How Clean is the Air in Your Home?

Hot Home Air


How Clean is the Air in Your Home?

Now that Americans are spending as much as 90% percent of their time indoors1,
improving the air quality in our homes is more important than ever.

Some air pollutants, such as smoke, are conspicuous and the causes of them can be easily removed. Others are microscopic, and you may not be aware of them until they make you or your family ill. The culprits usually are bacteria, pet dander, pollen grains, mold spores and, of course, dust mites.

The allergens produced by these sources can cause a range of health problems from a runny nose and headache to more serious upper respiratory tract irritations and

What you can’t see in your home are the invisible gases like carbon monoxide and radon, and the hidden dangers of building materials such as asbestos and lead. These pollutants can be poisonous or cause very serious cancers, and, in high concentrations, or after being exposed to them over time, can be fatal.

Many of the pollutants in your home can be dealt with in the same way. Although it is impossible to eradicate every source of allergens, simply keeping your home clean, dry and well ventilated will considerably reduce their numbers, and minimize the effect they have on your health. For other more sinister pollutants, removal of the cause, regular maintenance and, if necessary, professional intervention, will keep you and your family safe in your home.

Stop Smoking

Stopping Secondary Smoke

Tobacco smoke can be the most obvious pollutant present in the home but is also, potentially, the easiest to deal with. It is highly visible, with a strong smell and presence, and originates from a clear source.

There is no level at which secondary smoke from cigarettes is without risk. It contains hundreds of harmful chemicals, with almost 70 of them having been identified as cancer-causing2. It is the cause of a number of health problems, particularly in children, and can trigger and aggravate asthma and respiratory problems. In older adults, 75% of people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease are smokers, or have been in the past, and the disease can leave them vulnerable to other pollutants present in the home. At its worst, air pollution from secondary smoke can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The solution to ridding your home of the dangers of second-hand smoke is very simple. Do not allow anyone to smoke in or anywhere near your home. If traces of smoke still linger after smoking is stopped, an air purifier will remove the smell of stale smoke, as well as generally improving indoor air quality.

Stop Smoking

Replacing Wood Burning Stoves

A real fire has been at the center of human interaction for
thousands of years, and wood burning stoves, in particular, are an increasingly popular addition to our homes. However, just because they have been used for centuries and burn a natural resource doesn’t mean that they aren’t the source of dangerous pollution. Beyond the obvious smell and visible clouds that it creates, wood smoke also contains harmful and carcinogenic chemicals3. Fine
particulates, nitrogen and sulfur oxides and carbon monoxide are all given off when wood is burned.

Pollution produced by wood burning causes inflammation of the lungs and decreases lung volume. It is the fine particulates present in smoke that are especially dangerous, as they collect deep in the lungs, causing breathing difficulties and
occasionally permanent damage.

If you use an open fire or wood burning stove, it is essential that
fireplaces and chimneys are kept clean and clear to minimize the amount of smoke that enters the home. Using dry, well-
seasoned hardwood will reduce the amount of water released, and also prevent a build-up of a highly flammable coating of creosote in the chimney.

Stop Smoking

Detecting Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) can be given off by common household
appliances such as boilers, cookers and water heaters, as well as by open fires.

Symptoms of CO poisoning include dizziness, headache and nausea, and signs are often mistaken for flu. Exposure to high levels of CO can be fatal, and each year in America, 400 people die from CO poisoning4.

By installing CO alarms in your home, you will be alerted if
abnormal levels of the gas are detected. This doesn’t, however, mean you can be complacent about the potential sources of CO in your home. Ensure that appliances are regularly checked to see that they are working safely and efficiently and have no leaks.

If a carbon monoxide alarm goes off, get outside if you can but, if you can’t leave the building, open as many windows and doors as
possible and call for assistance.

Reducing Radon Levels

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas which emanates from rocks and soil, but is present in very low concentrations in the
outside air. However, it can make its way into houses through cracks and holes in the foundations. Trapped within the walls of your home, it becomes more concentrated. It is thought that almost 1 in 15 homes in the US contain elevated levels of radon 5. According to the Surgeon General, after smoking, radon is the second most likely cause of lung cancer in the US.

Like carbon monoxide, radon is invisible and odorless, so it is impossible to detect without specialist equipment. With so many homes containing higher than acceptable levels of radon, having your home tested can put your mind at rest and will inform you if you need a system to mitigate the amount of radon in your home. Otherwise, stay on top of home maintenance, sealing and caulking cracks and gaps in walls and foundations as soon as they appear.

