How to improve air quality at home? There is no single answer to the question. But there are multiple individual steps to take that together will improve the quality of your indoor air. Here we show you 20 ways to do it.
- Related post: The Healthy House
Why is indoor air quality important ?
Indoor air quality is an essential part of having a healthy home. And there are two reasons to pay close attention to it.
First, poor indoor air quality can have seriously bad effects on your health. It can cause allergies, asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema.
It can also cause loss of lung function and lung capacity. And it is especially bad for people with COPD.
On top of that, poor indoor air quality can affect your mood, energy, and cognition.
Second, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends 90% of their time indoors. And what’s shocking is that concentrations of some air pollutants are 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors.
What are these air pollutants?
Indoor air pollutants can include, in no particular order, mold, carbon monoxide, radon, pesticides, lead, asbestos particles, pet dander, dust mites, ozone, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other particulate matter.
Some of these pollutants originate outdoors but most are from indoor sources. And even if you don’t have pets, you likely have pet dander in the home anyway. You can get pet dander from pet owners outside the home. This is because the dander sheds from their clothes and will find its way onto yours.
Most of these pollutant problems are odorless and too small to be visible to the naked eye. So, more often than not, there is nothing to alert you that there is a problem.
But there are many things that we can do to improve our indoor air quality. Here are 20 of them.
20 things to do about indoor air quality
1. Change the air conditioning filter regularly
HVAC units recycle the air in the home. So a good air conditioning filter goes a long way towards reducing the amount of particulate matter in the air.
Be conscious of the MERV rating of your AC filter. MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. Filters are rated from 1 through 16, with 16 being the most efficient. The rating indicates how effectively the filter will trap airborne particles. Make sure your filter has a rating of between 9 and 12.
These MERV rated filters generally provide the best indoor air quality improvement in a residential setting. They will trap pollen, dust mites, dust, carpet fibers, spray paint dust, mold spores, cement dust, hair spray, fabric protector, humidifier dust, lead dust, auto emissions, and milled flour.
But don’t over do it. A filter with a MERV rating higher than 12 will restrict air flow too much. And this will adversely affect the operation of your AC unit. By the way, always use a pleated air filter. This presents a greater surface area to the airflow and restricts it less than a flat filter.
2. Ensure that your home has an adequate number of air changes
We have already seen that the air outside the home is less polluted than the air inside. So it makes sense that we would want to change the air inside with the fresh air from outside.
In older homes, which were not very tightly built, this happens naturally because air leaks in and out. But modern homes are built “tight” This makes it difficult for air to infiltrate and also means that they do not get sufficient fresh air.
There are two ways to overcome this problem.
- One is an active, mechanical whole house ventilation installed in conjunction with the air conditioning system.
- Passive ventilation via vents in the exterior walls through which air will flow as it is driven by wind and temperature differences. Fresh air is drawn in and the warmer interior air vents out through exhausts in the roof.
Talk to a local HVAC contractor for specific recommendations.
3. Ductwork cleaning to protect air quality
Your AC ductwork can but usually does not accumulate pollutants on its surfaces. But if you are particularly prone to respiratory problems, it is certainly worth having a professional check it out to see if it should be cleaned. The EPA provides good advice on this.
4. Standalone air purifiers
If you don’t have a central air conditioning system, or even if you do, consider getting an air purifier. These can be single whole house units like the Airmeg 400. Or you can get individual room sized units like the hOmeLabs air purifier.
Air purifiers use high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) or ion technology. HEPA filters are able to remove more than 99 percent of airborne pollutants greater than 0.3 microns in size. The ion technology precipitates particles out of the air but does not actually trap them efficiently. So the HEPA type is the one we would go for.
5. Clean or replace your other air filters
HEPA filters are also used in vacuum cleaners, clothes dryers, and kitchen vents. All these filters need regular cleaning or replacement.
6. Flooring and air quality
Keep all hard floor surfaces mopped clean. Use microfiber mops, which are much more effective than other fiber mops. And regularly vacuum your carpets and rugs. These things trap pollutant particles in their fibers and, when you walk on a rug or carpet, you can kick pollutants into the air.
Soft floor coverings are great for looks and comfort. But if you are prone to respiratory problems, they can be a problem. Opt for tile, wood or vinyl instead.
In addition, use door mats at your entry doors. Making people wipe their feet prevents them from tracking pollutants into your home from the outside.
An alternative is to change your shoes at the door and park your outdoor shoes or boots in a boot tray or shoe rack.
7. Fabrics, soft furnishings and air quality
Fabrics and soft furnishings harbor pollutants in much the same way as carpeting. So vacuum your furniture thoroughly and often. Understandably, it’s harder to get rid of furniture than carpeting.
Keep sheets, other bedding and clothes clean. They can harbor dust mites.
8. Humidity control for air quality
Excessive humidity fosters mildew, mold, and dust mites. All of which can cause respiratory issues. An air conditioner during the summer will reduce humidity in the home. And you can use a dehumidifier in the winter months. A good humidity level is 30% to 50%.
So how do you test for humidity? Get a hygrometer. “Hygros” is Greek and means wet or moist.
