simple solutions stop air pollution at home - family in gas masks in bedroom

You deserve healthy air. Pollution in the air outside, toxins from building materials in your home, or microbes growing in the basement can wreak havoc on your air quality. It might be ok, but isn’t it better to be in control? Fortunately a few simple solutions stop air pollution at home before it can shorten your life.

The process of equipping your house with systems* that control air quality is a pretty simple one. One by one you must identify the threats to your healthy environment, in order to control them.

 

Poisons within

First, take an accounting of the building materials and contents that could emit toxins into your living space.  Are there paints, plaster or structural materials that contain lead, asbestos, formaldehyde or other toxic or irritating materials? Do remnants of spills or other past contamination linger in basement walls or carpets? Check for any suspicious materials, contaminants or other items or contents, and make a plan to remove them or cover them with a coating that is effective and nontoxic.

 

Bug havens

Second, scour the nooks and crannies for places where microbes, fungal colonies, insects or other vermin can hide and breed – these are called “reservoirs” because they provide a ready and continuous supply of the living guests you did not invite. Pay particular attention to places where water might condense or drip into a puddle, as these are prime breeding grounds for everything from legionnaires disease to rodents. After you find the likely reservoir locations, find a way to eliminate or minimize them.

 

Pollutants outside

Third, check the air quality, exterior materials and nearby air quality nuisances (current and historical) like the neighbor that is spreading manure, the smoke from regional forest fires that flare up in August, or the smog covered landscape with smoke plumes, trees closercounty incinerator that only seems to burn the nasty stuff when the wind blows this way. Unless the nearest neighbor is miles away and the wind always comes to the house across a calm, pristine lake, it is probably prudent to plan to keep pollution outside while filtering all incoming air.

Of course when the pizza burns in the oven and smokes up the house, open doors and windows may be required to clear the place, but this is the exception if you’ve planned for effective home air isolation. In an isolated home the walls, windows and roof are tightly sealed, and air only enters through a small, well controlled vent, fan and filter system that allows it to be thoroughly filtered and treated before it is released in the living space. This improves energy efficiency, while supporting maximum control of incoming air quality with economical cost of filtration media. Having a well-controlled, isolated living space allows you to better maintain a healthy house biome to support family health.

When the outside air is clean, healthy and the right temperature for comfortable living, it can be pulled in through screened windows or doors, or in a more controlled way through a heat recovery system like this one*: Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) . During other times the exact amount and quality of air is pulled in through the HRV to ensure that inside air is fresh and healthy without outside pollutants.

To have a well isolated home where air quality can be controlled requires that holes be closed up, cracks be caulked and likely entry points for vermin be blocked. In addition, alternate paths for airflow like fireplace flues, range hoods and dryer vents must be checked and analyzed to ensure they don’t leak or drive a problem airflow.  The goal is a house that has just enough well filtered air coming in to balance out the air leaking out or leaving through exhaust vents and flues. The result should be a house with air pressure inside slightly higher than air pressure outside, so any leaks only allow house air to flow out, not outside air to flow in.  This not only helps to support family health in routine circumstances, but it can be an important survival factor if disaster strikes.

*NOTE- Some items in this post are provided by sponsors who support this website – see our sponsorship page for details.

 

Pollution you create

The pet dander, cooking aromas, hair spray, chemistry set evaporation and other interesting vapors emitted from every orifice of every occupant add to the atmosphere and the biome of the house.  If you are to exert any influence over the quality of that atmosphere, you must circulate it through a treatment system.  Generally, this requires a fan, a filter and ducts to control where the air is collected and where it is exhausted within the home.

If the home is well ventilated with lots of fresh (filtered) air, this recirculating system may only need filtration to remove particles in the air like dust, pet dander and spores. Such systems are relatively simple, inexpensive and easy to maintain.

If the home is VERY tight and energy efficient, humidity and food odors may require control as well, which may require additional carbon or chemical filtration or some form of dehumidification. Often, a central air conditioning or furnace system can be equipped to provide these capabilities, but they are seldom standard. As the home owner, you should carefully check what is and is not included, and ensure you have what is needed for control of a healthy, comfortable living space.

Even if you choose to heat your house with a wood stove or passive solar system, recirculating and filtering the inside air is possible, and need not be expensive or complex. If inside air quality is important due to allergies or asthma of people in the family, or hobbies, lifestyle or other factors, the airflow control and air quality control may be essential parts of a healthy practical living space, devoid of pollution problems.

If you have a story about home air pollution we would love to hear it.  Please share your story, questions or additions to this post; leave a message below and join the discussion.

