The Impact Of Air Tight Homes On Indoor Air Quality

Indoor Vs. Outdoor Air

Our quest to make modern homes tighter to improve energy efficiency both helps and hinders indoor air quality. The closed atmosphere of our homes keeps outdoor pollutants largely at bay, although it is a mistake to think outdoor air does not impact the insides of our homes at all. Open windows, vents and cracks all let in some air. Opening and closing doors also allow the pollutants outside to seep into our homes.

Stagnation is the biggest danger that a well-sealed home presents to our indoor air. While it keeps outside pollutants at a minimum, it also traps inside pollutants in. We are, in effect, trapped with the poisons that float unseen around us. While outdoor pollutants are serious, we can escape them.

Common Outdoor Air Pollutants

Factory and automobile emissions are among the most visible impacts on outdoor air quality, but they are by far not the only elements that create dangerous air. Pollen levels and chemical runoff from manufacturing plants also create problems for individuals with breathing problems and poison our ground water sources. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL)  lists chronic lung conditions as the most potent health hazard from poor outdoor air quality.

Indoor Air Pollutants

In spite of the dangers of outdoor air, in many ways it is safer to be outside than indoors with the many concentrated levels of pollutants that can occupy a home without detection. Some dangerous emissions come from obvious sources such as chemicals and paints kept inappropriately inside the home or an attached garage.

Because the air flow in most homes is minimal, any water damage or high humidity levels are more likely to encourage the growth of mold and bacterial viruses. However, there are many other sources of indoor air pollutants that come from sources that are otherwise considered innocent and safe. A short list of some of these items include:

  • Printer ink cartridges
  • Permanent markers
  • Dust and dirt
  • Old mattresses, pillows and furnishings
  • Pets
  • High humidity levels
  • Gas appliances (clothes dryers, ovens and water heaters)
  • Fireplaces
  • Power tools
  • Furnaces

Daily cooking also produces harmful by-products, especially when using pots and pans coated with non-stick surfaces. Smoking is a serious air quality problem anywhere, but especially indoors where the inhabitants are trapped in close proximity of the particles.

Symptoms of Ill Air

Living in a home with poor air quality can produce a number of symptoms of illness that seem to disappear when you leave the house. These symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of dexterity
  • Loss of concentration
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Disorientation
  • Weakness
  • Nausea

As troubling as these are, there are more serious complications caused by long-term exposure to bad air quality in the homes. Breathing in stagnant air littered with harmful particles, gases and bacteria can lead to cancer, heart disease, lung disease and even have a serious impact on brain function.

Brown University lists radon as a serious indoor air pollutant that accumulates in basement and ground level floors (1st and 2nd floors) of homes and apartments. It can cause lung cancer, and is largely undetectable without testing.

What To Do About Poor Indoor Air

Is Your Home Polluted?

Have your home’s air tested by a professional to detect levels of gases and poisons like radon in the air. Radon can also enter the home through well-water sources, so if you have that type of water generation, have your water tested regularly for radon.

Seal air leaks from cracks and window casings.

  • Vacuum regularly with a HEPA vacuum cleaner and place HEPA filter units in furnaces.
  • Clean and remove stagnant water in any containers or humidifiers when not in use.
  • Remove any wet fabric, carpeting or tiles that become saturated to avoid mold buildup.
  • Use a high-quality HEPA air purifier in each room to remove harmful particles from the air.
  • Stop smoking and do not allow smoking in the home.
  • Keep live plants indoors. Plants turn carbon monoxide into oxygen, and certain plants are helpful in removing formaldehyde and other chemical emissions from the air as well.