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Home Indoor Air Quality

By Anne Hamilton
February 27, 2014

Chances are, you have been spending a lot of time indoors this winter, whether in rainy Seattle or snowy everywhere else, maybe curled up on the couch watching the Olympics. It's a good time to evaluate your indoor air quality. As architects, we take great care in making sure new buildings have quality air, but existing homes might need a DIY audit. There is most likely some low hanging fruit that can be easily fixed. For more serious issues, you’ll want to call in a professional, like an Industrial Hygienist,  to assess the concentration of pollutants. Even small factors can contribute to dangerous indoor air quality (IAQ), which can make you sick.

Here's What to Look Out For:

  • Visible mold growth.
  • Popcorn ceilings (possible asbestos).
  • Lead paint.
  • Rotting or wet structure or insulation.
  • Whole house fans that may have been disconnected. Regular ventilation is very important in today’s tighter houses, especially ones that are tight enough to gain a green building certification. Non-toxic interior materials should go hand in hand with tight homes.
  • The plastic or new car smell, which can come with manufactured wood products (and can be terrible in manufactured homes and trailers) and vinyl flooring, for example.

Whenever you get any new materials installed, or if you move into a new house, be sure to keep the windows open and ventilate for a few weeks. I may be a little paranoid, but I recommend this for the purchase of new furniture, electronics, and mattresses also. New textiles may have been stored in formaldehyde and should be washed before wearing or using.

Here Some Ways to Stop Sources of Indoor Pollution:

  • Keep it dry. Add a ventilation fan if you don’t have one. Shutting off rooms in the winter may seem like a great way to save energy, but in damp climates, this can encourage mold growth – not because of the temperature, but because indoor heat is usually dry. If you find your indoor heat is too dry, add a humidifier (or just place a vase of water by the register), but be sure this is not making your home too humid.

  • Run exhaust fans when cooking and after showering. Use fans or open a window when using nail polish remover or other harsh chemicals.

  • Stop using chemicals to clean. Here is a great guide to getting started from Mommy Greenest. Vinegar and baking soda can be used to clean most things.

  • Take off shoes when entering the house – this is especially important if you have small children who are all over the floor. Think of all of the pollutants that come into contact with your shoes – and other super yucky things.

  • Avoid using candles or air fresheners, unless you are certain they contain no VOCs.

  • >strong>Add a chlorine filter to your shower head.

  • Watch for intake air that may be carrying cigarette smoke, wood smoke, or other pollutants from outside.

  • Dry-cleaning is a necessary evil for some. Before putting newly dry-cleaned clothes in your closet, take off the plastic and let them air out in the bathroom with the ventilation fan running.

  • If your garage is attached to your house, never open the man door to the inside while a car is running.

  • Carpet can hold on to some pretty nasty allergens and critters. Annoyed by how dirty hard wood floors can look? Well, all that dirt is in your carpet too, it’s just hidden. If someone in your family has problems with allergies, chemical sensitivities, or respiratory issues, replace carpet with hard surfaces, and vacuum area rugs often.

Here Are Some Regular Maintenance Chores You Should Keep Up:

Further Reading:

IAQ guidelines for homes from the EPA

EPA Indoor airPLUS Program

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