9. Radon and air quality
Radon is an odorless gas thrown off by the decay of uranium in the ground. It is everywhere in the USA to some degree and is associated with lung cancer. It is easy to test for with a radon test kit .
If your home has high levels of radon (4 picoCuries per liter), here are some tips to help you:
- Seal cracks in your foundation
- Use a radon reduction vent pipe and fan. This pulls radon from under the home and vents it away.
Check out the EPA’s Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction. If you live in a high risk area, there will be certified contractors that specialize in radon mitigation.
10. Carbon monoxide (CO) and air quality
CO is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. It is odorless and dangerous. So make sure you have a CO alarm installed and that your gas appliances and wood burning fireplaces are properly maintained.
11. Asbestos fibers and air quality
In older (pre 1980s) homes asbestos fibers can be a problem. If you think you may be affected by this, it’s a good idea to get a professional assessment. Do not try asbestos abatement yourself. It’s dangerous.
12. Lead based paint and air quality
This can be a problem in homes built pre 1978. Again, if you think this affects you, call a professional. However, this is not as difficult to deal with as asbestos.
13. Avoid using materials that off-gas VOCs into the air
Off-gassing happens when a volatile organic compound (VOC) becomes detached from some material or liquid product and is released into the air we breathe.
These compounds include chloroform, phthalates, formaldehyde, and benzene. There are others and they are just as nasty and bad for you as they sound. They cause asthma and allergy outbreaks. And other symptoms include nausea and fatigue.
So what to do about it? The simple and sound answer is to avoid products that off-gas. This is not so easy. VOCs are found in furniture, cabinetry, paint, and more.
But the good news is that many products are now holding themselves out to be no or low VOC. And they are getting backing of the Greenguard certification.
This means that a product has been tested for many thousands of chemicals by a third party organization. And the product has been determined to have low or no harmful emissions.
So when you buy any product for your home look for the Greenguard cert.
14. Controlling pet dander to protect air quality
Pet dander is made up of tiny flecks of skin shed by the animal. This can cause allergic reactions in many people. You can’t get rid of it without getting rid of the pet. But here are some things you can do to control it:
- Make sure the pet is on a healthy diet. This helps the condition of the skin and coat and will reduce dander.
- Groom your pet regularly.
- Keep pets away from your bedding.
- Ask your vet if the pet has any underlying problems that may contribute to dander.
15. Artificial fragrances and air quality
Many of the synthetic fragrances associated with standard cleaning and laundry products and air fresheners have been found to emit VOCs into the air. This includes aerosol sprays, deodorants, and furniture polish.
The reason for this is that most fragrances are derived from petroleum products. However, you won’t find this disclosed on the labeling. The fragrances mentioned on the labels of cleaning and other products (other than cosmetics) are not described in any detail.
This is because the FDA does not require it, as it may cause the revelation of trade secrets.
16. Use natural, non-toxic and homemade cleaning products
Check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and their guide to healthy cleaning. They have recommendations for cleaning all areas of the home environment in ways that avoid VOCs.
And, if you are up for some DIY, there are plenty of recipes for homemade cleaning products out there.
For example, you can make an all-purpose cleaner out of hydrogen peroxide (¾ cup; distilled white vinegar (½ cup); unscented liquid Castile soap (1 teaspoon); tea tree oil (10 drops); lavender essential oil (20 drops); water (2 cups). Put all of this in a 24-oz spray bottle.
In addition, you can create your own fragrances using essential oils.
17. Indoor plants and air quality
Indoor plants are a great way to improve your home’s indoor air quality. However, some plants are better at it than others.
Back in 1989 NASA carried out a study on the most effective indoor plants for removing pollutants from the air. These air filtering plants include the Dwarf Date Palm, Spider Plant, Boston Fern and more.
The study found that these plants are in varying degrees effective in removing trichloroethylene, ammonia, formaldehyde, benzene, and xylene. These chemicals are found in many products in common use in the home.
But beware. Some of these plants are harmful to pets. So, if you have pets, check that out.
18. Beeswax candles and air quality
Beeswax candles are completely natural, smell good, look good and make good air purifiers too. They emit negative ions that neutralize the positive ions carried by pollutants and cause them to fall from suspension. In this way, they mimic the action of some air purifiers that use negative ion technology.
19. Himalayan salt lamps and air quality
Himalayan salt lamps have the same effect as beeswax candles. These lamps are chunks of rock salt with lamps inserted in them. They emit negative ions when lit.
People with asthma have reported that Himalayan salt lamps help them. And many people find them decorative too.
20. Air quality tests
According to HomeAdvisor, a professional indoor air quality test costs on average $414, depending on the size of the home and the type of testing required. However, if you are concerned about your health in the context of air quality, then this is actually a small price to pay.
If you are concerned about more specific issues, like VOCs and mold, you can get a DIY test kit quite inexpensively. And it includes lab analysis.
Indoor air quality deserves your attention at all times.
But if you are getting ready to embark on a home improvement project, this is a perfect time to see how indoor air quality measures can be incorporated into the project. This is becomes very important when it comes to the selection of materials.