How can you improve indoor air quality?

The below article talks about indoor air quality, how to improve it, what are the dangers to poor indoor air quality, some factors that contribute to poor air quality, along with some frequently asked questions about indoor air quality. 

How can you improve indoor air quality?

Good levels of indoor air quality, a key element to ensuring good physical and mental health; is quite often overlooked because of the assumption that there are no “pollutants” inside your house, office space, basement, etc. However, this is wrong as there are varying sources of airborne pollutants and these can have short-term to chronic health impacts on people depending on their age, health history, sex, duration of exposure, etc. 

Indoor air quality can be improved by several methods from installing an air purifier. dehumidifier/ humidifier, removing sources of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), having proper ventilation systems, cleaning your upholsteries, getting rid of mold and mildew indoors, etc. 

What are you breathing indoors?

Mildew, mold, and mold spores: 

Mold thrives and grows in damp environments leading to infestations that could have dire effects on health. 80% of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is contributed to mold infestations, the most common form being the black mold. Mildew and mold grow in environments that are damp, therefore, it is best to get rid of excess moisture in the room or basement by sealing any pipe leaks, getting a dehumidifier, etc. 

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): 

Various old buildings have been found to use unsafe paint and asbestos, while this is being rectified in the larger common areas; they are usually ignored in the lesser-visited spaces like a basement. Therefore, particles like lead dust, radon, other carcinogens, etc. would be present along with other particles originating from old upholstery, adhesives, paints, carpeting, varnishes, old furniture, pesticides, cleaning products, gym machines, gardening equipment, etc. 

Fiberglass particles

Fiberglass insulation is commonly used in basements and is one of the major contributors to poor basement air quality. Since fiberglass is present all across ceilings and walls, there is very little effort made to reduce the impact caused by breathing in small glass particles. It is also used in the manufacture of piping, sports equipment, fire protection equipment, drum sets, etc. So, breathing in fiberglass doesn’t necessarily originate from insulation, it could be a breakdown of particles from items stored in a basement. 

Allergens

The dust, mites, pollen, vermin and its droppings, mold spores, bacteria build-ups, mildew particles, pet dander, etc. are some particles that can trigger allergic reactions. If there is equipment like washing machines and dryers, chances are lint is being inhaled as well. Not cleaning long-time stored equipment could trigger infestations that spread rapidly across stored items in a basement, room, office space, etc. leading to increased breakdowns of toxic particles. 

Toxic air pollutants:  

With increasing quantities of air pollution globally from varying sources, the air around us is contaminated with various chemical fumes, vehicular emissions, chemical particles, toxic pollutants, particulate matters, etc. that can cause irritation with respiratory systems and thus cause respiratory issues, these pollutants can travel indoors through your ventilation systems and settle indoors thus increasing your exposure to these pollutants. 

Chemical fumes: 

Fumes from paints, pesticides, cleaning products, bleach, varnishes, gas, solvents, etc. emanate strong chemical fumes. These fumes could cause inflammation to the outer skin as well as to lung tissue and can contribute to poisoning or cancer due to long-term exposure. A radioactive chemical that is often present in basements is radon. Radon has been found to be the 2nd largest contributor to lung cancer in the US, with an average of 21,000 deaths every year (EPA, n.d.). Since radon is odorless and colorless, poisoning from radon is usually identified quite late. 

Protecting yourself from poor indoor air quality 

There are various factors that reduce indoor air quality. Below are a few sources and how to rectify them:

  • Using air fresheners, pesticides, toxic cleaning solutions, toxic fumes from varnishes/ paints/ lacquers, etc. can create emissions of volatile organic compounds. 
    • If using these items causes irritation, it is best to completely avoid them or use a mask or a damp cloth to cover your nose and mouth to prevent the entry of these pollutants into your respiratory system. 
    • The best way to avoid long-term exposure to these items is to store them in well-ventilated spaces like an outdoor shed or a garage, or not store or use them. 
    • There are various biodegradable and organic cleaning solutions that are much more eco-friendly and safer to use. 
  • Increased exposure to pet dander, bacteria, mold spores, lint, dust mites, smoke, etc. can originate from various sources indoors including poorly maintained HVAC systems, damp and moist conditions, a large number of plants that trap dust, faulty chimneys or vents, poorly maintained sink traps, etc. 
    • The best ways to avoid these pollutants are to install an air purifier to clean and freshen the air.
    • Use a dehumidifier to remove the excess moisture from the atmosphere, and thus prevent the growth of mold and bacteria
    • Avoid smoking indoors or burning waste, wood, coal, etc. 
    • Vacuum indoors atleast twice a week
    • Replace carpeting with tiles or prefer a bare floor
    • Clean your curtains and upholstery periodically 

Which dehumidifier works best to reduce indoor moisture and dampness?

A dehumidifier will dry out the basement, by removing the extra moisture in the air to lower the humidity and stop any mold or mildew growth in a basement.  

  • hOmeLabs HME020006N Dehumidifier comes in varying sizes and can cover up to 4,500 sq. feet. It has variations with respect to the amount of water that can be drawn from 14 liters to 40 liters and can be set to run continuously. It has removable water tanks and the option to connect drain hoses for continuous draining. It has a digital humidity display with multiple configuration options and is attached with wheels for easy movement. 
  • Frigidaire 50-Pint Smart Dehumidifier is Wi-Fi enabled and connects to a mobile app, Alexa, or Google Assistant. It holds up to 28 liters in capacity and has options for a drain hose and a removable hassle-free water tank that is located at the front with a splash guard and an easy-carry handle. The device can alert when the water tank is full and has 3 fan speeds and custom humidity control. It is attached with wheels and side handles for easy movement and boasts about easy to clean washable filters. 
  • Ivation IVAESDH30P Dehumidifier is a budget-friendly option for smaller spaces. It comes in 3 sizes with a capacity to cover up to 1,500 sq. feet, and with a built-in humidity sensor with a display showing current humidity level, and allows for customization for required humidity levels. There are options to drain the water through a hose or through the water tank that has a 12.5-liter capacity.  Other features include a 24-hour timer, filter alerts, customizable fan speeds, and eco-efficient, ENERGY STAR Certified, 2 fan speeds, auto-defrost, and auto restart.  

