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Clear The Air: Signs That Your Indoor Air Quality May Be Lacking

There’s a saying that goes, ‘You are what you eat,’ but even more true for residents everywhere affected by poor air quality is, ‘You are what you breathe.’ The indoor air quality in your house is a major contributor to the status of your health and your home, yet it is too often overlooked by homeowners across the country. Clean air is considered practically a given for many Americans, as emission standards have kept the country’s outdoor air clean and healthy, an expectation they maintain within the walls of their own home. 

Unfortunately, indoor air quality is seldom as clean as we’d like to believe, which can be detected through several signs of which everyone should be aware. 

Monitor Your Home’s Indoor Air Quality

About Indoor Air Quality  

Indoor air quality, as defined by the United States Department of Labor, describes how inside air can affect a person’s health, comfort and ability to work, including factors such as temperature, humidity, poor ventilation, mold from water damage, exposure to other chemicals, and more. 

The effects of poor indoor air quality range according to the affected individual as well as the severity of the causes. Sometimes, immediate effects occur that can be either mild or severe, whereas other cases develop over time through repeated or consistent exposure to pollutants. As the EPA explains, the likelihood of an immediate reaction to poor air quality depends on subjective factors such as age, preexisting medical conditions, and individual sensitivity. Others may become sensitized to biological or chemical pollutants after repeated, high-level or sustained exposure, minimizing the types of immediate reactions that they would otherwise notice, but also increases the likelihood of far more problematic symptoms and signs. 

The sooner you realize your home suffers from poor indoor air quality, the easier it will be to rectify the issues, sparing your health and your house from long-term damage. 

What Affects IAQ 

There are many things that may affect the air quality of your home, such as poor ventilation, a lack of outside air, inability to control temperature, high or low humidity, as well as activities in or near your home, such as recent remodeling. As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration explains, construction and renovation create dust that may cause poor indoor air quality. Cleaning supplies, pesticides, and other airborne chemicals are just as viable to contribute to declining air quality that may lead to a sick home. 

A “sick house” is defined as a residence with poor air quality that may cause its inhabitants to become ill. Houses can become “sick” through a buildup of air pollutants from causes such as household products, building materials, formaldehyde, and respirable particles. Researchers at Georgia State University explain houses in cold climates are more prone to becoming “sick” during the winter because the cool air holds less moisture and replaces air with moisture and contaminants. Conversely, houses in warm or humid climates are more likely to become “sick” during the summer, as the moist outdoor air may increase mildew in the home.  

Though the best cure for a sick house is proper ventilation with clean, outdoor air, if your home is not properly air-conditioned with sufficient dehumidification, the moisture outside may contribute to poor air quality inside. 

Signs Of Poor Air Quality: Your Health

 

 

There are several signs that the air quality in your home is deficient, but your own body is the clearest indicator of any potential issues. Often, you’ll experience symptoms that mirror side effects of a cold, such as a runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, and coughing. If the air quality is severely poor, you may even experience more serious symptoms such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness. 

As the experts at Allergy And Air explain, preexisting allergies may flare up when exposed to irritants like pollen or dust that are contaminating the air quality of your home. These reactions may be signs of a less severe contamination, but if you notice new or unusual symptoms, there is probably a much more dangerous problem with your air quality. These may include dizziness, nausea, rashes, fevers, fatigue, or even vomiting, muscle pain, shortness of breath, or hearing loss.  

Because a lot of these symptoms mirror effects of other common problems, it’s important to understand exactly how issues with air quality might affect your health. 

As you inhale particles from the air, such as dust or pollen, you may become congested with a cough as your body combats the foreign agents; accordingly, if you frequently become congested after coming home, your air quality may need to be addressed. More alarming symptoms such as fatigue and dizziness are often signs of a more serious problem, such as fumes, carbon monoxide, or other chemical and gaseous air contaminants affecting your air quality. 

The irritants in the air will affect the most sensitive and vulnerable parts of the body first, such as the eyes, nose, throat, mouth, and tongue. Your mucous membranes are the most susceptible to contaminants, so these areas may begin to itch, water, run or even burn when exposed to poor air quality in the home. The next most likely part of the body to be affected is the skin. When spending a prolonged period of time in a home with poor air quality, your skin may start to dry, peel or flake, as well as develop rashes or redness on sensitive areas of the skin. This is especially true for any who already struggle with skin conditions like eczema or acne. 

Poor indoor air quality may lead to a myriad of health concerns, including a rapid, acute onset of symptoms that can act as signs that indicate a problem that needs to be addressed. Other symptoms may be slow and more difficult to detect, so it’s important to look for other signs beyond your health, too. 

Signs Of Poor Air Quality: Your Home

In addition to health symptoms, there are signs around the home that may indicate a problem with the air quality. The odor is an important sign to pay attention to, as a bad smell around the house may suggest that a filter in your air conditioning unit needs to be changed. Other unpleasant odors like a musty, stuffy smell may be signs of a mold or mildew that has infiltrated the home and affected its air quality, as Georgia State University explains.  

Oftentimes, there will also be visible signs of poor air quality, such as black or green spots to indicate a biological growth. Additionally, the EPA states that inconsistencies in air distribution through the home may indicate a problem with the air quality. If one area is colder or warmer than another, there is likely a problem affecting the purity of the airflow. 

“Most of the things that cause [air quality] problems are odorless,” says Dr. Nicholas of Harvard-Medical School. “So, in many cases, there’s nothing to alert you to the problem.”

Because problems to air quality can be difficult to spot, it’s important to stay cognizant of these warning sign, and contact the professionals as soon as you notice them. 

Breath of Fresh Air: What You Need To Know About Air Filtration

You want a lot out of your home — a sense of security, a promise of safety, an opportunity for relaxation — and proper air filtration is a key component of ensuring your expectations of total home comfort are met. 

