Indoor air quality (IAQ) has become a hot topic of late for homeowners. We often think of environmental issues as relating to outside the home. It’s no wonder since we always seem to hear about pollution from vehicles or factories in the news. But there’s more to your environment that just outside.
What are some of the health risks? — Today researchers know that IAQ is key to healthy living. Symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and, the irritation of eyes, ears, nose and throat could result from poor air quality. Prolonged exposure to continued pollution could lead to serious illness including respiratory, heart disease, and, cancer. There are many areas in a home that can potentially be of concern.
IAQ items you may have heard about — Carbon Dioxide (CO2) — a colourless, odourless gas somewhat heavier than air, most commonly generated by respiration, cooking heating systems, wood stoves, etc. Carbon Monoxide (CO) — a colourless, odourless, highly poisonous gas produced by the incomplete combustion of any carbon-based material. Common sources include automobile exhaust, cigarette smoke, kerosene heaters, furnaces, etc. Formaldehyde (HCHO) — a colourless, pungent gas used in solution as a strong disinfectant and preservative. It is found in wood building material, plastics, cosmetics, textiles, carpet, carpet furniture, pesticides, paint, glue, insulation, and, cleaning products. Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) — a colourless highly poisonous gas that is a by-product of combustion. Sources include furnaces, water heaters, ovens, stove, etc.
Some familiar items — Mould, yeast and fungus can cause allergic reactions such as runny nose, sore throat, watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, and upper respiratory discomfort in sensitive people. Severely allergic people, such as asthmatics, can have trouble breathing. Prolonged exposure can cause anyone to develop an allergy. Other effects include dizziness, lethargy, fever, digestive problems, influenza, and other infectious diseases.
What is Mould? — a downy or furry growth on the surface of organic matter caused by fungi, especially in the presence of dampness or decay. Yeast — a cluster of minute, fermenting fungi that produce gas. Fungus — a plant, that lacks chlorophyll and includes, for example, mould, rusts, mildews, and, bacteria.
Where does mould, fungi, and, yeast come from? — Bacteria, mould, pollen and viruses are types of biological contaminants. They can breed, for example, in damp areas, stagnant water that accumulates in ducts, humidifiers and drain pans, or where water has collected on ceiling tiles, carpeting or insulation.
How concerned should you be? — North American studies (including a CMHC, Natural Resources Canada, and, Health Canada, sponsored study — The Wallaceburg Ontario Project) have suggested that between 10% and 35% of homes have serious mould contamination. Very high concentrations of endotoxin and fungi have been found in office and residential dust. An Indoor Mould Exposure article in the 1997 Canadian Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology states:
“The spores of indoor mould species contain allergens and toxic metabolites. Endotoxin occurs in high concentrations in residential environments and this may be true for other bacterial compounds including peptidoglycan. Endotoxcins causes respiratory symptoms and synergizes patients’ responses to allergens, among other effects…Carpets in homes, and sometimes in the non-industrial workplace, are a sink for moulds.”
How can you improve your IAQ? — Generally, there are three methods to “clean” and improve your home’s indoor air.
1. Getting to the root of the problem and removing, or controlling, source emissions likely will require the determination of the presence of the various IAQ contaminants. Often, a professional inspector can test these for quite inexpensively.
2. Ventilation can be paramount. Although newer homes are more air tight they can often have air exchangers/HRV’s too. Signs of improper ventilation in your home may include:
a) Smell (check for musty odours, cleaning agents, cooking, stuffiness),
b) Humidity (high winter humidity in cold climates, mildew/mildew, laundry/dish rags/towels that do not dry, lingering odours, hygrometer),
c) High CO2 (need’s measurement), or,
d) Poor IAQ that may be caused in part by poor ventilation (illness, better health outside the home).
3. Cleaning your indoor air can take the form of:
a) Mechanical filters, including a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter,
b) Electronic air cleaners,
c) Ion generators which charge particles and draw them to a collector, and,
d) Solid filter media such as activated carbon filters.
Lastly, don’t forget to use a dehumidifier. Keeping the relative humidity below about 60% is best. Air conditioners will dehumidify the air in the summer too. Be mindful that if you do dehumidify the air, the water collected may be contaminated or promote fungi/fungi growth. So, ensure that you deal with that moisture/water collection device accordingly.