Your Home Environment May Be Impacting Your Health

Several air quality issues in residential buildings may cause decreases in human health over time. “Unhealthy homes,” or homes suffering from bad indoor air quality have been associated with higher rates of respiratory illness, allergies, asthma, sneezing, runny nose, congestion, accumulation of viruses and bacteria in indoor spaces, and others. Luckily, these effects are rarely life threatening, but increasing your home air quality may help you feel better.

While it can sometimes seem costly to make improvements related to human performance up front, most cost benefit analyses show that there is a greater benefit over time to make improvements to buildings than to suffer from decreased wellbeing over time.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Dampness and Mold: Mold in the home has many potential sources. Some potential sources are natural occurrences, such damp soil or foundation, flooding, or heavy rains. Other potential sources may be due to poor construction of the building, such as a bad plumbing system causing leaks. Additionally, air conditioning systems are extremely susceptible to mold due to their nature of pulling in outside air and cooling it down before recirculation. Mold in the home has a wide array of negative health impacts associated with it. Mold particles may contain allergens and chemicals that may illicit an inflammatory response in tissues when inhaled. Additionally, toxic chemicals associated with mold particles may theoretically cause health problems such as inhibited immune system function or central nervous system damage.

  • How do I Prevent Dampness and Mold in the Home? Prevention is the best mold management strategy. If water damaged in noticed, it should be taken care of or reported to the building down immediately. Proper monitoring of HVAC and ventilation systems is also important, so dampness and mold issues can be taken care of before they get out of hand.

Volatile Organic Compounds: Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are organic chemicals that can pose a threat to human health when present indoors. VOC sources include building materials, furnishings, cleaning compounds, office equipment, personal care products, air fresheners, pesticides, or cooking with gas stoves, among others. Some of the key indoor sources of VOCs are pesticides, building or decorating materials consisting of flexible plastics such as vinyl wallpaper flooring, and building materials and furniture containing flame retardants. The presence of VOCs correlates with a wide range of direct and indirect health effects such as allergies and asthma, respiratory issues, and even cancer.

  • How do I Prevent VOCs in the Home? The Environmental Protection Agency recommends using non-VOC emitting products whenever possible. This is done by purchasing products that are similar but made of dissimilar materials that do not emit as many VOCs.

Particulate Matter: Particulate Matter (PM) are small particle suspended in air. PM broken into 2 categories based on size. PM10 is a particle with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less, and PM2.5 is a particle with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less. Particulate matter itself can cause several respiratory issues when inhaled, and a general rule of thumb is that the smaller the particle, the more harmful it can be.

  • How do I prevent Particulate Matter in the Home? Air filters are generally a good solution to fight particulate matter. Air filters will help with the elimination of PM in turn creating a healthier environment. The EPA recommends the use of a filter with Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating of 8 or higher be used for adequate filtration of PM.

Additional EPA Recommended Guidance for Air Filters:

  • Portable air filters should be placed where the most vulnerable occupants spend most of their time.
  • Air filters should incorporate use of monitoring, control, and pollutant sensors.
  • Use a filter with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) as high as possible. EPA recommends consumers opt for filters with a higher MERV of at least 8 (up to 16).