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.
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.
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.
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 county 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.
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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