Indoor air quality is more than just ensuring a cozy environment. Considering that the average American spends over 90% of their life indoors, the air quality significantly impacts our health. 

Many of us aren’t aware of the invisible pollutants lurking around or how they can affect our well-being. From sneezes and sniffles to more severe health concerns, the air inside our homes plays a bigger role than we might think. Discover the importance of indoor air quality and how to ensure you’re breathing the purest air. From enhancing your HVAC with a two-zone mini-split system to introducing plants into your living space, there are various ways to improve indoor air.

What Is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)?

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) refers to the air quality within and surrounding buildings and structures that directly impacts occupants’ health and comfort, such as allergies. Substandard IAQ may cause serious health concerns including asthma, Legionnaires disease and lung cancer in which minor irritations like allergies become severe conditions requiring treatment. Various factors influence IAQ, including ventilation, humidity levels, and pollutants from sources like cleaning products, appliances, and outdoor air entering the home.

Sources of Indoor Air Pollutants

When discussing air pollution, we often picture busy cities with a layer of smog. But even the most comfortable and tidy living spaces can hide airborne pollutants affecting our health. Some common indoor sources of air pollution include:

  • Radon: Radon is a radioactive gas that is created naturally when thorium, uranium, or radium break down in soil, rocks, and groundwater. It seeps into buildings through cracks in the foundation, gaps around service pipes, and other openings, and it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. It’s odorless and colorless, making it hard to detect without special equipment.
  • Pollen: These tiny particles released by plants for reproduction can easily drift into homes, especially during spring and fall. Pollen can trigger allergic reactions in people with sensitivities, leading to symptoms like itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and congestion.
  • Mold: Fungi that thrive in damp environments. They release spores, which can circulate in the air and cause health issues like nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing, and skin irritation.
  • Household products: With so much time spent indoors, managing our air quality is crucial to health and well-being. Luckily, there are various simple strategies available to improve it so we can breathe easier:
  • Building materials: Certain building materials, including fiberglass insulation, asbestos and pressed wood products can release hazardous substances like formaldehyde and particulates that could contribute to lung issues.
  • Tobacco smoke: Tobacco smoke, especially secondhand smoke, is a complex mixture of over 7,000 chemicals, Ammonia, arsenic and benzene are just a few examples of highly toxic substances known to cause cancer; while more than 70 of them may also pose health hazards.. 
  • Pet dander: Pets that shed skin, fur or feathers can trigger allergic reactions in people.
  • Dust mites: These minuscule creatures live in house dust, feeding on dead skin cells. Their waste products can trigger allergic reactions.
  • Bacteria and viruses: Microscopic organisms can easily become airborne and cause illness in homes. Common examples of bacteria and viruses found include Staphylococcus aureus, Legionella pneumophila and Rhinoviruses.

Tips to Improve Indoor Air Quality

With so much time spent indoors, managing our air quality is crucial to health and well-being. Luckily, there are various simple strategies available to improve it so we can breathe easier:

  • Regular cleaning and dusting: Dust and allergens accumulate on surfaces and can become airborne with daily activities. Wipe down surfaces daily, vacuum with a HEPA filter vacuum several times per week, and mop with a disinfectant solution to reduce the amount of dust, allergens, and microorganisms in your home.
  • Proper ventilation: Fresh air can help dilute indoor pollutants. Make it a habit to open windows and doors for a short period daily, especially after activities like cooking or cleaning, and install high-quality ceiling fans like Big Ass Fans to promote air circulation. Exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens can also help remove contaminants at the source.
  • Use air purifiers and dehumidifiers: Air purifiers use filters to capture many of the pollutants in indoor air. Models equipped with HEPA filters can trap at least 99.97% of particles 0.3 microns in diameter, like pollen, dust, and pet dander, while those with activated carbon filters are designed to absorb gases, odors, and VOCs that might be emitted from household products or cooking. Dehumidifiers, on the other hand, can help maintain optimal 30-50% humidity levels, making your home less hospitable to mold and dust mites.
  • Add houseplants: Some houseplants, like the spider plant or peace lily, can act as natural air purifiers. They absorb certain pollutants and release fresh oxygen, beautifying your space and making the air healthier.
  • Reduce tobacco smoke and other combustible pollutants: Avoiding smoking indoors improves air quality. Additionally, be mindful of other contaminants like burning candles or using certain aerosol sprays. Many candles are made from paraffin, which can release hydrocarbons and petroleum-based irritants into the air. Choose soy or beeswax candles instead. 
  • Choose low or non-VOC products: To minimize exposure to VOCs, look for products labeled as low-VOC or VOC-free. This is especially important for products used regularly or in large quantities like paint. When using products that emit VOCs, ensure proper ventilation. Open windows and doors to allow fresh air to circulate and disperse the VOCs. As soon as products containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are no longer needed, store them in an area with adequate ventilation, ideally outside your main living space.
  • Install a quality HVAC system: A high-quality HVAC system is crucial for optimal indoor air quality. Regular maintenance, especially filter replacements, prevents the spread of pollutants, and integrating UV lights can neutralize airborne pathogens, enhancing air safety. For even better air quality, consider a ductless system like an MRCOOL mini split. These units reduce the risk of circulating contaminants since they don’t rely on ducts, and they provide efficient zoned temperature control for a cleaner, healthier indoor environment.

Protect Your Home and Health

By being proactive and arming ourselves with the correct information, we can ensure our homes remain comfortable, healthy sanctuaries. From regular maintenance of HVAC systems to the strategic use of purifiers and plants, simple measures can ensure the air we breathe is clean and fresh. Prioritize your indoor air and breathe easier every day.