Don’t you just love when the fall arrives and everything around you gets that golden glow? Magical leaf carpets all over the streets, coldish October sun, and, all of a sudden, the air smells like apples and cinnamon.
You might think the season of allergies is gone with the summer, but have you ever really thought of the impacts that the colder weather brings along with the temperature change?
Table of Contents
- What is IAQ, and Why is It Important?
- Factors Affecting the Quality of the Air You Breathe
- Indoor Air Quality Testing
- Ways to Improve the Indoor Air Quality
Plenty of outdoor and indoor allergens and pollutants threaten to affect our respiratory system all year long, and, as time passes, more and more of them have shown severe negative impacts.
No matter how clean your home or workplace may be, you simply cannot prevent external factors in the form of various contaminants from invading your comfort zone.
Now, let’s talk more about indoor air quality and how testing it can help us improve our lifestyles.
What is IAQ, and Why is It Important?
As per the official definition Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures. Now, this may seem like a rigid explanation, but the fact is this is a simplified definition of indoor air quality that comes down to three basic components: the climate, the building materials, and the building inhabitants.
It doesn’t have to be associated solely with the residential buildings but also with all the common places and work areas with high human concentration. For example, hospitals, stock market buildings, factories, as well as schools, kindergartens, etc., all of these places can be affected. And if you dig deeper, you’d realize this issue is much more than a definition.
Supposedly, you’ve never heard or had deeper thoughts on Indoor Air Quality or anything more than commonly known air pollutants. Well, there is more to it. By more, I refer to the official institutions and organizations, such as CDC, OSHA, and ASHRAE, that have set the standards for this field of interest. The Indoor Air Quality standards are more of a guideline, created as a determinant for improving and maintaining the air quality within the buildings. Even though the list of standards and recommendations is not conclusive, following the instructions is most certainly of a great deal for any building occupants’ well-being.
World Health Organization and EPA have created important guidelines in terms of the protection of public health.
One of the most important standards refers to severe air pollutants:
Particulate Matters – PM2.5 and PM10
PM2.5 are probably one of the nastiest and most threatening forms of pollution as it refers to the finest particles of dust that can be inhaled. The number stands for the diameter of these particles, which is at most 2.5 micrometers. PM10 are also dust particles, only cruder, with a 10 micrometers diameter.
Based on a daily or 24-hour average, EPA has set the standard to 35 µg/m3 per day, and 12 µg/m3 annually.
As for the PM10, the standard is 150 µg/m3, averaged over 24 hours.
Commonly known as transparent or greenhouse gas, we are all surrounded by it. The normal presence of this gas outdoors would be around 300-400 ppm. But, bear in mind that, even though it doesn’t seem so, the indoor air contains much more carbon dioxide due to the number of occupants and mostly poor ventilation. It can hit as much as 2500 ppm in the indoor area.
It is recommended by these organizations that the concentration of carbon dioxide does not exceed 1000 ppm, or even less. Some research has shown that even a level of 1000 ppm can cause serious health issues.
Volatile Organic Compounds – VOCs
As there are many definitions of VOCs, in general terms, they represent the chemicals that can be found both in solid and liquid states. When processed, these chemicals vaporize or dissolve, hence turning into a direct threat to human health. We can find it in many household products like furnishings, wax, and paint but also in disinfecting, cosmetics, etc. products that we are used to in everyday life.
Since there are many VOCs, there are various regulations for acceptable levels of emission. For instance, EPA has set the Federal level in 40 CFR 59 as National Volatile Organic Compound Emission Standards for Consumer and Commercial products.
Being colorless, formaldehyde is a very dangerous and toxic gas, flammable at room temperature, and above all, provenly cancerous. The thing most of us don’t realize is how widely spread this chemical is. You can find it in many household products, building materials, furnishings, gas stoves, and even in nail polish. Scientists mostly use this chemical while doing long-term research.
It is recommended that, if possible, the level of formaldehyde is controlled between 0.5 ppm and 2 ppm. This means, 0.5ppm is an average exposure to this chemical for an 8-hour per day, but in short terms, no more than 15 minutes, you must not exceed the limit of 2 ppm.
Other air pollutants are also worth mentioning and of precaution, such as Carbon Monoxide (CO), Radon, Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), and Methylene Chloride.
Factors Affecting the Quality of the Air You Breathe
If I could create a list of all the pollutants that have already or could affect your health, I’m afraid the list would take too much space, and I would have left you speechless. Many of them are well known to most of us, but there are some we don’t take into consideration at all.
Indoor Air Pollutants
Amongst many that are present in our daily life, some indoor air pollutants are more dangerous than others. Some of them we usually take for granted. Such as exposure to excessive moisture. Now, you may have already mistaken moisture for humidity. So, let me explain it in the simplest way possible.
Moisture is the amount of water in the air, in form of a vapor.
Humidity is the concentration or the amount of moisture expressed in percentage. To be more specific, it is the moisture that creates condensed windows, mold, mildew, paints that peel off the walls, etc. Home appliances such as air conditioning can contain mold if not properly maintained. The same mold can cause numerous asthmatic issues and serious allergies.
