The Importance of Indoor Air Quality and How to Measure It
Is the air in your home safe to breathe? According to recent research, indoor air pollution has been ranked among the top five risks to public health. Poor indoor air quality can affect your family's health in a number of ways. Some of the effects are immediate. Others accumulate over time.
Indoor air quality testing can help you identify pollutants present in your home and take steps to reduce or eliminate them.
Here's what you need to know about indoor air quality and how to measure and monitor it.
Indoor Air Pollution: What It Is, Where It Comes From & Why It Matters
It might surprise you to learn that a lot of indoor air pollution has much in common with the smog, smoke, and haze that you see hanging in the air outdoors. The Environmental Protection Agency refers to that type of pollution as "particulate matter" — "a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets."
It classifies the particulate matter by the size of the particles — particles smaller than 10 microns can pass through the nose and throat and make it to your lungs. Particles smaller than 2.5 microns — commonly referred to as PM2.5 — are especially harmful because they can get deep into the lungs and may even make it into the bloodstream.
Sources of PM2.5
The primary sources of indoor air pollution include:
- Fuel-burning combustion appliances, such as stoves
- Tobacco products
- Central heating and air conditioning systems
- Excess moisture
- Pollen and dust
- Pet dander
- Building materials and furnishings that may give off VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
- Outdoor pollution sources
- Cleaning products and/or products used for hobbies and personal care
Indoor air pollution can be made worse by high humidity, poor ventilation, and high levels of outdoor pollution that infiltrate the building.
Effects of PM2.5 on Health
PM2.5 can have both short- and long-term effects on human health. The effects depend on a combination of factors, including the concentration of the particulates in the air, the type of pollutant, and existing health risk factors.
In the short term, the effects may include:
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Skin irritation
Some effects may show up years after exposure or after repeated exposure to the pollutant. Those effects include:
- Asthma and other respiratory diseases
- Heart disease
While respiratory diseases and related conditions are the most commonly known effects from exposure to PM2.5, there's a growing body of evidence that indoor air pollution may also contribute to the development of other health conditions, including type 2 diabetes. Indoor air quality testing is a vital step to help safeguard your family's health.
How to Test Indoor Air Quality
Identifying and monitoring indoor air quality is an important part of keeping your home safe. While some problems may be quickly apparent, other indoor air pollutants fly under the radar, so to speak, because they're not visible and don't cause immediate health consequences. These steps will help you identify indoor air quality problems so that you can take steps to address them.
Buy and Install an Indoor Air Quality Monitor
An air quality monitor allows you to continuously monitor the environmental conditions in your home. A good air quality monitor will include multiple sensors to measure factors that affect home air quality. At a minimum, you should look for a monitor that includes sensors for humidity, temperature, and particulate matter, such as the AcuRite AIR® Indoor Air Quality Monitor, so you can keep tabs on your home health and take action to improve conditions when they fall outside ideal healthy air conditions.
Test for Radon
Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and invisible gas that can have long-term effects on your health. It's an outdoor pollutant that can enter your home through cracks in the floor, foundation, and walls, and through areas around pumps and plumbing. You can purchase inexpensive radon test kits at most home improvement stores. Learn more about radon here.
Tips to Improve and Maintain Indoor Air Quality
Identifying indoor air pollutants and monitoring indoor air quality is a first step in improving the air quality in your home. These tips can help you improve your home environment and keep the air safe and healthy, so that you and your family can feel your best!
- Keep the humidity between 30% and 60% to reduce the risk of mold and other allergens in the air. Use humidifiers and dehumidifiers as needed to maintain ideal humidity.
- Regularly clean, check, and replace furnace and air conditioner filters.
- Use HEPA filters on your vacuum cleaners to trap dust and allergens when you clean.
- Weatherize your home. If your tests or monitoring show that outside air is bringing pollutants into your home, tighten up the cracks with weather stripping and other tools. Many utility companies have programs that will help you weatherize your home.
- Eliminate sources of indoor pollution whenever possible.
- Improve ventilation to increase air circulation.
- Invest in an air cleaner to remove PM2.5 pollutants from the air.
Get more tips on improving indoor air quality in our earlier blog post.
Maintaining healthy indoor air is vital, both for your family's immediate comfort and their long-term health. An investment in air quality monitoring tools is literally an investment that could save their lives. And remember, what happens outdoors affects your indoor air quality. Stay up to date on current air quality conditions here: https://www.sparetheair.org/
How do you keep your indoor air quality at its best? Share your tips in the comments below!