Indoor Air Quality is Nothing to Sneeze About

Indoor air quality can be much worse than outdoors and Kathy Maguire shows us how we can improve it



Cleaners, cosmetics, personal care products, disinfectants, air fresheners, paints, solvents, pesticides, nicotine and glue—the list of chemicals found in many homes is extensive. Heavy concentrations of these chemicals can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, cause headaches, loss of coordination and nausea—maybe even damage the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable, as are pets. In fact, pets are often the ones that show signs of illness first.

Indoor air quality is a term that refers to the stuff we breathe in our home, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of the occupants. Studies from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on human exposure to air pollutants show that indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times—sometimes more than 100 times—higher than outdoor levels. People in buildings frequently report discomfort and building-related health symptoms and sometimes develop building-related illnesses.

Acknowledging these reports that air quality inside can be worse than outside, engineers have identified ways to move air in and out of homes to minimize the factors that lead to indoor air quality problems. In the past, residential ventilation was not a major concern, because it was felt people were getting enough outdoor air by opening their windows and by air infiltrating through the building’s walls.

As homes and duct systems were built tighter to save energy, trapping contaminants indoors, concern rose about indoor air quality, especially because people spend almost 90 percent of their day indoors, and 65 percent of that in their own homes. Also, residents are now less likely to open windows because of energy costs, security issues, drafts, noise and dirty air from outside.

Source control, filtration and the use of ventilation to dilute contaminants are the primary methods for improving indoor air quality, and homeowners can further improve indoor air quality by routinely cleaning carpets and area rugs. The EPA has guidelines for frequency of cleaning based on traffic, number of household members, pets, children and smokers. Carpets and rugs act like an air filter and must be cleaned. Those considering implementing home energy upgrades might want to consider consulting the EPA Healthy Indoor Environment Protocols for Home Energy Upgrades found online at epa.gov.

We all face a variety of risks to our health as we go about our daily lives. Driving in cars, flying in planes, engaging in recreational activities and being exposed to environmental pollutants all pose varying degrees of risk. Some risks are simply unavoidable, some we choose to accept because to do otherwise would restrict our ability to lead our lives the way we would like and some are risks we might decide to avoid if we have the opportunity to make informed choices. Indoor air pollution is one risk that we can do something about.

Kathy Maguire is a residential real estate agent with DPR Realty, LLC. She is EcoBroker certified and holds the National Association of Realtor’s GREEN designation, as well as GRI and ABR designations. For more information, visit KathyMaguire.com.

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