8 Ways To Improve Indoor Air Quality

Autumn is here, but it's getting pretty cold! Now that cooler weather is here, we are spending more time indoors. Indoor air quality is often much worse than the air outside. One problem that faces many families, including mine, is the poor quality of air in the home during the winter months. This is especially true for those of us that suffer from indoor and outdoor allergies, asthma and other respiratory issues. Everyone in my household suffers from allergies in varying degrees of severity. If you have ever experienced any of the following symptoms: eye, nose or throat irritation, watery eyes, sneezing, cold/flu-like symptoms, fever, digestive problems, skin rash, fatigue, wheezing, headaches, nausea, insomnia, depression, chest pains, asthma attacks, drowsiness, dimmed vision, shortness of breath, or dizziness; ask yourself: Do these symptoms go away when you leave the house? Do I only feel this way when I'm either at home, work or another indoor location?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that indoor air pollutant levels could be two to five times higher than pollution levels outdoors. Since most Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time inside, indoor air quality has a huge impact on our everyday lives. Also, indoor air pollutants are one of the most prominent triggers of allergies and asthma.

These days, most homes and apartment buildings are built to be cost- and energy-efficient by holding heat in the winter time and keeping heat out during the summer. Also, most homeowners tightly seal any cracks in insulation prior to the winter months which prevents cold drafts from entering the home. However, this also seals off the home from any fresh air and raises the concentration of both allergens and pollutants in the home. Some common household pollutants are mold and mildew, pet dander, dust mites, pollen, environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) or secondhand smoke, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and lead.

Here Are 7 Ways to Get Cleaner Indoor Air Without Spending A Lot of Money (You Can Even Save Money):

1) Circulate Air. I find that one of the most irritating things (pun intended) about indoor air in our home during the winter months is the lack of fresh air due to all the windows being closed. Opening the windows while you're out of your home for a short period of time will greatly improve the indoor air quality. You'll return to a fresher (and slightly colder) home and will breathe easier.

2) Take or Wipe Off Your Shoes. In most Asian cultures, it is customary to remove your shoes before entering a home for either spiritual or practical reasons. It is a good practice since estimates show that we track as much as 85% of the dirt in our homes in from the outside on our shoes or paws of pets. The EPA specifically recommends that shoes remain outside the house. However, if going shoeless is not something that the whole family is willing to do, try getting them to wear house shoes, slippers or socks that are solely worn inside the house.

3) Prohibit Smoking Indoors: This may sound like a no-brainer, but this can be a challenge for those who have a smoker in the house or smoke themselves. The best option is to have anyone that smokes, do so outside.

4) Use Safe Cleaning Products: Most cleaning products come with warnings for a reason: they contain harmful chemicals that get into the air when they're used. There are many non-toxic alternatives that you can use, even make, at home, such as baking soda, washing soda and white vinegar and lemon juice that work very well and are also a lot less expensive.

5) Pets: For families with pets, it's often more difficult to keep the air quality in good condition. The issue of hair shedding can be the leading cause, as well as pet dander. However, you can often diminish this problem with improved vacuuming and cleaning habits. Most of us vacuum the carpet on our floors, but don't really think about vacuuming other areas like fabric furniture and drapes and curtains to help them stay dust-free.

6) Replace/Clean Air Filters: Most of us change our air filters, but don't practice it diligently. If you want to extend the life span of your air conditioner and maintain its efficiency, the most important thing you can do is change the filter of your air conditioner or furnace once every three to six months. Most people find pleated filters are sufficient for them. These have an estimated efficiency of 10-60% and need to be replaced every 3 to 6 months. HEPA filters are considered the most efficient filters available, but need to be checked monthly since they can become choked up very quickly and can hamper the airflow if they become too clogged. Electrostatic filters probably offer the best combination of value and efficiency. They can cost twice as much as a good quality disposable filter, but you can just wash them with water when they become dirty, and reuse them.

7) Bring In Some Green: One of the easiest steps to cleaning the air is to bring in plants. Indoor plants actually act as natural air filters, improving indoor quality by converting carbon dioxide to oxygen. Also, many of the chemicals that make us sick, such as carbon monoxide and formaldehyde, are quickly absorbed by plants. For a list of some plants that are effective in contributing to cleaner air, click here.                            
By Reinhard Kirchner (Own work)
 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0
via Wikimedia Commons

8) Change Your Candles: You may be surprised to learn that the most popular type of candles are paraffin-based and are a significant source of indoor air pollution. They emit toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene. While burning these types of candles every once in a while is probably harmless, repeated exposure can be problematic, especially for asthma and allergy sufferers.

By applying these low-cost methods, you can dramatically improve the air quality in your home and spend less money on trips to the doctor, and over-the-counter (and prescription) medicines.

Elena White is the founder and editor of  Life The Green Way, former corporate sustainability coordinator, clean water advocate, and a "rurban" wife and mother.  Learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter at @Lifethegreenway.


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