 


Photo credit: Government Press Office (Israel) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Foter.com

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8 thoughts on “Simple Solutions Stop Air Pollution at Home


  • By Prachi - Reply

    Thanks a lot for such an informative article. We just moved in a new apartment , there is some kind of odor in the house and my daughter fell sick due to that . I will look in detail where is the odor coming from in my apartment.

    • By SteveT - Reply

      Thanks for the comment, Prachi. Sick building syndrome can be a tough problem to fix. Sometimes companies and consultants spend years trying to figure it out without much success. Hopefully, your situation will be easier.
      If your apartment has a furnace or air conditioner just for your space, you may ask the owner to upgrade the filter system in it to something more effective. If that isn’t a solution, I hope that the process outlined in this post will help you track down the problem and solve it.
      If the building owner isn’t helpful, that may be a reason for breaking the lease and moving; painful as that is. Health is probably more important.

  • By Eliane - Reply

    Steve,

    I’ve grown to value healthy air quality over the years, especially after becoming the mother of 3 kids. So I truly appreciate your article and all the great information.

    Reading what you wrote about paying attention to places where water drips into a puddle made me remember the terrible situation we had in Brazil with Zika. The government had a really hard time trying to fight this disease transmitted by an insect that loves calm waters, as in a puddle. At that point, I learned that being careful with those drips could make a huge difference in my family’s health.

    Speaking of family: two of my children have allergies and asthma. Do you suggest any specific air quality control systems for their bedrooms?

    • By SteveT - Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Eliane. Tiny, unnoticed puddles can support all sorts of life that is incompatible with a healthy home, including mosquito, toxic mold, and a wide variety of other microbes. I’m sensitive to it because of experience as an engineer trying to keep a consumer goods plant running when a pesky strain of pseudomonas bacteria loved those tiny puddles, and also enjoyed life in the mouthwash and machines for bottling it. It is a good habit to have, watching after those little drips.

      My suggestion for your kids is:

      Install an effective whole house filter on the central air / furnace system (at least MERV 11) and run the fan 24/7.

      Cover the top half of their beds (including bedspread, pillows, etc.) with a plastic tarp or sheet of some kind whenever they are not sleeping in it. Remove and clean this covering regularly to remove any dust or mites or pet dander, etc.

      Enclose pillows and mattress in mite-proof covers, and change and wash pillowcases very very often, preferably with HOT water and bleach.

      I’m not a doctor, but this works pretty well for my wife who has terrible asthma, allergies, and 2 cats that are all over her, to which she is allergic.

  • By Kiersten - Reply

    Having clean air in the home is actually something I have been thinking about a lot lately. I live in a valley that gets a lot of smog and that smog gets trapped below the mountains by inversion until a storm rolls through to clear it back out. Unfortunately, where I live is also super dry, so the storms aren’t exactly frequent. Keeping the nasty outside air OUT of the house would be really nice.

    So I’m glad to have found your article and can see that it is possible to do, but would probably require a lot of work. My home was built almost 100 years ago and would require a lot of changes to seal everything off the way I would really like.

    But ensuring healthy air in the home would be really awesome!

    • By SteveT - Reply

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Kiersten.  I too have an older home, so I empathize.  It is more work with an older home, but it is very feasible.   You have the most important thing – motivation. Tightening up a home is mostly caulking and minor woodworking.  Unless the home is huge, this is generally very doable.  If it IS huge, consider tightening up a smaller living area that includes the bedrooms. That could provide a big benefit to health with a smaller investment of time and money.

  • By Paige - Reply

    Thank you for your suggestions and wisdom. As we build our new home in a place that seems to become more affected by smoke and wildfire as time passes, these considerations are all very important. While much of the year we will want plenty of airflow to bring in the fresh forest air, in those dreadful days with hazardous air we will certainly want control to isolate the inside climate and effectively filter what we fill our lungs with. Even while being very aware of the toxicity of everything that we build with, if we let it fill with smokey air we’ve failed at proper planning for for health. My family will be grateful for your suggestions next wildfire season as we breathe deeply. 🙏

    • By SteveT - Reply

      Your situation is a great example of the need for isolation, Paige. Thanks for sharing. Smoke is a difficult challenge for our lungs, but pretty easy for a high efficiency air filter, if the living space is properly isolated. I’m glad the post is helpful as you build your home. I hope you have a good isolation or escape plan in case that wildfire gets too close. Smoke is difficult, but flames and burning branches are even more of a challenge. Stay safe, and let us know how it works out.

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