In many areas, the outdoor air is polluted and this is especially true if you live or work in an urban location. But, you may be surprised to learn that the indoor air in our homes or businesses can be even more polluted. According to scientific studies released by the EPA, our indoor air could be 2-5 times worse than the air outside. Poor IAQ has become an important topic in recent years and even before the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a lot of discussion on this subject. A buildup of pollutants and a lack of fresh air have even led to the term “Sick Building Syndrome” being used without any real context. In this article, we will take a closer look at six causes of poor IAQ and how you can fix these problems.
1. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Many people have heard of VOCs, but most of us don’t fully understand what they are and how they affect our IAQ. VOCs are chemical gasses, they can be produced from liquids or they may be in a gaseous form already. They are usually released from aerosols and various types of cleaning products. These organic chemicals spread quickly in the air when they are not stored correctly in a sealed area. Some common products that release high levels of VOCs include pesticides, air fresheners, hobby glue, printer ink, permanent markers, insect repellent, aerosol sprays, harsh cleaners, and more. VOCs have been linked to a number of minor and major health problems, including headaches, nausea, allergic reactions, kidney and liver damage, and central nervous system problems. Making a switch to greener products will eliminate most if not all of these problems, also bringing plenty of fresh air indoors is helpful.
2. Mold and Mildew Growth
It’s common to find some mold in most buildings, but when high concentrations are present, it will degrade the IAQ significantly. When you have mold, you also have mold spores that are released into the air for the purposes of reproduction. This is how the mold grows and when those spores are ingested they can cause serious health problems. People with allergies and pre-existing respiratory conditions tend to notice the drop in IAQ quickly. But, the growth of mold and mildew is accompanied by a damp and musty odor that’s hard to miss. If the mold is located in an area that you can see, you may notice a black stain growing across the wall or ceiling. Dealing with the consequence of mold growth will not fix the underlying problem and it will return. If you have mold growth, arrange a mold inspection to evaluate the scale of the problem and formulate a treatment plan.
3. Certain Building Materials
Some of the building materials used in construction projects can contain pollutants that are harmful to our health. This is especially true in older buildings where materials such as asbestos, which was banned in the 80s, may be a serious problem. Even some modern building materials can release pollutants and this is particularly true for a short time after the construction has concluded. Some prime examples include formaldehyde, insulation materials, pressed wood products, and more. The best way to avoid these problems with an older building is to schedule an inspection and get bad materials removed when possible. In a newer build, avoid the temptation to move in immediately and consider a switch to greener building materials.
4. Gas Appliances
Gas powered appliances are a draw for many homeowners because they perform well and the energy costs are lower than electricity. But, gas appliances, such as heaters, furnaces, and cooking stoves, can emit some harmful gasses. Some of these gasses include carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and nitrogen dioxide. Installing carbon monoxide detectors is extremely important because it’s known as “the silent killer”. If you have carbon monoxide leaks in your furnace, contact your local HVAC specialist to fix the problem. When these appliances are used, run the ventilation to remove any harmful fumes from the home before they affect your health.
5. Cigarette Smoke
Cigarette smoke is harmful to our health, it tends to linger for a long time and it can contribute to poor IAQ. Even rooms adjacent to break rooms where smoking occurs are at an increased risk of lowered IAQ. Keeping smoking areas separate is important and nearby windows should be kept closed. Infants and children are especially vulnerable to second-hand smoke inhalation and they need to be kept away from it.
6. Flooring, Carpets, and Paint
Many people enjoy the smell of new carpets, floors, and paint fumes, but these are toxic. The odor that you can smell are off-gasses that are emitted from glues and materials used in those products. A prime example would be vinyl flooring tiles which are made with a resin that contains formaldehyde. When we breathe in these toxic gasses, there are a number of health risks, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, allergic reactions, and more. When new carpets, floor, or fresh paint are added to your home or business you can mitigate these effects by taking a couple of precautions. Ensure that there is plenty of ventilation in those rooms and allow the toxic gasses to dissipate for at least a week before you use the spaces.
The Negative Consequences of Poor IAQ
Good IAQ is important because when we breathe in air that’s laced with pollutants it can harm our health and wellbeing. This is particularly true during periods of long-term exposure with health issues, such as headaches, fatigue, dizziness, allergic reactions, shortness of breath, brain fog, sore eyes, dry throat, nose irritation, flu symptoms, asthma attacks, and even a weakened immune system. In extreme cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) has linked poor IAQ to a number of serious health problems, including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), lung cancer, strokes, and heart disease. The consequences are even more severe for people with allergies and pre-existing breathing problems.
If you’re worried about poor IAQ in your home or business, the information presented in this article should help you to deal with some of the problems immediately. The next step is to contact your local HVAC specialist and ask them about air quality testing. There are air purification options that can make a major improvement to your IAQ and health.