When creating a healthy and safe environment at home, we may think about security, keeping spaces hazard-free for children, taking care of electrical items, etc. However, we may ignore a crucial element that surrounds us all at all times: the air we breathe. It comes as no surprise that the quality of indoor air affects our health, so understanding how to maintain a healthy indoor environment at home is important.
To talk about indoor air, we use the concept of Indoor Air Quality, or IAQ, which takes into account a series of parameters to assess the general safety and quality of the air inside buildings. Some of these parameters are the presence of harmful substances and particles, ventilation rates or how often indoor air is renewed, and humidity level. Environments with poor IAQ can negatively affect our health and wellbeing, indicating why it is a critical element to consider when creating the ideal home conditions.
How can you tell your home has poor IAQ? One of the most common ways people recognizes it is when a room or building has a sense of stuffiness to it. Other ways to recognize poor IAQ include visible mold and mildew, and allergic reaction, which we explore in more detail below. As you can imagine, the air we breathe is unarguably linked with the health of our respiratory system and so is the quality of air in our homes. But how?
Respiratory Issues and Indoor Air Quality
We can distinguish the effects of poor indoor air quality between two types: effects that appear soon after or immediately while being in a poor IAQ environment, and effects that take much longer (months or even years) to arise. Let’s take a look at these two different types of effects of poor IAQ:
- Immediate effects of exposure to poor indoor air quality
Eyes, nose or throat irritation. If after or while being in an indoor space you feel irritation in your eyes, nose or throat, and there is no other underlying cause, you can consider it to be an effect of poor IAQ, especially if the irritation subsides when you have left the area.
Respiratory allergies. Seasonal allergies, like hay fever, are common, but if you keep experiencing allergic symptoms, such as sneezing, even after the allergy season is over, especially while at home, it is possible that there are allergens affecting your respiratory system indoors.
Chronic respiratory illnesses’ flare ups or worsened symptoms. Those who suffer from chronic diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), may find their symptoms worsen or experience flare ups while or shortly after being in a space with poor IAQ.
- Long-term effects upon repeated and constant exposure to poor indoor air quality
Appearance of respiratory diseases. Unfortunately, long-term exposure to poor IAQ is associated with the development of respiratory illnesses or diseases, including those mentioned above. Legionnaires’ disease, a form of pneumonia, for example, is linked to buildings with poorly managed heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems.
Increased risk of heart disease. Recent studies have found a relation between cardiovascular health and the respiratory system. Some air pollutants have been shown to cause hypertensive reactions, like those in obstructed arteries in patients of coronary disease.
Increased risk of cancer. Some harmful chemical particles found in poor IAQ buildings, such as radon, are associated with an increased risk of lung cancer when there is repeated long-term exposure to the chemical.
Common Air Pollutants in Homes
We have mentioned some pollutants and harmful chemicals that can be in a poor IAQ environment, let’s take a closer look at what types of air pollutants we can find in our homes.
- Dust. Dust is naturally present in all homes, but it is important to manage it and prevent it from building up and causing serious respiratory issues. The main issue with dust is that it can be home to other harmful particles, and also dust mites, a very common allergen.
- Pests. Not only dust mites cause allergic reactions; according to some studies, cockroaches also leave harmful tiny particles that, when airborne, can cause symptoms related with poor IAQ, exacerbate respiratory diseases and trigger asthma and allergies. In our homes, these types of allergens can gather in large concentrations in the kitchen and even bedrooms.
- Smoke. The connection between smoking and second-hand smoke with increased respiratory health risks is undeniable, but what is less talked about is the effect of third-hand smoke on IAQ. Smoke particles stick on the walls and surfaces of a room and they can linger around for months, so we may be exposed to harmful tobacco chemicals even when there is no perceptible presence of smoke in a room.
- Dander. All mammals shed dead-skin cells that, in turn, can settle with dust particles in our house. Homes with pets can be especially prone to having a higher presence of dander; dogs, cats and rodents also shed fur, which can add up to the allergen overload in the home environment. Pet dander is also more difficult to eliminate as it sticks to furniture, curtains and bedding, so in the case of family members with allergies, it is advisable to keep pets from entering their rooms and workspaces.
- Mold. Excessive humidity, dampness and leaky pipes can cause mold to grow and trigger respiratory issues, such as infections and allergies. Even though people with allergies and asthma are at higher risk, anyone can suffer from symptoms due to dampness, such as nasal congestion, coughing, and throat irritation. These symptoms can appear even when there is no mold visible.
- VOCs and chemicals. Volatile organic compounds or VOCs are gasses emitted from products, which are released when using household cleaning products, and from other sources like pesticides, painting a room and wood burning stoves, to mention but a few. Some of these VOCs can cause respiratory tract irritation and allergic reactions; and others, like pesticides, can be carcinogenic.
