6 ways the air in your home could be making you sick
It’s easy to spot a bad air day outside. Smog and dirt in the air can dramatically reduce visibility. Of course that ugly air is also unhealthy. For 2015, the American Lung Association rated the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area 10th among metropolitan areas with the most polluted air in the U.S.
In contrast, people rarely think about the air quality inside their homes. A survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found 70 percent aren’t concerned at all about indoor air quality. Only 9 percent view it as any threat to their health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that bad indoor air can bother your eyes, nose, and throat; can worsen allergies and asthma; and can even cause chronic heart and lung problems and cancer.
The problem can be especially significant in Arizona because many people keep their homes tightly closed in the summer to stay cool.
This colorless, odorless invisible gas is prevalent in Arizona soil and often seeps into homes or other buildings where it can reach dangerous levels. Radon trails only smoking as a cause of lung cancer in the U.S., reports the CDC. Having your home tested is the only effective way to determine whether you or your family are at risk of high radon exposure.
Carbon monoxide is another deadly gas that can come from poorly operating appliances like stoves or furnaces, bad venting, or even room pressure imbalances that allow gas to accumulate in areas of the home. You can have your home tested for problem areas, and you should also install carbon monoxide detectors on each floor.
Surely you’d be aware if your home suffered from chemical contamination, right? Perhaps not. The CDC reports dangerous volatile organic compounds are common in chemicals found in office and home environments. Common sources include: caulks, sealants, coatings, adhesives, paints, varnishes, stains, wallpaper, cleaning agents, fuels and combustion products, carpeting, vinyl flooring, fabric materials, furnishings, air fresheners, perfume, shampoos, home pesticides, etc.
Have you ever noticed the floaters or particulates in your home that become obvious in a ray of sun? Or the buildup of dust on furniture? What you are seeing is particulate matter that is greater or equal to 10 micrometers in size (PM10). Although these are annoying to deal with by having to dust and upper respiratory irritations, it is the finer PM2.5 that we need to be concerned about the most as they tend to reach deeper into our lungs. These finer particulates are also generated by us within the home. One example is that when we cook in our homes we generate PM2.5 coming off our cooking of food. We tend to think of the potential exposure to Carbon Monoxide and Arcolein when using gas cook tops but for those who use electric cook tops they need to ventilate as well.
About 40 percent of U.S. homeowners rarely or never clean their humidifier or kitchen range hood, though they use it daily, according to the Consumer Reports Study. One quarter have never cleaned or replaced their furnace or air conditioner filter. Bathroom fans usually have filters as well, and the combination of dirt and humidity make them prime locations for dangerous mold.
If your home was built before 1978, it could have lead paint, reports the Environmental Protection Agency. Some older homes also have lead in their plumbing. Lead exposure can cause high blood pressure, heart problems, kidney damage, as well as damage to reproductive organs and the nervous system. Children are especially susceptible and can suffer a variety of physical and neurological problems including coma and death.
“Many of the things people do — or don’t do — can add to the stew of airborne contaminants in their homes and worsen asthma, allergies, and other health conditions,” says Consumer Reports. National Laboratories studied the effects of exposure associated with home ventilation or the lack of and found a direct correlation between disabilities and early death in homes without proper ventilation. The Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY’s) study showed that a properly balanced ventilated home can reduce the impact of exposure by more than half. So let’s start thinking about the importance of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and how we can protect our families with proper ventilation within our homes and at work.
Jonathan Waterworth, President of Az Energy Efficient Home which is a Home Performance with Energy Star participating contractor carrying numerous accreditations and certifications in the Building Science, Energy efficiency and Sustainability sector.