Most people associate air pollution with outdoor air, but the air inside our homes and offices often is polluted too. In fact, in some instances, indoor air pollution levels can be more than 100 times higher than outdoor levels. Since the average American spends about 90 percent of his time inside, indoor air quality could easily have the greater impact on our health and well-being.
The health effects from indoor air pollutants may manifest soon after exposure or years later. Immediate effects might include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, coughing, sneezing, dizziness, headaches, fatigue and shortness of breath. Indoor air pollutants also can trigger asthma attacks and allergies. Long-term effects from repeated exposure include various respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer.
Sources of Indoor Pollution
Indoor air pollution is produced by a wide variety of sources:
- Emissions that are by-products of combustion from unvented gas and kerosene heaters, gas appliances, and wood- and coal-burning stoves and fireplaces
- Pressed wood products processed with formaldehyde such as plywood, particle board, fiberboard and paneling
- Central heating and cooling systems
- Humidification devices
- Products that contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as paint, solvents, wood preservatives, new carpet, aerosol sprays, household cleaners and disinfectants
- Wet or damp carpets
- Dust mites
- Mold and mildew
- Tobacco smoke
- Pet dander
- Asbestos insulation
Regardless of its source, indoor air pollution is exacerbated by inadequate ventilation, i.e. an insufficiency of fresh, outdoor air entering the home. When your home is made more “air-tight” to increase energy efficiency, it’s important to make sure you maintain adequate ventilation. It might be necessary to install a ventilation system. If your home already has ductwork for heating and cooling, a supply-and-exhaust system is an effective and inexpensive solution. With this type of ventilation, exhaust fans expel stale air and pollutants, while intake fans introduce fresh air from outdoors and distribute it throughout the house.
Any improvements to your home that affect ventilation also can create other issues, such as excessive moisture and dangerous back drafting of combustion appliances. Therefore, hiring a properly trained and experienced contractor is critical.