Ever been plagued by a mysteriously persistent cough, sniffles or itchy eyes? You might have dismissed your symptoms as a passing cold or mild flu. But chances are you were actually experiencing an allergic reaction to an irritant in the air of your house or apartment. Air quality inside the home, according to the EPA, is two to five times worse than in the great outdoors. Here’s what you need to know about indoor air quality problems.
Chemicals in the Air
Nowadays a much greater number of synthetic household furnishings are marketed than in our grandparents’ youth. Some types of petroleum-based carpeting, paint, laminate flooring or countertops and even garbage bags can off-gas dangerous chemicals. Houseplants may help to neutralize the effects of off-gassing from furnishings you already own, but when shopping for your home, choose natural materials or check the labeling to find low- to no-VOC products.
Be equally vigilant when you purchase perfumes and scented products. Scientific American reported tests which discovered 38 secret, potentially hazardous chemicals in leading brands of perfume. Similarly, a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council revealed that 12 out of 14 air fresheners tested contained phthalates, a risk to the human reproductive system. Avoid these dangers by replacing commercial perfume with essential oil. Deodorize ambient air by opening a window, cleaning or setting out a small bowl of vinegar to absorb unpleasant smells.
If you use an air purifier, opt for high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration.
Lack of Ventilation
Sealing and insulating your home is a wise move in terms of improved HVAC efficiency, both summer and winter. However, some source of ventilation, such as a whole house ventilation system, is required. Open your windows at least a few minutes a day whenever possible. During the summer, this should be done at night, as long as the outdoor air quality forecast does not report problems like pollen or high humidity. Exhaust fans are fairly cheap and easy to install in damp areas such as the bathroom. Be aware that not all kitchen range hoods are created equal; they must not just recirculate the air but rather be ducted outside to rid your home of smoke, moisture and food odor.
You may think of mold appearing in the home in response to a major flood or serious leak in the plumbing system. However, there are many additional sources of the dampness that encourages mold and mildew growth, for example, air conditioner drip pans, humidifiers, cold weather condensation, inadequately vented dryers, clogged gutters and more. Maintain all appliances so that they are spic and span and functioning properly. Clean up all existing mold, wearing gloves and a dust mask. Ventilate as described above and purchase a dehumidifier if necessary.
Radon is an invisible, odorless gas found in many American homes. After cigarette smoke, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer. This radioactive substance is formed from the decaying process of uranium, which is naturally found in water, soil and rock. The gas moves upward from the ground, so basements and lower levels of homes are particularly vulnerable. Testing your residence for radon is a simple matter which you can DIY. If the test shows radon is indeed present, the good news is that you can lower the level by following a guide from the EPA.
Dust mites, microscopic insects that live in many homes, are a very common allergen. Vacuum thoroughly on a regular basis to remove these pests, as well as just plain dust. Use a special HEPA filter vacuum cleaner in an allergy-prone household.
Reducing indoor humidity will also help get rid of dust mites. Air conditioning your home in summer will lower the incidence of dust mites by 90 percent and sleeping with an electric blanket in winter will reduce them by 50 percent. Use a mattress cover and wash it, as well as sheets and blankets, often.
Pets can be a problem, since dust mites eat animal dander. If anyone in the family is sensitive, keep your four-footed friend out of the bedroom … or at least out of the bed. Groom frequently, preferably outdoors.
By Laura Firszt, Networx.
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