Jeff Flowers on February 16, 2015 1 Comment It is a well-known fact that pollution from power plants, vehicles, and outdoor machines contribute to poor air quality outside. We all know that. And as a result, many of use probably assume that the air we breathe outdoors is the most polluted air we come across daily. Unfortunately, this is not true. Not even close. In fact, the air inside our homes and offices are notoriously worse than the air outside. The EPA has estimated that, on average, indoor air is 2-5x worse than the air we breathe outside. However true this may be for you, it’s likely that you haven’t put much thought into it, or how you can improve your air quality. Microbial pollutants — such as mold, pollen, and pet dander — can combine with chemicals such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and radon to create an extremely toxic environment inside your home. The worse your indoor air is, the more likely it may lead to you experiencing asthma and allergies, as well as significantly weakening your immune system making you more susceptible to catch a cold or other illnesses. By learning about the common causes of poor indoor air quality as well as simple ways to prevent such problems, we can save ourselves and those around us from a lot of discomfort and health problems. Common Causes of Poor Indoor Air Quality It is easier to take charge of the indoor air quality of your home, office, or other building once you understand the underlying culprits of the problem. In many cases, we innocently bring things into our homes and other buildings that wreak havoc on the quality of our indoor air. Common culprits include the following: Polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) & Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) Both of these chemicals are commonly found in a wide variety of consumer products that contains plastic, including furniture, televisions, computer monitors and anything with plastic foam. Both of these chemicals are added to plastic to help prevent them from catching fire. Unfortunately, both of these chemicals also find their way into our living environments. Polyurethane: Another chemical that is commonly found within, and on, consumer products, is a known respiratory toxin. Commonly sprayed on wood furniture and floors, polyurethane helps seal them from water damage and improve their look. However, it’s also commonly added to the inside of mattresses. Formaldehyde: Commonly found in the adhesive of carpets, plywood paneling, upholstery and many other consumer products, formaldehyde is another dangerous chemical that contributes to poor air quality. Cigarette Smoke: With an estimated 200 poisons contained within them, cigarettes are another common cause for poor air quality. It’s also one of the easiest to prevent. From air purifiers to a change in behavior, limiting the amount of cigarette smoke in your house will go a long way in improving your indoor air quality. This is especially important if you have children in the house. Pesticides: Whether you are trying to kill off insects or it’s inadvertently tracked into the house, pesticides are another common cause for poor indoor air quality. The EPA reports that pesticide residue has a “widespread presence” in your home. Mold & Mildew: If your home has excessive moisture in the air, it’s likely that mold is growing somewhere in your home. The longer this goes on, the worse your mold problem will grow, and eventually the more spores that are put into the air you breathe. These microscopic spores can lead to a number of potential illnesses, which is why it’s important to make the humidity levels in your home are not too high. If they are, it’s wise to get a dehumidifier for your home as soon as possible. Household Cleaning Supplies:While it’s important for your health—and sanity—to keep your home clean, the products that we use, however, are one of the most common causes of poor indoor air quality. Many of the chemicals within them can contribute to a variety of health problems, including headaches, asthma and many respiratory illnesses. And the moment you spray it in your house, is the same moment it starts to circulate in the air you breathe. Dust Mites, Pollen, Pet Dander & Cockroaches:All four of these environmental pollutants can compromise the air that you breathe. To help prevent these contaminants from polluting your indoor air, it’s essential that you keep your home clean and clutter-free. If you have pets, be sure to bathe them regularly and limit their outdoor time as much as you can. Other Contributing Factors One of the greatest contributing factors to poor indoor air quality is poor ventilation. By opening up the windows in your building every once in a while (even in the winter) you are allowing any harmful toxins, allergens, and other pollutants that have become stagnant in your home to flush out or dilute from the outside air. Although it is rarely possible to have perfectly pristine indoor air all the time, you can give yourself and other occupants of your building the same quality of air or better that is available outdoors by simply opening up the windows periodically. Granted, outdoor air can contain contaminants such as pollen and other allergens, but that the air is fresh is the main reason it’s helpful in flushing out stale indoor air. Symptoms of Poor Indoor Air Quality Poor indoor air quality does not affect everyone in the same way. Those with allergies, asthma, or other respiratory problems are usually the first to develop unwanted symptoms associated with poor air quality. Symptoms often manifest themselves gradually and can often easily be ignored or attributed to other causes. Below are some signs to look for in building occupants that might alert you of an indoor air quality problem. Irritations of throat, nose, and eyes. Skin rashes and reddening of the skin (erythema). Dry skin and mucus membranes. Coughing and airway infections. Sleepiness, headache, and mental fatigue. Dizziness and nausea. Other hypersensitivity reactions. If you notice any of the above symptoms in yourself or those around you, it is important to take a constructive, problem solving approach to finding out if an indoor air quality problem exists. When determining whether or not the above conditions are due to the quality of your indoor air, ask yourself the following questions: Do the symptoms suddenly appear when people enter the building? Are the symptoms widespread among building occupants? Do the symptoms go away when occupants leave the building at the end of the day or on weekends? Has anyone in the building formally been diagnosed with an illness related to poor indoor air quality by a doctor? Do those with allergies, asthma, and chemical sensitivities have reactions when indoors but not outdoors? 8 Ways to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality If you have determined that there is a problem with the air quality inside your home or office, you can take the following steps to improving the overall air quality. Buy an air purifier for your home. This is easily the best way to cleanse the air you breathe. Check the air intakes and exhausts for each room to make sure they are functioning, clean, and clear of all dust, dirt and debris that can build up over time. Open windows periodically to allow the fresh outdoor air to circulate and move out the stale and stagnant indoor air. Eliminate the use of cleaning supplies that are high in chemicals that are harmful to both you and the environment. Schedule construction and remodeling projects for times that will have the least impact on occupants. Plan time for proper ventilation or baking off for new materials before they are installed indoors. Clean and maintain air intakes, ductwork, and filters on a regularly basis to ensure that the air being circulated is as clean as possible . Do not allow indoor smoking or smoking close to doorways where the smoke could possibly be tracked inside. Consider buying a dehumidifier or humidifier, depending on whether you live in a dry or humid climate, to help you regulate the humidity levels in your home. Being aware of the issues that can be detrimental to the quality of the air in your indoor space is an important first step, and by being proactive about problems with indoor air quality, you can better ensure the comfort and safety of all those who enter your building.