With the advent of energy-efficient, airtight houses in the ‘70s, the subject of indoor air quality came to the nation’s attention. Today indoor air quality remains an important topic—one that homeowners need to be informed about. Being that most Americans spend so much time indoors due to school, work, and getting our eight hours of nightly sleep, we need to understand the different factors that affect indoor air quality.
The buzzwords to be familiar with are volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs are emitted by cleaning and building materials, furnishings and other materials and are circulated through our heating and cooling systems.
The following factors all determine our air quality.
- Technology. This includes things such as using photocopiers and laser printers.
- Furnishings. Furniture, draperies, floor coverings, mattresses and especially particleboard furniture all contribute to the problem. The newer the item, the more VOCs it emits.
- Finishes. Be sure to ventilate when using or installing paint, varnish and vinyl wall coverings.
- Building materials. Use care when working with caulking compounds, adhesives and wood laminates.
- Tobacco smoke.
- Household chemicals. According to the book Raising Children Toxic Free by Herbert L. Neddleman, M.D., and Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., since 1950, at least 70,000 new chemical compounds have been invented and dispersed into our environment. Most of these chemicals have not been tested for human toxicity.
- Radon gas. This invisible intruder is a radioactive gas that occurs from the natural breakdown of uranium, which is found in soil, rocks and water. Our greatest risk of exposure is in our own homes. Indoor air quality experts can help you test for this gas, or you can purchase kits in hardware stores.
- Mold infestations can be a major health concern in homes as well.
Important to understanding the importance of indoor air quality is knowing how to fix the problem. Try to purchase products that have low VOC emissions. Cut back on your use of household chemicals and look for replacements to the products you have been using. Many companies now make effective natural cleaners. Research some of the old standby cleaners that our grandmothers used such as vinegar and baking soda.
When purchasing new furniture or installing new carpets, be sure you ventilate your room for the first few days. And, of course, make sure you have proper ventilation when painting or using chemical sealers.
You can also use portable indoor air filters or have a whole-house filter system installed. Contact an air duct cleaning service to make sure your air ducts are sanitized, and be sure your properly maintain your heating and cooling system.
Taking the steps you can to reduce the level of VOCs in your home, will help ensure a safer environment for your friends and family.