According to the EPA, the indoor concentration of pollution can be up to five times higher than outdoor concentrations. An overview of the most common indoor air pollutants can help you take the first steps to protect your home.

1. Tobacco Smoke

The smoke from tobacco is one of the most common types of indoor air pollution. Dried tobacco contains over 7,000 chemicals, and at least 70 of these substances are known carcinogens. For example, this smoke can contain formaldehyde, arsenic, and benzene. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), secondhand smoke contributes to over 40,000 deaths in the U.S. per year. Inhalation of this pollutant can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as well as asthma attacks, ear infections, or major respiratory illnesses like lung cancer. The chemicals in smoke can also increase the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other cardiovascular problems that may cause heart attacks or other health problems.

2. Mold

Mold is a type of fungi that occurs throughout nature. This biological pollutant reproduces by releasing spores that settle in damp or dark spaces of the home. Common locations for mold include walls, floors, ceilings, bathrooms, basements, and other humid areas. The inhalation of mold spores can exacerbate health problems like respiratory infections, asthma, and severe allergies.

3. Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas produced from the incomplete combustion of fuel. In residences, carbon monoxide commonly results from improperly vented or defective appliances. Carbon monoxide interferes with the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to vital organs and tissues. It is fatal in large quantities. Any appliance that relies on the combustion of gas, including water heaters, has a risk of producing carbon monoxide.

4. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that dissolve easily in air at room temperature. They also have a high vapor pressure and low water solubility. The properties of VOCs make them popular solvents in a variety of household products. Examples of such products include the following:

  • Paints and glues
  • Disinfectants and cleaning sprays
  • Aerosol products
  • Personal care products
  • Air fresheners
  • Candles
  • Moth repellants
  • Office equipment

When dissolved in the air at high concentrations, VOCs can cause health problems like headaches or nasal irritation. They can disrupt the endocrine function and harm the central nervous system.

5. Radon

Radon is an odorless, colorless, and radioactive gas that occurs naturally in soil. This gas can seep up from the ground into the lowest levels of your home and then diffuse throughout the air of your residence. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), radon is a leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. Testing is the only way to identify radon concentration levels. Correcting this type of pollution requires help from an HVAC professional or a qualified radon mitigation specialist.

6. Pet Dander

Pet dander sheds from animals that have fur, skin, hair, or feathers. Microscopic flakes of dander can also shed into pet saliva or urine. When dander particles become airborne, they can function as allergens that cause respiratory problems or hay fever in humans.

7. Pesticides

Pesticides are toxic chemicals designed to kill unwanted organisms. These chemicals can come in sprays, liquids, powders, pellets, or sticks. According to the EPA, at least 75% of American households contain at least one indoor pesticide. Unfortunately, high concentrations of pesticides can also harm humans. Exposure to pesticides can result in problems with the central nervous system as well as an increased risk of cancer.

8. Indoor Particulate Matter

Indoor particulate matter refers to small inhalable particles that dissolve easily in room-temperature air. While they vary in shape and size, particles that are 10 micrometers or smaller are dangerous because they can pass through the human nasal cavity and into the lungs. Particulate matter can result from the use of fireplaces, unvented heaters, or from common hobbies like woodworking. Excessive exposure to particulate matter can increase the risk of respiratory problems or lung cancer.

How to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air pollution has caused an increase in ailments collectively known as “sick building syndrome” (SBS). Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce airborne pollutants and improve indoor air quality. These steps include investing in HEPA filters, ensuring proper ventilation, using green cleaners and non-toxic furnishings, and installing home air purifiers.

HEPA filters

High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters remove small particles from the air. According to the EPA, HEPA filters can trap 99.97% of airborne particles that are 0.3 microns or larger in size. Particles this size can include mold spores, pet dander, and dust mites. HEPA filters are compatible with home filtration devices as well as appliances like vacuums. In addition, you can ask your heating and cooling professional about HEPA filters for your HVAC unit. Depending on your HVAC unit’s model and size, these filters may be an option.

Proper Ventilation

Another way to improve indoor air quality is to ensure proper ventilation and airflow. This helps replace poor-quality indoor air with cleaner and fresher air from the outside. Adequate ventilation is also essential for dispersing carbon dioxide and other toxins that humans should not inhale.

Green Cleaners

Many conventional cleaning products contain VOCs. To avoid ending up with a mixture of toxic chemicals floating through the air, consider switching to cleaning products with natural ingredients. Popular ingredients for this purpose include white vinegar, baking soda, and citrus fruit.

Indoor Plants

Another possible way to improve air quality is to use air-purifying plants in the home. In an often-cited study, NASA described indoor plants as “nature’s life support system” that absorbs carbon dioxide as well as airborne contaminants. Microorganisms in plant soil may also help remove VOCs from the air. Popular air-purifying plants include bamboo palms, spider plants, and English ivy.

Non-Toxic Furnishings

Synthetic furnishings often contain high levels of VOCs. As the furnishings wear out over time, they can emit harmful particles into the air. Non-toxic and low-emitting alternatives can include bamboo, wool, linen, and hemp.

Home Air Purifiers

Whole-home air purifiers help remove dust, pollen, mold spores, and pet dander from your surroundings. Experts recommend choosing a purifier with a sufficient Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) rating. This refers to the volume of air in CFM cubic feet per minute (CFM) that the device can clean based on the size of contaminants. An HVAC professional can help you choose and install the right purifier.

Contact Us Today

Indoor air pollutants can have a negative impact on health and well-being. Fortunately, the experts can help. Sheldon's Heating & Air Conditioning provides indoor air quality solutions for homes in Riverside, CA and surrounding areas. We offer air monitoring and air purification. Our technicians can also install UV-light cleaners and whole-home fans. If you have a related HVAC issue, we can inspect and repair ACs, heaters, and ductwork. Contact Sheldon's Heating & Air Conditioning for all air quality needs.

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