Indoor air quality has grown increasingly important as more time is being spent indoors. We typically think of allergens as an outdoor issue, but they are alive and rampant in our homes and other indoor spaces as well. According to the EPA, the air that we breathe in our homes, schools and offices can put us at risk for health problems. By protecting the indoor air quality in your home, you are working to reduce common allergens such as mold spores, pollen, dust, pet dander and other impurities. So, what can you do to protect your home’s indoor air quality? The following are tips from the EPA to help you take immediate steps to protect your home’s IAQ and prevent IAQ problems.
Steps to Protect Your Home’s IAQ
Test for Radon
Radon is a chemical you can’t see or smell and one that can greatly affect your home’s IAQ. It is a naturally occurring chemical that comes from dirt and rocks in the ground. This means that there is always some amount of radon in the air around us. It can become a problem when the radon gas from underneath your home leaks into your indoor space through cracks and gaps. When this happens, the levels of radon gas begin to build up and get trapped indoors. The radioactive particles from radon gas can get trapped in your lungs and over time, can cause lung cancer. Testing for radon in your home is easy – simply pick up a radon test kit from your local hardware store. If levels are too high, contact your state radon office. They will direct you to a local expert for advice on addressing the issue. You may be able to fix radon problems with simple solutions at low or no-cost to you. If you have a big radon problem, a specialist, called a mitigation contractor, will need to come out to fix the problem.
Reduce Asthma Triggers
In America, we spend up to 90% of our time indoors. Indoor allergens and pollutants are a significant source of asthma attacks. Triggers of asthma attacks are anything that cause an asthmatic reaction, be it an episode, attack or just making asthma worse. Triggers are not the same for everyone, so if you have asthma it’s important to work with a doctor to figure out what your triggers are. They can also help you come up with a plan to reduce exposure to your asthma triggers, specifically indoors.
Prevent Mold Growth
Mold thrives in humid conditions, so the first step is to reduce the humidity level in your home to below 50%. Keep air circulating with fans or proper ventilation, and close windows when it is raining outside. When conditions are right and moisture is available, mold will begin to grow in 24-48 hours. High-efficiency pleated air filters should be used to help remove airborne mold spores which eventually settle on surfaces and potentially begin to multiply. Mold can enter your indoor air through doors, windows, and can be transported on your skin, clothing, shoes, and pets. With proper circulation and a quality furnace filter or air conditioning filter, you can drastically reduce the number of mold spores floating in your air. Adding indoor room air cleaners is another option to prevent mold growth if you have a sensitivity to mold. They provide additional relief and protection from microorganisms such as mold that drift through your air.
Install Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Like radon, carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that you cannot see or smell. It is so toxic, in fact, that carbon dioxide can kill you before you’re even aware it is in your home. The effects of being exposed to carbon monoxide varies greatly from person to person, dependent on concentration/length of exposure, age and overall health. The average level of carbon monoxide in homes without gas stoves ranges from 0.5 to 5 parts per million (ppm). In homes that have (properly adjusted) gas stoves, levels are usually 5 to 15 ppm and those near poorly adjusted stoves can reach 30 ppm or higher. Carbon Monoxide alarms will alert you immediately if you are being exposed to this toxic gas in your home.
Use and Maintain Your Ventilation System
When working properly, your HVAC system should improve your home’s IAQ (indoor air quality) by removing dust, dander, dirt, and other debris and by controlling the humidity in your home through ventilation. Your home’s HVAC system is forced to work harder than it needs to when air filters are dirty and clogged. They also lead to poor indoor air quality as the pollutants and allergens that are no longer being trapped in the filter are released back into the air we breathe. Be sure to check your air filters at least once a month during the fall and winter and change them with a fresh clean air filter if they are dirty. When your home is properly ventilated, contaminated air and excess humidity are vented out of your home year-round.
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