Carbon monoxide is also one of the most dangerous indoor air pollutants. If you think that closing your window will prevent you from inhaling the carbon monoxide released by cars, you are so wrong. Even home appliances such as stoves, grills, or fireplaces release a certain amount of this pollutant. The biggest threat comes from the fact that it is colorless, tasteless, odorless, and poisonous.
Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs for short, are all those chemicals hidden in most products we use daily to keep our working or home space clean. There are even people who are especially attracted to the smell of chemicals. Many times these chemicals are referred to as a remedy for dirt. Most of the newly save-the-planet products are eco-friendly, but in the absence of it, you can always use natural and homemade products.
The most important information on radon you need to know is that it is radioactive. The name speaks for itself. Also odorless and colorless, this gas can cause lung cancer. Radon from the outdoor air is not as dangerous as the radon trapped inside houses or buildings. Luckily, there are ways to reduce the level of contamination.
Other indoor air pollutants could harm your health, but these four are considered to be the most dangerous and widely spread.
Warning Signs of Indoor Air Pollution
Numerous warning signs could send you a clear message that the air you’re breathing is not clean enough. Or, clean at all.
Some of the signs are:
- Allergic reactions, like sneezing or rash,
- Difficulty breathing and continuous coughing,
- Dry or irritated skin,
- Itchy eyes,
- Constant headache or nausea, and so on.
People usually tend to mistake cold symptoms for any of these pollution reactions. The important difference is that influenza symptoms do have an expiry date.
Indoor Air Quality Testing
Now that you are more aware of possible threats, you have decided to conduct the indoor air quality test, haven’t you? First of all, you have to narrow down what kind of pollutants you want to do the testing for. Start with your occurring symptoms and search for the possible reason that lies beneath.
Indoor Air Quality Monitor
This monitor is usually a combination of various other detectors. It can contain data on multiple pollutants such as PM2.5, CO2, CO, VOCs, etc. What you should do before buying one of these monitors is to define which pollutant you suspect is the most responsible for your health issues. That way you will narrow the possible threats. Some of these monitors have electrochemical sensors that can detect the level of toxins. Other monitors use a laser to measure the level of particle matter in the air.
I have tried many different air quality monitors and will try more in the future, but the one I use in all reviews is the Temtop laser particle meter.
Since mold is a widely spread air pollutant, there are plenty of home kits to measure the pollution level all by yourself. Most of them are affordable and contain up to 3-step instructions. You can use mold tests to check out every corner and piece of furniture in your home.
Most radon tests can be done without the help of professionals. You can find these tests in home improvement stores or online shops. As stated by the CDC, two radon-test packages can help you measure the level of contamination. There is a package that measures short-term radon presence between 2-90 days, but there are also long-term packages that measure over 90 days radon presence.
Carbon Monoxide Detector
You can buy it yourself or hire a company to install this device in your home. This detector can sometimes be combined with the smoke detector. You must put it near the suspect contaminating sources such as gas stoves. Don’t worry, it won’t bring on the alarm every time you start cooking. These detectors react to higher levels of carbon monoxide in the air. Most of them have displays where you can monitor carbon monoxide saturation. Also, some detectors have a wireless connection, so you can simultaneously connect multiple units and monitor them by using your phone.
Ways to Improve the Indoor Air Quality
Although reading this article may affect you, fortunately, there are ways to improve the quality of the air you breathe. One of the main preconditions is awareness. The more you educate yourself on the things that surround you, the more you will be able to subject the existing conditions to your terms. Being ECO-aware doesn’t refer only to the environment. You are also part of that ecosystem.
Most of the time when we try to fix something, we start at the end. But the bare necessity is to start from the source of the problem or pollution in this case.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, keeping things and spaces clean can give you a serious advantage. You ought to vacuum carpets and rugs at least twice a week and wash your drapes, mats, linens, and clothes regularly. One of the suggestions includes keeping your plants outdoors.
As for some long-term home improvement procedures, try this:
- Clean and improve your heating and cooling systems (change the AC filter),
- Invest in air-improving products such as air purifiers and air refreshers,
- Install and use kitchen and bathroom fans,
- Start reading labels and stop buying products that contain harsh chemicals,
- Reduce dampness,
- Stop smoking.
It is in human nature to believe in good and start being afraid of the bad once it happens. Somehow we all put our health aside until something severe happens that completely changes our life directions. My advice to you would be don’t let it happen to you. We are living in an era of markets overflooded with products that promise the best of the best. Then why shouldn’t we believe that somewhere out there is a product that could respond to our needs without harming us?
Indoor air quality testing isn’t just something that scientists or technologies promote. Sooner or later, it will be one of those trendy and must-do activities because we are rushing into the future that will have nothing to offer if we don’t start changing in the present.
Introduction to Indoor Air Quality – epa.gov
Test Your Home – cdc.gov
Easy ways you can improve indoor air quality – health.harvard.edu
And that’s why we need air purifiers to clean our air especially at home.