11 Ways to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

11 Ways to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

The quality of the air in your home can have a major effect on the health of those who live within. The presence of indoor air pollutants in the home can cause temporary ailments such as irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and some may cause dizziness and fatigue. These are symptoms that usually occur immediately when a person is exposed to the pollutant, and will recede once that person is elsewhere – or the pollutant is itself removed.

Longer-term health problems caused by air pollutants can include respiratory diseases, asthma, or even heart disease and cancer. The problem is that quite often, the air pollutants in question are not noticeable, and these ailments can come about a long time after the person was exposed. This is why it is important you should stry to improve the air quality in the home, even if you are not aware of a problem.

What are these indoor air pollutants, and what can be done about them? Let’s answer the first question before we look at ways to improve your indoor air quality.


Types of Indoor Air Pollutants

Indoor air pollution can be caused by many factors. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) there are three categories of indoor pollutants, all of which have the potential to cause serious health problems.

  • Combustion Pollutants
  • Asthma and Allergy Triggers
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

We will take a look now at each individually.


Combustion Pollutants

Combustion pollutants are, quite simply, air pollutants that are caused by burning any one of many substances. In your home you may have stoves and heaters that run off natural gas, or perhaps furnaces that are also gas powered. Any appliance or system in your home that burns fuel – whether gas, gasoline or any other household fuel – will produce the most common of all air pollutants, Carbon Monoxide (CO). This is inevitable, as it is a natural by-product of the burning process.

All of your appliances should be fitted with a flue that will divert the CO and exhaust out of the home. If the flue becomes blocked or damaged in any way, then there is a chance that CO can be instead emitted into the home, and it can be very dangerous indeed. As carbon monoxide is colourless and odourless it can start to have an effect before you know it is there, and it can kill. We mentioned some of the symptoms above, so it is important to look out for those.

CO is also produced by smoking tobacco – second-hand smoke is another common air pollutant – and is present in the exhaust gases of automobiles and other vehicles. Should you have a garage attached to the house, this is a potential source of carbon monoxide, hence it is important you never unnecessarily run your car engine in the garage.

Make sure you have CO monitors fitted throughout the home, and make sure they are tested and checked regularly. While the effects of CO on individuals varies, as we said above it can kill, and very quickly. Click here to learn more about where to place carbon monoxide detectors in your home.


Asthma Triggers

If you suffer from asthma or any other respiratory problem, the quality of the air inside your home is of paramount importance. In some cases, asthma can be triggered quickly and if serious can be a very dangerous condition. Potential asthma triggers include:

  • Second-hand smoke from tobacco products
  • Mold occurring in the home
  • Dust mites
  • Pets
  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
  • Chemical irritants

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are the most likely culprits in the average home. Most are self-explanatory – second-hand smoke comes from cigarettes, cigars and pipes and should be avoided by asthma sufferers, for example, while allergies to pets are well-known and the same can be said of dust mites – but others need careful consideration.

Nitrogen Dioxide is a colourless and odourless gas that – as with carbon monoxide – is a by-product of fuel burning in the likes of stoves and furnaces. It is vital you keep exhausts, flues and vents clear to direct NO2 out of the home. Mold is also a problem for asthma sufferers as it emits spores that are carried in the air, and that cause irritation that triggers asthma. Getting rid of mold is one course of action you can take, but you need also ensure the cause of it – usually a source of damp – is eliminated.

Chemical irritants brings us neatly to the next common cause of indoor air pollution, which is Volatile Organic Compounds.


Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are gases that are emitted by a wide variety of household products, and you may not be aware of them. VOCs can cause both short and long-term health problems, and many of them can be asthma triggers. Chemical off-gassing can hide in your home for over five years.

Many household products, both in solid and liquid form, include chemicals that can be a source of VOCs. Here are some of the most common:

  • Paints and solvents
  • Disinfectants and cleaning products
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Insect repellents
  • Paint, furniture and flooring
  • Wood preservatives
  • Pesticides

Once again, this is not a complete list but one featuring the most likely items in the home that may emit VOCs. A little-known fact is that certain materials used in furnishing and buildings can also be a source of VOCs, as can computer peripherals such as printers and copiers.

The best way to combat VOCs in the home is to ensure that your ventilation is adequate and kept in working order, and all vents are clear at all times. Make sure you follow manufacturer instructions when using cleaning products and similar – and wear protective clothing – and ensure you dispose of any such products in the correct manner.


How to Measure Indoor Air Quality

As we have mentioned, some of the causes of poor indoor air quality are not immediately noticeable – including the gases CO and NO2, and the VOCs mentioned above – so the best way to keep a check on and measure the air quality in the home is to purchase a Home Air Quality Monitor. These devices are inexpensive and will keep you informed as to changes in the air quality in your home so you can take action quickly. Click here to check out my review of the best models available.


How to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Make Sure You Have Fresh Air – Fresh air is vital to a healthy home. Open your windows wherever possible and let air flow through the house. Fresh air will help keep the house mold-free too. Consider replacing bath fans with higher CFM models. Also, to help with damp problems, always run the exhaust fan when having a shower or bath, and open windows too.

Remove Cooking Vapors – The range hood is your friend when it comes to keeping the air fresh and clean in the home. Run kitchen range hood before, during and after cooking, as it removes the vapors that occur when you cook, and which can lead to poor air quality.

Reduce Humidity Levels – As with the above fresh air advice, keeping humidity at sensible levels in the house is vital. You may want to invest in a dehumidifier if your home is particularly prone to high humidity levels.

Keep Filters Fresh – Many systems in your home have filters which are designed to capture particles and debris in the air. These include your heating system, air purifiers (if you have them), even your vacuum cleaner. A top tip is to change your filters for new ones on a regular basis.

Houseplants Can Help – Houseplants are not only attractive, but they do help with indoor air pollution. This has been proven by research, as plants reduce the CO2 in the air and also help with humidity. Buy a few, and make the home look better and be healthier!

HEPA Filters – HEPA filters are designed to remove particles in the air down to a minute size, and are a useful aid to indoor air quality. Consider upgrading your vacuum cleaner to one with a HEPA filter.  

Keep Pets Groomed – If you have pets, whether they are dogs or cats, keep them well-groomed, as hair and dander are two of the most common asthma triggers.

Salt Lamps – For serious asthma sufferers, salt lamps are a useful addition to the home as they have been shown to help with respiratory conditions.

Choose Furniture Carefully – Some materials used in furniture construction can be a source of VOCs. For example, particleboard furniture has been shown to emit formaldehyde, which is a particularly toxic VOC. Avoid this type of furniture for better air quality, and also make sure you use products that are low in VOC content when you are decorating or renovating.

Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products – cleaning products are a prime source of VOCs, so shop around for eco-friendly products, and you’ll find there is plenty of choice.

To Wrap It Up

Poor air quality in the home can be a problem, but as we have shown there are simple things that can be done to help improve the situation. Make sure you follow the above tips, invest in a Home Air Quality Monitor and make sure you have working CO monitors around the home, and you should enjoy the very best in indoor air quality.


Steve Wright

Steve Wright is a general contractor who over the last 30 plus years has built hundreds of new homes, ranging from first time affordable homes to multi-million dollar custom homes and everything in between.