By Rachel McLaughlin
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that the best way to avoid indoor air pollution is to improve your home’s air quality. (Thanks, Captain Obvious!)
But kidding aside, the EPA actually has some good, actionable tips for improving your home’s air quality. That doesn’t just mean cleaning the air and ventilating your house – but also eliminating the source of pollutants altogether.
Below, we’ll briefly summarize the EPA’s three main recommendations.
1) Pollutant Source Control
There are many potential sources for air pollution in the home: pet dander, smoke from food or tobacco, formaldehyde from pressed wood, emissions from appliances, the list goes on. Certain precautions can be taken to help eliminate certain sources of pollutants. Let’s touch on a few:
- Smoke outside. This one is easy and actionable – simply not smoking indoors can go a long way toward making your air healthier and less irritable (and that goes double for people with respiratory issues).
- Limit your use of “combustion appliances” – stoves, space heaters, fireplaces, clothes dryers, water heaters, and furnaces. This tip is harder, because it requires some lifestyle changes.
Here’s what the EPA says on combustion appliances:
These appliances are usually safe. However, under certain conditions, these appliances can release harmful or deadly combustion pollutants into the home (commonly called combustion spillage or backdrafting). In addition, unvented or improperly vented appliances can add large amounts of moisture to the air, potentially resulting in both biological growth, and damage to the house.
Backdrafting is a phenomenon where your home becomes depressurizes and pulls harmful chemicals back into your home. Click here to learn more about backdrafting, or look at the image to the right.
2) Air Cleaning
Cleaning and keeping your air clean will allow for a healthier lifestyle but isn’t a substitution for ventilation (see below) or source control. There are multiple kinds of air cleaning technologies to choose from each with their own limitations and advantages. However, there are two general types of air filters: mechanical and electronic.
Pleated mechanical filters are usually more efficient than flat mechanical filters for catching larger particles. As for electronic cleaners, there are electrostatic precipitators and ion generators. Ion generators are the simplest form of electronic air cleaner while precipitators do much of the same thing but need to be cleaned.
All of these filters can be installed in a central HVAC system or in a portable air cleaner. However, electronic cleaners cannot remove gas or odors and can produce ozone that, combined with other chemicals in the air, can cause adverse health effects. That being said, to choose an effective and efficient air filter, one must pay attention to how well the filter removes particles and pollutants.
Click here for an in-depth explanation of air purifier filters and how to find the filter that best suits your needs.
Ventilation allows for indoor polluted air to be exchanged with clean air from the outdoors, which helps to build strong indoor air quality. This occurs through infiltration when air passes through cracks in the floor and walls as well as other openings. This can also occur through natural ventilation through door and window openings. There are two primary types of ventilation that are used in most homes: general and localized.
Localized ventilation transpires through use of exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms that increases the amount of outdoor air in a house. This helps prevent excess moisture from molding and releasing harmful pollutants.
General ventilation brings outdoor air inside and circulates throughout the home before expelling the polluted air outside. General ventilation is limited by weather conditions (you obviously don’t want to open a window if it’s raining) but reduces the level of contaminants by diluting indoor airborne pollutants and harmful chemicals.
While air conditioning is a form of ventilation, it typically doesn’t exchange indoor for clean outdoor air but rotates the existing potentially polluted air in the home. With local and/or general ventilation, source control, and air cleaning, homeowners can greatly improve their air quality and breathe easier.
Photo by Stephen Harris via Flickr CC License
Most residential forced air-heating systems and air-conditioning systems do not bring outdoor air into the house mechanically, and infiltration and natural ventilation are relied upon to bring outdoor air into the home. Advanced designs for new homes are starting to add a mechanical feature that brings outdoor air into the home through the HVAC system. Some of these designs include energy efficient heat recovery ventilators to mitigate the cost of cooling and heating this air during the summer and winter.