The 2020 Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has created a new normal for much of the population — a daily routine that now means moving from the bedroom to the living room instead of battling a commute and logging hours in an office building. With the kids tackling remote learning and you working from home, the carbon dioxide to oxygen ratio under your roof is likely different than it was just a few months ago. After all, there’s no doubt that an increase in the number of people at home affects the overall indoor air quality (IAQ) within the space. With that in mind, it’s important to give some consideration to the quality of the air you and your family are breathing in, both during the pandemic and in subsequent times.
There is more to the equation than just making sure there is adequate oxygen in the building. Pollutants can float through your home, moving from one space to another. These pollutants can lead to allergic reactions and breathing difficulties. There might be other issues that go unnoticed too. Yet according to a study from Broan-NuTone, only 44% of Americans worry about their home’s indoor air quality.
In fact, there are many often overlooked clues that point to less than optimal IAQ. While you might recognize an increase in dust, most Americans don’t associate lingering food odors or allergy symptoms with poor IAQ. When evaluating IAQ, homeowners and renters should consider how effectively vent fans remove odors, smoke and moisture from the space. Lingering food scents, foggy mirrors and windows, and mold are all strong indicators that vent fans are not doing their job. Air filters, both stand-alone units and those inside the furnace’s forced-air system, are important tools in the battle for fresh indoor air.
This era of physical distancing has us spending more time indoors, and each activity, such as cleaning and cooking, can contribute to the toxins in your air. Then there is dust, dirt and pet dander thrown into the mix. Depending on the daily activities of your household, the number of people in the space, and the products you use, your IAQ might suffer more than you think. So it’s vital that you choose appliances and products carefully. Chemical pollution, for example, can be enough to exacerbate respiratory conditions. That means harsh cleaners can actually make you sick while you work to eliminate germs, especially if the fumes are left lingering around.
It is imperative that filters in the furnace, air conditioner, air filter and grease filter above the stove are all washed or replaced frequently. In addition to cleaning filters, having effective exhaust fans is essential to maintaining healthy IAQ. To test exhaust fans, hold a ribbon of tissue near the fan while it is on. The appliance should suck the tissue inward. If it doesn’t, it is time for a replacement. In order for your bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans to benefit the air quality, they should be turned on before cooking or bathing and left on for at least 10 minutes afterward. The environmentalist in you might be screaming to turn off the vent, but the creation of mildew and other irritants isn’t a viable trade-off for the energy you’ll use running the fan a bit longer.
If you find that your home has excessive moisture in the form of damp towels, musty smells and foggy mirrors you may want to use absorption products such as Dri-Z-Air. The pellets are easy to refill and are versatile enough for the RV, garage or closet. A dehumidifier is another option to consider when moisture levels are high.
While you know that dust is unsightly, it’s also a breeding ground for dust mites. Make sure to wipe or vacuum away dust often and clean linens in hot water frequently to keep allergens in commonly problematic areas low.
To test your indoor air quality, you can buy an air quality monitor that ranges in price from $75 to around $800. You can also have your IAQ measured for you or purchase a VOC sensor or carbon dioxide meter to take your own readings. For safety, your home should also be equipped with a radon detector and a carbon monoxide detector. If any measure of IAQ shows the need for improvement, open windows and run fans to get air circulating.
The recent indoor air quality study by Broan-Nutone highlights the need to spend a little time evaluating your indoor environment. According to the results, while the majority of people feel indoor air quality is exceptionally important since many of us spend more time inside than out, a fairly low number of respondents knew how to improve it by using appliances correctly. Remember that plants are another way to naturally filter pollutants out of the air.
Outside of the standard household concerns, older homes should always be tested for asbestos, mold, lead-based paints and other toxic substances that could be lurking unnoticed.
Images via Broan-Nutone