Removing and Treating Mold

As well as looking unsightly and often smelling musty, mold releases small, airborne spores that can trigger allergies in people who are sensitive to them.

In addition to cleaning the mold with a bleach solution, the cause of the mold must also be addressed in order to stop it. Adequate ventilation is important, especially in kitchens and bathrooms. To decrease the growth and spread of mold, humidity in the home should be between 30-60% 6. Mold may also be a sign of damp caused by a leaking pipe or blocked drain, which may need further investigation.

Stop Smoking

Reducing the Use of Harmful Cleaning

While you’re busy using chemical cleaners to remove allergy causing mold, or spraying air freshener in order to mask the smell, you may well be contributing to the pollution in the air. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals found in many cleaning products7 and can lead to headaches, allergic reactions and problems with your lungs and breathing.
According to the EPA, concentrations of VOCs are up to ten times higher indoors than outside.

If you have to use products containing VOCs, keep the area well ventilated or go outside if you can, especially if you are using noxious solvents and substances such as paint strippers or
varnishes. Many cleaning products can be replaced with simple, effective, natural ingredients such as white distilled vinegar and baking soda, which will clean safely without further
contaminating your home.

Stop Smoking

Maintaining the Fabric of the Building

Sometimes the building materials used to decorate and protect your home could be the cause of pollution within it. Lead, which was commonly used in paint and piping, is poisonous, however, lead poisoning is very hard to detect. Children are particularly vulnerable, and lead poisoning can give rise to developmental problems.

Although the Federal Government banned the use of lead in new buildings in 1978, older homes are still likely to contain lead pipes, and fixtures and fittings coated with lead paint. If you think your home has lead paint, keep it well-maintained, check regularly for peeling and fix any problems straight away.

Asbestos was typically used in building materials including
insulation, tiles and sidings up until the mid-1970s. It is a
carcinogenic substance formed of mineral fibers found in rocks and soil. The tiny fibers separate easily and can irritate and damage your lungs. Asbestos is also the only known cause of mesothelioma, a type of cancer that affects the tissue
surrounding the lungs. If you breathe asbestos fibers in over long periods of time, the risk of developing lung disease or
asbestosis is increased.

If you think you have asbestos in your home, it should be
inspected and removed professionally to avoid exposure to a serious health hazard.

Animal Dander

Limiting Animal Dander

If you have pets, you will likely be very aware of their hairs on your floors and furniture. However, they also shed tiny,
microscopic specks of skin known as dander. It is one of the most common allergens and, if inhaled, can cause allergic
reactions and asthma. Dander can be present in dust even if you don’t own any pets.

If you have pets, you will likely be very aware of their hairs on your floors and furniture. However, they also shed tiny,
microscopic specks of skin known as dander. It is one of the most common allergens and, if inhaled, can cause allergic
reactions and asthma. Dander can be present in dust even if you don’t own any pets.

If you have pets, you will likely be very aware of their hairs on your floors and furniture. However, they also shed tiny,
microscopic specks of skin known as dander. It is one of the most common allergens and, if inhaled, can cause allergic
reactions and asthma. Dander can be present in dust even if you don’t own any pets.


Protecting Against Pollen

The seasonal allergy hay fever is caused by an allergic
response to pollen. The majority of pollens that provoke an
allergic reaction emanate from trees, grasses and weeds8.

If you experience hay fever or any other allergies, keeping your home clean and clutter free will prevent pollen and dust from accumulating. Wash your bedding regularly and avoid heavy drapes and curtains that accumulate dust and then spread it around every time they are moved. Simple measures such as taking off your shoes and coat at the front door will avoid
bringing pollen and other pollutants further into your home.

If you suffer from hay fever when the pollen count outside is high, keep the windows closed and use air conditioning instead.

Inhibiting Biological Pollutants

As well as animal dander and pollen, there may be many other biological contaminants present in your home. These will undoubtedly include dust mites, which, not matter how clean your home is, are impossible to
eliminate completely.

Dust mites are a source of allergens found in their droppings and body parts. These can aggravate asthma symptoms or cause shortness of breath, coughing and sneezing. Along with other biological pollutants such as mold and bacteria, dust mites like damp, warm environments in which to breed. This is why it is important to control humidity levels in your home.


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