Which air purifier is the best to improve indoor air quality? 

A good air purifier can improve life quality by stripping the air of allergens such as pollen, mold spores, smoke particles, airborne contaminants, dander, etc. However installing a good air purifier requires that it meets several criteria including being budget-friendly, child-friendly, energy-efficient, effective, and silent. Below are a few recommendations on air purifiers that could suit your needs:

  • Coway AP – 1512HH is an indoor air purifier with air quality monitoring, automatic timers and sensors, filter indicators, and an energy-efficient model. It is effective in rooms up to 361 sq. feet and has a 4 stage filtration system. It works quietly, is budget-friendly, and provides real-time indication of the air quality through LED lights amongst other interesting features. 
  • Blueair Blue Pure 211+ is 3 stage filtration indoor air purifier. Suitable for larger rooms up to 540 sq. feet and is quiet due to the advanced filters that perform at high levels of efficiency with lower noise. This purifier is ideal for large bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms, and offices. All filters are recyclable and need to be replaced periodically depending on usage. 
  • LEVOIT Air Purifier is an affordable large room air purifier with a True HEPA filter and a 360° air intake. It can be controlled through an app for a truly hands-free experience. With a capacity to clean up to 403 sq. feet, it gives the cleanest air possible by getting rid of dust, fur, lint, airborne contaminants, etc. It is capable of measuring air quality, providing real-time readings, and can automatically control the fan speeds to meet the needs of the room. Smart control of the purifier allows for remote control of the device and can provide alerts about the device efficiency, filter life, ability to create schedules, etc. 

Which humidifier is the best to maintain indoor moisture levels? 

The best way to ensure proper moisture levels indoors is to use a humidifier. It is best to remember that humidity levels must be kept below 55% in order to discourage the growth of mold and mildew.

Below are some excellent recommendations: 

  • Honeywell HCM – 350 Germ-Free Cool Mist Humidifier is simple in design, budget-friendly, silent, effective, and easy to clean. The device maintains perfect moisture levels throughout the day and is extremely durable in all situations and climates. It has an easy-to-fill and clean tank with other removable parts that are dishwasher friendly. It is efficient in its purpose for up to 400 sq. feet and works well for bedrooms and living rooms. 
  • Levoit LV600HH Hybrid Ultrasonic Humidifier boasts of a hybrid design that enables cool or warm mists which is suitable for multi-purpose activities and gives the opportunity and the freedom to choose the temperature of the mist. The device provides efficient and fast humidification, is perfect for large rooms up to 753 sq. feet, and has a 60-liter tank that enables the device to run up to 60 hours continuously. It has automatic humidity sensors to adjust to the needs of the room and can be customized to meet personal needs. 

The device also boasts the ability to remotely control the humidifier, automatic shut-offs, nearly-silent device operations, options for aromatherapy through aroma pads or an aroma box, absorption pads, a cleaning brush, and automatic displays that dim or switch off through the night. The best feature of the device however is that its filterless technology saves the costs of having to replace them periodically or having to clean them. 

  • Vornado EV100 provides efficient humidification with its 360-degree air intake and uses the device’s superior Vortex Action Technology to circulate humidified air throughout the room up to 300 sq. feet. The device is fitted with automatic sensors to identify the needs of the room and thus help maintain the humidity levels automatically. It is user-friendly with an innovative design that makes using, cleaning, and refilling the tank and the device easy and effective. The device has 3 fan speeds and 6 different output levels so that the user can customize their humidity requirements, and comes with a 5-year warranty. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): What do I do to improve indoor air quality?

Do I always need to wear a mask indoors to protect myself from airborne pollutants?

While wearing a mask is highly recommended, especially with the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic and now the Omicron breakouts, wearing a mask constantly indoors is not a sustainable or durable solution. It is best to wear one during any renovations you may have, during indoor painting or varnishing, construction, heavy-duty cleaning, etc. However, it is best to invest in devices like an air purifier to ensure good air quality at all times. 

How do I know at what concentrations the pollutants are harmful?

Refer to the below table to identify at what levels specific pollutants become harmful to human health. 

Source: Saad S. M. et. al., 2017

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

Air Quality in China: Good or bad?

Is the air cleaner after rain?

Is air quality better in the morning?

References

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (n.d.). Health Risk of Radon. United States EPA. Viewed on 12-02-2021.  https://www.epa.gov/radon/health-risk-radon   

RTK Environmental Group (RTK). (n.d.). Beware of Basement Air. Viewed on 12-02-2021. https://rtkenvironmental.com/healthy-home/beware-of-basement-air/  

Saad S. M., Shakaff A. Y., Saad A. R. M., Yusof A. M., Andrew A. M., Zakaria A., & Adom A. (2017, March). Development of indoor environmental index: Air Quality Index and thermal comfort index. 11th Asian Conference on Chemical Sensors. AIP Conference Proceedings. AIP Publishing. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4975276 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315006128_Development_of_indoor_environmental_index_Air_quality_index_and_thermal_comfort_index 

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