How Healthy is Your Home?
At the end of a hard day or the beginning of a new one, our homes provide sanctuary. They are places of comfort and safety for ourselves and our loved ones. We look around and feel safe and secure in the environment that we have created. Yet, are our homes as safe as we would like? Or are there unseen hazards in them of which we are not fully aware?
There is no doubt that the pandemic has created a greater awareness of how the environment in our homes affects us. Especially now when we are spending more time in them than ever. Good air quality is of critical importance in creating a healthy home. Numerous studies have shown that the quality of the air we breathe has a huge impact on our health and well-being. Yet until recently, this is something that most people have given very little thought to.
“We spend 90% of our time indoors in enclosed environments where the indoor air quality is often 4 to 5 time more polluted than outside”
We spend 90% of our time indoors. Much of that is at home, in an enclosed environment that may lack proper ventilation and fresh air. Where the indoor air quality is often four to five times more polluted than outside. What effect does this have on the health and well-being of you and your loved ones?
The Risks of Poor Indoor Air Quality in the Home.
Poor indoor air quality can lead to a whole host of health issues. These include headaches, brain fog, eye, ear, and nose irritation, and upper respiratory illnesses. It can also exacerbate allergies and asthma. Because of the pandemic, we have become aware that viruses, such as COVID-19, are airborne. However, viruses are not the only airborne contaminants you and your family are exposed to in your homes. Other airborne contaminants include volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), bacteria, dust, mold, other allergens that can lead to allergic reactions and to poor health.
The air we breath at home is filled with more chemicals than most of us realize. Many things in our homes release VOCs into the air. Whether it’s the paint on the walls, the furniture and carpet that you’ve purchased, or the cleaning supplies and personal care products that you use, they all release volatile organic chemicals into the air. Significantly many of these VOCs have been shown to adversely affect our health.
A classic example of harmful VOCs is formaldehyde which is used in building products such as plywood, fiberboard, and adhesives. It is also released into the air by cosmetics, nail polish, soaps, shampoos, and cleaning projects. Exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to cancer and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat.
Unless your home has good ventilation, harmful pathogens, VOCs, and other allergens can build up. Over time they are not only a daily irritant but can lead to poor health and a lack of vitality. Good air quality in the home is essential to creating a healthy home for you and your family.
e Simple Steps to Improve the Air Quality in Your Home.
As an architect and WELL AP, I am familiar with the WELL Building Standard and committed to advancing human health in the built environment. Below are several simple steps you can take on your own to create a healthy home environment.
1. Open your windows.
Air out your home every day. In a couple of rooms located at opposite ends of your home open the windows two or three inches. This will improve the air circulation throughout bringing in fresh air and exhausting contaminated air.
2. Add indoor plants to improve your air quality and your mood.
Plants are constantly purifying the air, releasing oxygen as they take in carbon dioxide. They also regulate humidity and purify the air. Bringing nature into your home has been shown to be good for your mood and to reduce stress.
3. Don’t use air fresheners.
They release harmful VOCs into the air that may adversely impact your health. Open your windows to get rid of unwanted odors or use air purifiers with charcoal activated filters.
4. Get rid of scented candles.
Most candles are made from paraffin wax and synthetic fragrances. Both release toxic VOCs into the air when burned. Additionally, the smoke is made up of harmful fine particles that can penetrate your lungs. A safer alternative is to use essential oils or potpourri.
5. Add a standalone indoor air purifier to your home.
There are many good-quality indoor air filters on the market with a variety of filtering media. In addition to standard media filters, some models include HEPA filters and/or charcoal activated filters which provide increased protection. Depending on the make and model, indoor air purifiers can remove VOCs, viruses, bacteria, mold, dust, and other allergens from the air.
Improve the Heating Cooling System in Your Home.
If you have central air conditioning and forced-air heat, upgrading your existing heating/cooling system can improve the air quality in your home. This will require the assistance of an HVAC contractor. They can evaluate your existing system and advise you on the best way to upgrade it to improve air quality. Generally, this is done by improving the level of air filtration in the system.
Most HVAC systems have standard air filters that are not adequate to filter out many air contaminants. If possible, upgrade your air filters to an efficiency rating of at least a MERV 13. These filters are denser than standard air filters. They have been shown to effectively filter out dust, allergens, mold, and bacteria. Also, check with your HVAC contractor to see if your system is robust enough to add a HEPA air filter to further purify the air. Additionally, see if it is possible to add more outside fresh air to the system. Both will improve the air quality and create a healthier home.
What About Humidity?
Having the proper level of humidity in your home is important. The optimum level of humidity is between 30% and 60%.
Dry air, or humidity below 30%, can cause dry skin, irritate your nasal passages and throat, and make your eyes itchy. Viruses thrive in dry air which increases the chances of your catching a cold or the flu.
Humidity above 60% is uncomfortable for most people and can lead to condensation problems on your windows, walls, floors, and other surfaces. Also, too much humidity promotes the growth of harmful bacteria, dust mites, and mold.
People generally feel the most comfortable and are healthier when indoor humidity is between 30% and 60%. Additionally, viruses break down and cannot survive in this range. Prevent low humidity in the wintertime by installing humidifiers in your home. Retrofit central air-conditioning systems in large homes or townhouses with central humidification. Apartment dwellers, without central AC, can install one of the many brands of standalone humidifiers.
It is important to stay within the recommended range when adding humidity to your home in the winter or dehumidifying your home in the summer.
Looking for More Ways to Create a Healthier Home?
If you want to create a healthier home for you and your family incorporating the recommendations above is a great first step. However, they are only the beginning. A professional evaluation of your home can lead to additional recommendations to improve the air quality in your home.
You can also achieve a more permanent solution when you renovate your home or move into a new one. Designing a new home with wellness in mind will lead to greater health benefits for you and your family. Incorporating the principles of wellness design will provide you with a greater level of comfort and better health year-round.
If you are ready to get started on creating a healthy home for you and your family, feel free to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with me to discuss your project.