Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Considerations For Homeowners
Safety and health risks surround us every day. But few consider the risk of poor indoor air quality at home. During winter when windows and doors remain closed, often for months at a time, indoor air quality is more challenging to maintain.
Over the last decade, research has revealed that air within homes and other buildings, especially in large metro areas like Chicago, is more seriously polluted than the outdoor air. In winter, people spend 90 percent of their time indoors. Thus, for many people, the health risks may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors.
Also, people who may be exposed to indoor air pollutants for the longest periods of time are often those most susceptible to the effects of indoor air pollution. Such groups include the young, the elderly, and the chronically ill, and especially those suffering from asthma, allergies, or cardiovascular disease.
What Impacts Indoor Air Quality?
Indoor air quality is affected by a variety of sources including gases and particle concentrations in the ambient air.
Inadequate ventilation can increase concentrations of indoor pollutant levels by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the home. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase some pollutants.
Indoor Air Pollutants
There are many sources of indoor air pollution in any home. These include combustion sources such as oil, gas, kerosene, coal, wood, and tobacco products; building materials and furnishings as diverse as deteriorated, asbestos-containing insulation, wet or damp carpet, and cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products; products for household cleaning and maintenance, personal care, or hobbies; central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices; and outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides, and outdoor air pollution.
The relative importance of any single source depends on how much of a given pollutant it emits and how hazardous those emissions are. In some cases, factors such as how old the source is and whether it is properly maintained are significant. For example, an improperly adjusted gas stove can emit significantly more carbon monoxide than one that is properly adjusted.
Some sources, such as building materials, furnishings, and household products like air fresheners, release pollutants more or less continuously. Other sources, related to activities carried out in the home, release pollutants intermittently. These include smoking, the use of unvented or malfunctioning stoves, furnaces, or space heaters, the use of solvents in cleaning and hobby activities, the use of paint strippers in redecorating activities, and the use of cleaning products and pesticides in housekeeping. High pollutant concentrations can remain in the air for long periods after some of these activities.
If too little outdoor air enters a home, pollutants can accumulate to levels that can pose health and comfort problems. Unless they are built with special mechanical means of ventilation, homes that are designed and constructed to minimize the amount of outdoor air that can “leak” into and out of the home may have higher pollutant levels than other homes. However, because some weather conditions can drastically reduce the amount of outdoor air that enters a home, pollutants can build up even in homes that are normally considered “leaky.”
Learn More about IAQ
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