It’s impossible for any one individual to control the air quality of their surrounding outdoor environment, but every homeowner expects them to be able to control the what they’re breathing in inside the house. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air levels of many pollutants may be up to five times as high as those outdoors. Proper air filtration is one of the most effective and most urgent means of combatting poor indoor air quality, and thankfully its much easier than may be expected. 

Ensuring you and your family are breathing in clean air, with as minimal pollutants as possible, for as affordable and conveniently as possible, begins with the basic comprehension of your home’s needs for air filtration. 

Air Filtration Overview

For something seemingly as simple as ensuring clean indoor air, the science of air filtration has advanced significantly over the years to better protect families and facilities everywhere. As the National Air Filtration Association (NAFA) explains, air filtration supplies the means to obtain the level of cleanliness required by any definition of “air conditioning,” including everything from preventing lint from clogging heating coils to removing particles as minuscule as 0.1 micrometers that could otherwise short circuit a computer’s microchip. 

Proper air filtration is a must-have for ensuring the health and wellness of a home’s occupancy, but its benefits extend well beyond simple comfortability. Air filtration helps protect the décor by removing staining qualities of airborne dust, eliminates fire hazards by removing lint that may amass in ductwork, extends the shelf life of foods by removing airborne mold, and much more. 

However clean you try to keep your home, there’s much more going on within its walls than meets the eye. 

Airborne Pollutants

 

 

Among the innumerable worries a homeowner juggles, most will admit that air filtration is seldom their top concern. Nonetheless, the EPA states that indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental health risks Americans encounter every day. As pollutants congest indoors, the best way to foster clean air in your home is to ventilate the house with as much clean outdoor as possible, as well as, of course, eliminating the source of the pollutants. That is seldom enough to protect your home, so robust air filtration is paramount to keep your family safe and your home clean of the various pollutants that can affect indoor air quality. 

These include particulate matter and gaseous pollutants. Particulate matter includes dust, smoke, pollen, animal dander, tobacco smoke, particles generated from combustion appliances like cooking stoves, as well as organisms such as dust mites, molds, bacteria, and viruses, the EPA explains. Gaseous pollutants arise from combustion processes like gas cooking stoves and vehicle exhaust, as well as from building materials, furnishings, paints, cleaning products, and pesticides. 

As particulate matter and gaseous pollutants are composed of completely different bases, different air filtration services are used to remove them from your home. 

Air Filtration Services

There are two types of air filtration devices that can address particulate matter: mechanical air filters and electronic air filters. The former removes particles by capturing them on filter materials, including high-efficiency air (HEPA) filters. Conversely, electronic air cleans like electrostatic precipitators leverage a means of electrostatic attraction to trap charged particles and accumulate them on an oppositely charged collector. 

Gaseous pollutants, on the other hand, are removed by gas-phase air filters that use a material called “sorbent” and are generally limited to a few types of pollutants, which therefore inhibits them from addresses the types for which they were not designed. 

Because of the range of gaseous pollutants and particulate matter that may affect the home, it is important to select the air filtration device that best addresses your family’s needs and lifestyle. 

Filter Types & Their Efficiency

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) developed a system by which to measure an air filter’s efficiency in removing airborne particles, called the minimum efficiency reporting value or MERV. These ratings range from a low of 1 to a high of 20, allowing homeowners to compare different air filters based on their various needs. 

Air filtration systems with a MERV rating ranging from 4 to 1 can typically address pollutants like carpet fibers, pollen and dust mites, applied often in window A/C units, which may be enough for some residential homes. 

Air filtration systems with a MERV rating ranging from 8 to 5 can control contaminants like mold spores and dusting aids, passing for most residential and commercial buildings. Air filtration systems like pleated filters and cartridge filters are often included in this range. 

Air filtration systems with a MERV rating ranging from 12 to 9 can handle pollutants like lead dust, auto emissions, and welding fumes, as well as the pneumonia-causing pathogen Legionella, making these a requirement for settings like hospital laboratories. 

Air filtration systems with a MERV rating ranging from 16 to 13 can protect against virtually all bacteria, and therefore imperative for surgery settings as well as hospital inpatient care. These can also capture most tobacco smoke, so smoking lounges leverage them, too. 

Air filtration systems with a MERV rating ranging from 20 to 17 address contaminants like viruses, carbon dust, and combustion smoke, as well as particulates with a diameter as small as .3 micrometers. 

Selecting Your Air Filtration Device

For the most part, air filtration systems with a MERV rating between 1 and 4 are used to protect heating and cooling equipment from the buildup of pollutants, but cannot completely manage the complete air quality of your home. Their low efficiency allows for smaller airborne particles like viruses, bacteria, animal allergens, and some mold spores to remain in the home. 

As the EPA purports, medium efficiency air filtration systems between 7 and 13 are nearly as effective as HEPA filters at removing the majority of airborne indoor particles. These medium efficiency air filtration systems are, for the most part, more affordable than true HEPA filters, permit quieter heating and air operation, and allow higher airflow rates than HEPA filters. 

HEPA filters have a MERV rating range of 17 to 20 and are rarely installed in residential homes due to the limited motor capacity of most heating and air systems. Instead, higher efficiency air filtration devices with a MERV rating of 14 to 16 can often get the job done just as effectively with the home’s existing HVAC system. 

Once you determine the best MERV rating region your home requires based on the pollutants created based on your family’s lifestyle and location, consider other factors such as costs, odors, and noise that you can reasonably tolerate in your house. 

Every family is different, and the pollutants that are created in the home change in every household. Talk with an expert in indoor air quality to determine the best air filtration system for your family needs to ensure total home comfort. 

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