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How to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality
By Mike Holmes
Tuesday, March 24th, 2020 @ 3:16pm
Canadians spend more time indoors than they may think. It’s been estimated that we spend about 90% of our time in an indoor space. So despite being a country that prides itself on hockey, hiking, and winter – when it comes down to us, a lot of us are homebodies.
Whether this is because we’re too busy to get outside, or because we’re not as outdoorsy as we believe ourselves to be – the fact is, we’re spending a lot of our time indoors. For most of us, we’ll spend the majority of our time in two places: at home, and at work.
Once you realize that, you may begin to understand why I’m always going on about indoor air quality. The quality of the air inside our homes plays an important role in how we feel day by day.
DID YOU KNOW
The air inside of your home can actually be up to five times more polluted than the air outdoors?
Let’s break down exactly what it means to have poor indoor air quality, how we can determine the source of our unhealthy air, and what steps can we take to address it.
What Does Unhealthy Air Quality Mean?
Most of the time, when the outdoor air has toxins, it can dilute into the atmosphere. But when those unhealthy toxins – I’m talking about things like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), mold, lead, even cancer-causing gasses like radon get into our homes, they can build up and cause us harm, make us sick, or in extreme cases, cause death.
Can Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect Our Health?
It absolutely can. Unhealthy indoor air can cause headaches, nausea, irritation of the skin and eyes, a dry throat, or even just make you feel unusually tired. If you already suffer from asthma and allergies, living in a home with poor air quality can trigger those issues to an extreme.
That’s not all. When a silent killer like radon enters our homes and we aren’t able to expel it properly, it can build up to dangerous, high levels, and over time, longterm exposure to radon can cause lung cancer. For Canadians, it’s the leading cause of lung cancer for non-smoking Canadians, so it’s something we all need to take seriously.
Some contaminants, like VOCs may dissipate over time, but bigger health hazards like mold or radon will be there until you take active steps to remove them.
Do I Need an Indoor Air Quality Test?
There are a few times I would always have an indoor air quality test done – even if I wasn’t feeling sick in the home: if it was a home I was about to buy, and if it was a home I was about to sell.
If you feel any of the symptoms listed above frequently without any explanation, an indoor air quality test may be able to shed some light on why you’re not feeling too good in your own home.
When it comes to radon – this is a gas you can’t see, smell, or taste – so the only way to know if your home has elevated levels that could cause harm are by testing for it. To get a more accurate reading, you’ll want to use a longterm test that collects date for 90 days or more.
Explore Radon Testing Options
What Do You Do To Deal With Indoor Air Pollution?
Your indoor air quality test will have returned results to let you know what kind of pollutant you’re dealing with – which will dictate how you need to tackle the job.
New houses and recently renovated homes will likely have a lot of VOCs. Why? VOCs are in most of our building materials – and depending on which material you choose, can off gas VOCs for years.
When you’re renovating, you can choose materials that off gas a small amount (or no) VOCs. Low VOC paint, flooring options like tile, and natural hardwood are all materials that off gas less than some of the cheap plywood furniture you might buy online.
How Can You Take Small Steps to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality?
One small tip that I encourage every homeowner to follow, is to regularly change the filters in your HVAC system. Why does this matter? Well, the filter doesn’t actually do anything to filter the air in your home – that’s a misconception. But it does ensure that your unit is working at peak efficiency at all times.
Learn about the systems in Your Furnace Room
You want to get in the habit of changing the filters at least every three months. To me, that’s not enough, I change mine monthly. During the summer and winter, when our heating system and air conditioning system is running on overdrive, you’ll want to change them every month. In spring and fall, you can probably get away with every three months.
I get asked a lot about having your ducts professionally cleaned. I say it’s a good thing. Now, you probably won’t need to do it yearly (unless you’re a pet owner), but this is helps ensure a healthier air quality throughout the home.
For major renovations, build the cost of duct cleaning into your budget.
Promoting fresh air to cycle through the home is a good thing. It’s why it’s code in Ontario for new builds to include heat recovery ventilators (HRVs) which will automatically do that for you. If your home doesn’t have one – even something as small as opening the window for about 15 minutes can promote a healthy air exchange. You should even do this during the wintertime.
Your bed sheets, curtains, and cushions are big magnets for dust mites. Clean these items regularly.
How Do Houseplants Improve Indoor Air Quality?
We know that plants have serious power. After all, they produce the oxygen we need to breathe. But bringing a plant indoors can also have a positive effect on your indoor air quality.
Plants also have the ability to absorb contaminants like formaldehyde. So if you’ve got some plants lying around the house, they’ll be passively taking in those toxins.
What pants do you want to bring in? Here are a few that are simple to care for, no matter how green your thumb is:
- Snake plants
- Spider plants
- Aloe vera (can also be used to soothe burns)
- Weeping figs
- English ivy
It doesn’t always have to be a gigantic task to improve the air quality inside your home. Even taking small steps can have a big impact on the way you feel every day. Try it out and see if you notice a difference.
READ NEXT: I have narrowed down my top 5 important areas in your home to focus on when it comes to safety and durability.