When you’re outdoors, you’re exposed to all kinds of air pollution. But thank goodness, once you come indoors, your home’s air quality is much better, right? Not necessarily. According to the EPA, the concentrations of some pollutants are often two to five times higher than typical outdoor concentrations.
“Most of us consider the air in our homes to be superior and cleaner to the air outside; however, indoor air can actually be up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air,” says Richard Ciresi, a franchise owner at Aire Serv in Louisville, KY.
And when your indoor air is polluted, Ciresi says, it can cause a variety of health issues, including headaches, respiratory problems, flulike symptoms, heart disease, or other serious long-term conditions.
Experts such as Jay Ayers, a product manager at Ingersoll Rand, say the ultimate fix is installing an air purifier: “Adding an air-cleaning system can help remove airborne particles and allergens too small for your nose and mouth to filter naturally,” he says.
However, this is not a realistic solution for everyone. Here are some alternative ways to improve your indoor air quality.
1. Provide adequate ventilation
Ventilation and air quality go hand in hand—and if the former is malfunctioning, the latter will suffer. If you have an HVAC system, you might assume that your ventilation is up to par. But Ciresi recommends checking it thoroughly to be sure.
“Have you ever noticed smells lingering from the dinner you cooked a couple of days ago? Then your home is suffering from poor ventilation, and there’s a good possibility you have poor indoor air quality,” he says.
To test the efficiency of your home’s indoor ventilation, Ciresi recommends running exhaust fans throughout your bathrooms and using kitchen range vents. If that doesn’t help, call in a specialist.
2. Clean your air ducts
The EPA recommends cleaning your air ducts if there is visible mold, if they’re clogged as a result of dust and debris, or if you’ve had problems with rodents or insect infestations. All of this stuff could be entering your home every time you turn on the thermostat.
3. Don’t DIY asbestos removal
“Due to its strength and ability to withstand copious amounts of heat, asbestos was used in an array of products in and around the home,” says Bridget Rooney, home safety expert at Mesothelioma.com. However, this material also put millions of lives at risk.
“These microscopic fibers can be released into the air, leaving anyone who is in close proximity at risk for developing a number of serious respiratory illnesses—including mesothelioma cancer,” she says.
Products in older homes like adhesives, cement, roofing tiles, and insulation may still contain asbestos. So if your home is 30 years or older and you plan to renovate, Rooney recommends having an asbestos inspection done by a professional to limit the threat of exposure so your indoor air stays as clean as possible.
And by all means, do not try to remove the asbestos yourself.
“Even just a simple hole in the wall can disrupt the carcinogen,” Rooney says.
4. Control dust and dust mites
No one really likes to dust, but if you can write your name in the dust on your living room coffee table, consider how the tiny particles are affecting your air quality.
“Limit clutter in the home, and avoid creating spots where dust can collect,” says Ayers. “Use anti-dust mite covers on your mattresses, pillows, and box springs, and wash your bedding in hot water at least once a week.”
Dry your bedding on a hot cycle to kill dust mites.
5. Reduce pet dander
We all love our pets, but pet dander can significantly decrease your indoor air quality.
“Keep pets off the furniture, out of the bedroom, and (if necessary) consider keeping your pet outside the home for a majority of the day,” Ayers says.
For some, that’s too drastic. So instead, to keep pet dander from collecting around your house, install low-pile carpeting, or remove carpeting altogether.
“Pet dander is very sticky and can also attach to pet bedding, toys, and other fabrics. So when possible, wash those items as well,” says Ayers.
6. Install a carbon monoxide detector
If you use natural gas, propane oil, wood, charcoal, or other types of fuel for heating and cooking, you need a carbon monoxide detector.
“Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer because it’s odorless, colorless, and tasteless,” Ciresi says. “Symptoms of poisoning often include headaches, dizziness, nausea, or vomiting—and in severe cases, death.”
You should install good-quality carbon monoxide detectors throughout your house—in the hallways in your sleeping areas in particular.
“The standard carbon monoxide detectors do have a shelf life, so check the date of manufacture when you purchase,” Ciresi says. Once a detector is activated, it should be replaced as they lose sensitivity over time.
The No. 1 source of carbon monoxide in your home is usually a gas furnace or water heater, so have these appliances checked annually by a professional.
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