- Bacteria and viruses. It goes without saying that when these are introduced to the home, they pose the risk of spreading between occupants. Then, other air pollutants can potentially aggravate the symptoms of an unwell occupant further increasing discomfort.
Also, our home’s IAQ can also be negatively affected by external factors, such as unfavorable climatic conditions, pollen and pesticides from nearby parks and gardens, exhaust emissions from cars, nearby construction sites… Unfortunately, we cannot control most of these external factors, but we can minimize the effect they have on the IAQ of our home.
How Air Conditioners Help Reduce Indoor Air Pollutants
Our home’s HVAC system can help reduce the presence of indoor pollutants and thus lower the potential risk they pose, something that Sirair Domestic airconditioners offer. From air-purifying filters, to self-cleaning features, Sirair has a variety of solutions to improve IAQ in the home. Here we take a look at the different air pollutants and the Sirair AC solution:
- Reducing dander and dust. Large particles and allergies can be filtered out by the Stainless Steel Pre-filter that’s available, the first protective layer against hair, fur and dust, also stopping them from reaching other components inside your Sirair AC.
- Reducing microparticles. Some filters can be combined to have antibacterial properties, trap smaller particles, such as pollen, and stop mold growth. The PM2.5 Air-Purifying Filter and Nano Titanium Wasabi Air Purifying Filter offered with Sirair Residential air conditioners are ideal for a more thorough air purification of your indoor space, with the latter deactivating up to 95% of allergens* in the home. *Tested by University Putra Malaysia.
- Air conditioner maintenance. Proper air conditioner upkeep and filter cleaning reduces the chances of mold and bacteria collecting and growing inside the unit. To help do so, the FrostWash™ self-cleaning function by Sirair helps keep the heat exchanger cleaner by freezing the moisture that can build up inside a unit, trapping impurities with it at the same time. This ice is then melted and is flushed away, helping keep the inside of your AC cleaner for longer.
- Managing temperature. Some air pollutants can be aggravated by temperature: warm temperatures can contribute to the growth and spread of mold and pests, while a cooler environment can slow down their activity and tamper with their growth. According to ASHRAE, the ideal temperature range for homes is between 19.5ºC and 27ºC. You can manage your home’s temperature, even when you’re not in, by using the airCloud Home, which lets you control and program your Sirair AC to best suit your activity.
- Keeping humidity in check. ASHRAE recommends keeping a relative humidity level below 65% at home to prevent mold, pests, bacteria and viruses from thriving in a humid environment. Avoid letting moisture build up to high levels by running your Sirair Residential Air Conditioner in Dry Mode* (*availability of mode is subject to region and model).
Ventilation to Keep a Healthy Space
One of the most effective ways to keep indoor air pollutants in the home low and improve IAQ is by ventilating your space, encouraging airflow and bringing in as much fresh air inside as possible. ASHRAE recommends ventilating a space 2-3 times per hour, known as the air exchange rate, referring to the amount of times that air is replenished in an indoor space every hour. This way, you can prevent air from stagnating and causing health issues. Cases in which a building causes its occupants illnesses and sickness due to its poor IAQ is called Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). You can naturally ventilate your home following these steps
- Open windows when it is safe to do so. When the climate and environment allow it, open windows to encourage outdoor fresh air to enter the rooms and move around. Keep windows closed when there are higher levels of air pollution outdoors.
- Turn fans on to improve airflow when you can’t open doors or windows, pointing fans away from people to reduce the chance of inhaling particles and allergens.
If you have exhaust fans in your bathroom and an extractor fan in your kitchen, turn them on to prevent steam from condensing and to keep humidity under control and to reduce pollutants released from cleaning products and cooking.
Other Ways to Reduce Indoor Air Pollutants
Apart from using air-conditioning and ventilation, there are other advisable practices to prevent indoor air pollutants from staying long in our homes. The first one is to maintain a thorough cleaning routine. Linens, rugs and curtains can easily trap harmful particles, which is why it is recommended to frequently wash or clean them.
Avoid using strong cleaning products and aerosols, sources of VOCs keep it minimal and use mild soaps or detergents to clean surfaces and floors. Vacuuming often is very effective for dander if you have pets. If you use painting or crafting products, closely follow the guidelines provided on the product’s label and work in a well-ventilated area.
Another tip is to keep a variety of houseplants in the rooms. They will not only add a fresh touch to the ambience, but some plants also have shown to absorb indoor harmful chemicals. According to an experiment conducted by NASA, common houseplants such as pothos and ficus were able to reduce the presence of chemicals that were released around them. The chemicals used in the experiment were benzene, trichlorethylene (TCE) and formaldehyde, which are frequently found in homes due to the use of certain paints, inks, adhesives, detergents and dry-cleaning products. The results were promising, and it is possible that both the plants and the potting soil were responsible for the absorption of these chemicals.