Winter indoor air quality is critical for your family’s health.
Air quality is defined as a comparison of the total pollutant levels in a home or other building space to the ambient air volume. In other words, a home with good indoor air quality will have minimal pollutants, whereas a building with poor air quality will be measured as having high levels of any number of a variety of pollutants and contaminants. In general, the Environmental Protection Agency produces literature on three main contaminants: secondhand tobacco smoke, mold, and radon. In addition to these pollutants, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide are of special concern during the winter months. Read on for more information about these air quality concerns.
Secondhand smoke is the term given to smoke contamination caused to people who do not smoke themselves, but who encounter smoke in their home, workplace, or other environment from coming in contact with someone who does smoke. Children are especially susceptible to secondhand smoke; the EPA reports that children exposed to secondhand smoke will get sick more often with
- ear infections
- and even pneumonia.
- Children who already have asthma will have more attacks, and these will be more severe or occur more often.
- The US Surgeon General reports that secondhand smoke has been a cause for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, sometimes called SIDS.
In addition to all of these effects on children, secondhand smoke can even cause lung cancer and heart disease in adults. One misconception is that opening windows or using fans or even air conditioners will reduce secondhand smoke; but the sad fact is that none of these measures are enough to significantly reduce secondhand smoke pollution. The only ways to keep secondhand smoke out of your home is to keep smoke itself out of your home. Do not allow family members of friends to smoke in your home or vehicles, and if possible, they should not smoke within 50 feet of your home’s doors, windows, or HVAC equipment. Smoke-free is the only way to stay secondhand smoke free.
Mold is a natural part of many ecosystems, working to break down dead organic matter like fallen leaves and dead trees. However, indoors, mold growth should be avoided. This is because molds reproduce by means of microscopic airborne spores; these spores, once they land on a moist surface, begin a new patch of mold. These molds produce allergens (substances which can cause allergic reactions), irritants, and sometimes potentially toxic substances, called mycotoxins. Inhaling mold spores can cause allergic reactions and symptoms, like
- runny noses
- red eyes
- skin rashes.
- People with asthma will experience asthma attacks.
- Most people will report irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs.
Radon is a relatively newly-recognized pollutant in the world of home safety and air quality, but that does not mean it is a new problem. In fact, research suggests that radon has been a problem for many, many years. However, we are not without hope and recourse. There are many myths about radon, and the EPA produces a highly informative document that details how to test for radon, and the kinds of symptoms and effects exposure to radon can induce in your family. The main concern is for smokers, current or former. Smokers are at highly increased risk of lung cancer if exposed, even minimally to radon. For more information, you can also contact your state’s Radon Office.
Carbon monoxide is a natural output of combustion-based heating. It is very easy to keep an eye on carbon monoxide levels with an inexpensive CO monitor, and some smoke detectors, which every home should have anyway, now include a carbon monoxide monitor in addition to simple smoke and fire detection. There are some steps you can take to reduce your carbon monoxide emissions this winter, as you utilize your heating system more.
- Keep gas appliances properly adjusted.
- Use only the proper fuel source in any heater, but especially in kerosene-fueled space heaters.
- Open all flues when fireplaces are in use.
- Choose properly sized wood stoves which are certified to meet all EPA emission standards.
- Make sure doors on all wood stoves are fitted tightly.
- Have a trained professional inspect, clean, and maintain your central heating system annually; this includes furnaces, flues, and chimneys.
- If you have an enclosed garage, do not idle the car inside. If you must warm up your vehicle, either open the garage door first, or back the car out of the garage before leaving it idle.
While nitrogen dioxide is produced most commonly by vehicles and other heavy machinery, that does not mean you cannot potentially be exposed. This exposure is most common on cold winter mornings, when you idle your vehicle in your garage. High levels of nitrogen dioxide can cause aggravation to individuals with respiratory diseases, especially asthma; increased coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing are common symptoms.
Indoor air quality is an essential factor which savvy homeowners will take great care to maintain. Your family’s health and comfort are at stake. If you are concerned about potential air quality hazards in your home, contact an expert HVAC company today. Metro Express Services is here to help!