While car exhaust and the effects of other outdoor pollutants are definitely issues that are important to our wellbeing, we often overlook the significance of the quality of air inside our homes. According to the Department of the Environment, most Australians spend up to 90% of their time indoors, and poor indoor air quality may be leading to health problems that cost our economy billions of dollars every year.
Stagnant air as a result of poor ventilation and the presence of dust, mould, pollen, gas fumes, microorganisms, and chemicals from furnishings and plastics can all lead to contaminated indoor air.
Let’s look at the most common hazardous air pollutants, how they affect our health, and what actually causes poor indoor air quality within our homes.
#1 Indoor air quality and your health
Poor air quality in the home can produce a range of health effects including sneezing, coughing, wheeziness, asthma, headaches, allergies, skin irritations and more serious illnesses as well. Air pollutants, in particular, can lead to poor indoor air quality, depending on the type of pollutant, the rate and amount that’s released from the source and the degree of ventilation in your home.
Generally, the greater the amount of exposure you have to a pollutant, the greater the impact on your health. The duration of exposure is also an important factor – if low-level exposure happens over an extended period of time, the total dose may be significant.
We are most commonly exposed to air pollutants when we breathe them, and those particularly vulnerable are the very young, the very old, those who are sensitised to a substance and those with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular disease. Here are some of the more common hazardous air pollutants that can lead to poor indoor air quality.
Many older buildings and household products contain lead, which can include electrical cabling, flashing, old paint and old plastic pipes and fittings. Contact with lead often arises from home renovation projects, particularly when stripping old paint and burning, sanding or abrasively blasting paint that might contain lead.
#3 Combustion products
Combustion products include gas cooking appliances, tobacco smoking, car exhaust, and smoke, gases and ash from heaters and fireplaces burning coal, gas, wood or kerosene.
#4 Volatile organic compounds
Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) are chemicals that contain carbon that evaporate into the atmosphere when at room temperature. When they are used, they slowly make their way to the surface and ‘off-gas’ into the surrounding air, and most off-gassing occurs when products are new or freshly installed.
VOC’s often have an odour and are present in a range of new furnishings, construction materials and household products including paints, adhesives, varnishes, synthetic fabrics, cleaning agents, air fresheners, perfumed toiletries and personal hygiene products. VOC’s can also result from personal activities like smoking.
#5 Other pollutants
Other hazardous pollutants that can affect the air quality in the home include formaldehyde (from hobby and craft products), mould spores (from damp rooms, window sills and bathrooms), material shed from animals (including fur, hair or feathers), and dust mite allergens (from carpets, bedding and furniture).
#6 How to alleviate poor indoor air quality
There are a range of ways you can help improve the quality of the air inside your home. In terms of lead, be careful when renovating – in particular when removing paint that may contain lead, which is found mostly in homes built before 1970.
To reduce poor indoor air quality in terms of combustion products, avoid using BBQ’s and camp stoves indoors and gas cookers or ovens to heat rooms; service cooking and heating appliance regularly to avoid gas leakage; vent products via a chimney, range hood or exhaust fan; and ensure plenty of fresh outdoor air enters your home whenever possible.
In terms of VOC’s, if you must use products that contain these avoid poor home ventilation when using them, and in terms of building products, look for products that are pre-dried or ‘quick-drying’, and use surface coating products that are water-based or classed as containing low or zero levels of VOC’s.
Another tip that can help improve indoor air quality is designing and furnishing your home with easy to clean and washable surfaces and/or fabrics so that dust can easily be removed. If installing new flooring, you should also ensure carpets are ‘low emission’ (as many contain VOC’s).
On other floor surfaces, be wary of the products use to lay them (like adhesives), seal them (like varnishes and paints) or clean them (like polishes and cleaning fluids). You should also clean your carpets regularly and effectively and in order to do so, invest in a vacuum cleaner with high filter efficiency (or HEPA).
If you’re considering installing a wood-burning heater or stove, be aware that they can be a major source of fine combustion particles and gas emissions due to leaks. You should ensure it has a properly designed vent or flue, and only burn well-seasoned wood free from paint, varnish and other chemical treatments.
#7 Don’t forget air conditioners!
And of course, installing a quality air conditioning system can help as well. Modern air conditioners are much more effective and efficient and are designed to not only heat and cool your home but improve the air quality as well. Air conditioners can also help with dehumidifying, which can help to reduce the risk of mould build-up, and assist with airflow which reduces the risk of contaminant build-up. Their in-built filters also help with the removal of odours, dust and other allergens.
That’s why it’s important that your air conditioner’s filters are regularly cleaned and your unit is regularly serviced to ensure it is performing at an optimal level. And that’s where we come in!
Had your air conditioner’s filters cleaned lately? Contact Crown Power today on 0427 175 654 (Brisbane & Sunshine Coast) or on 0409 678 803 (Gold Coast).