Most Americans spend as much as 90% of their time indoors – in their homes, offices, factories, or schools – and indoor air quality is a growing major health and comfort concern. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, pollution levels indoors may be two to five times higher than outdoor pollution levels, placing many people, particularly those with chronic respiratory problems, at risk on a constant basis.
The EPA and other government agencies are working with local governments and school districts, as well as commercial property owners, to address the issues involved in indoor air quality in public and commercial facilities. However more than half of a person’s time is spent in the home where the homeowner is chiefly responsible to create and maintain a cleaner environment. There are a variety of steps a homeowner should take to protect a family’s health, and many of them involve relatively simple measures that can reduce indoor air pollution.
The biggest problem with indoor air pollution, according to the EPA, is radon, an invisible and odorless gas seeps into a home from the ground through cracks in the foundation or flooring. Radon has been found to be a known carcinogen and everyone is advised to test for its presence. There are home radon test kits available at any hardware store and if levels of radon are found to be potentially dangerous, a professional radon eradication company can be contracted to take care of the issue. These companies will also perform extensive testing.
Another potential hazardous source of indoor air pollution is from carbon monoxide, again an odorless gas that can be emitted from improperly vented furnaces, wood-burning stoves, vehicle exhaust, electric generators and devices that use propane, like gas barbeque grills. Carbon monoxide is very dangerous and can be and often is fatal. Indoor air quality experts recommend the installation of carbon monoxide detectors, similar to indoor smoke detectors; if a carbon monoxide detector is triggered and sounds the alarm, residents of the dwelling should evacuate and call in professional help to find and fix the problem.
Indoor air quality problems can also be caused by materials known collectively as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), essentially the chemicals found in paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, varnishes and waxes, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment, moth repellents, air fresheners, and dry-cleaned clothing. VOCs evaporate into the air when these products are used or sometimes even when they are stored. Great care should be used when working indoors with these materials, like fully ventilating the work area, and they should be stored properly according to the label directions where there is a potential of contaminating indoor air.
However, the most persistent causes of indoor air quality in most homes can be addressed with a regular cleaning regime. The buildup of dust, including dust mites and other particles, as well as mold arising from mildew and unchecked moisture in the home are both troublesome to asthma suffers, people with other chronic respiratory health issues, any occasionally, as levels increase, to anyone.
Experts advise that regular dusting, sweeping and vacuuming are essential in maintaining indoor air quality. Keep in mind that dust also tends to collect in fabric, as well, so regular vacuuming should include using a vacuum’s attachments on upholstered sofas, chairs and drapery. People often only dust the visible surfaces in a home, but cleaning professionals advise that dust collecting on the tops of windows and trim and other less noticeable surfaces can easily be disturbed by heat and air conditioning blowers, as well as open windows, so thorough dusting is recommended. Further, these experts note, keeping a vacuum sweeper clean and changing the collection bag or chamber often helps greatly in keeping dust levels down.
A great deal of dust also collects in the heating and air conditioning duct work, and cleaning experts also advise hiring a professional cleaning service specializing in duct cleaning periodically – at least as often as every other year – to keep these airways clean. It also helps to regularly check, clean and/or replace the air filters in the furnace and air conditioning units.
Molds also are a cause of health concerns, and then tend to build up in areas like showers and bath tubs, as well as on tile surfaces in the kitchen, bath or laundry where water is often used. Regular drying and cleaning of these surfaces is recommended to improve indoor air quality. If there is a buildup of mildew, particularly on grout and caulking in and around tile surfaces, cleaning experts advise having a professional specializing in tile and stone cleaning to address these areas with commercial-grade cleaning and sealing techniques once every few years. With a proper, professional cleaning, regular home cleaning is then a much easier job.
Anyone highly susceptible to chronic respiratory disease, like asthma, has probably already been advised of many of these indoor air quality measures from a health care professional. However, every homeowner interested in good health should be aware of the impact indoor air quality has on health and take the simple steps that are proven to keep the air indoors as pollution-free as possible.