When you check the weather forecast on your smartphone, you might see a reading for the local air quality index. Knowing if the air quality outside is good or bad can help you decide whether it’s a good idea to venture out for an early morning run or an afternoon in the park.
But what about the air you breathe while you’re inside? After all, you probably breathe the air in your home or workplace for more hours each day than you do the outside air.
Indoor air quality, or IAQ, refers to the quality of the air inside and around buildings and other structures. If the air inside your home or office is of poor quality, it can affect your health — just like outdoor pollution can.
Many factors can affect indoor air quality, including chemical contaminants from:
- Building materials and furnishings (newly installed furnishings, flooring, or carpets that could be emitting volatile organic compounds, or VOCs)
- Many household cleaning products and, ironically, air fresheners
- Certain personal care products, such as hairspray that contains formaldehyde and other VOCs
- Smoke from the fireplace, tobacco products or cooking
- Appliances such as the clothes dryer, furnace, water heater, stove/oven and certain types of space heaters
- Varnishes and lacquers, paint and paint removers, kerosene, gasoline, turpentine and scores of other commonly used substances
The heating, cooling and ventilation system in your home or office can also have an impact on IAQ, as can high temperature and humidity levels. Excess moisture can lead to air contaminants such as mold and bacteria. How well the air circulates from outside your home or office to the inside and back out again will make a difference in IAQ as well.
Physical Symptoms That Indicate Poor IAQ
Whether you will experience physical effects from poor IAQ depends on the level of air contamination in your home or office and how sensitive your body is. Some physical symptoms show up right away, whereas others can take years to manifest.
The long-term health effects of poor indoor quality can include severe illnesses (e.g., respiratory disease, cancer and heart disease). The more immediate symptoms you’re likely to experience from bad IAQ fall into three basic categories and, fortunately, are relatively easy to treat.
Dizziness, Fatigue, Headaches and Nausea
Obviously, countless other conditions and factors besides poor indoor air quality can cause any or all of these symptoms. But know that if you’re experiencing chronic headaches or fatigue, or if you frequently feel lightheaded, it just might be from bad IAQ in your home or workplace.
You may be coughing and sneezing and feel congested because you have a cold or the flu. Or it could be from seasonal allergies. But those are all temporary. If you know that you have allergies or asthma but your symptoms seem worse than usual, or if the pollen outside goes away but your coughing and sneezing don’t, then your indoor IAQ could be the problem.
Dry or Irritated Skin, Hair, Eyes, Nose and Throat
Dry, winter air can also dry out your skin and hair, along with the mucous membranes in your nose and throat. Dry air can make your eyes feel dry, too. So can tiredness. Just like all of the other symptoms associated with poor indoor air quality, these can be attributed to many other factors.
If the dryness of your skin, hair, eyes, nose or throat persists, or if you develop an unexplained rash that won’t go away, then the air in your home or office might be to blame.
So how do you know if bad IAQ is causing your symptoms? One of the surest ways to tell is if the symptoms clear up when you’re no longer in the environment where you typically experience them.
Telltale Signs of Poor Air Quality in Your Home
You may not be able to see the quality of the air itself, but there are other signs that may indicate the IAQ in your home is less than ideal.
When was the last time you checked the air vents in your home? If it’s been a while, go take a look. Do you see a lot of dust on the vent covers?
How frequently do you change your air filters? Is there a considerable accumulation of dust on a new filter within a month?
Both of these can indicate that the filtration of particulate matter in your home is inadequate.
Does the temperature in your home fluctuate substantially from one area to another? If you have places in your home where it’s significantly hotter or colder than the rest of the house, and it’s not because of the morning or afternoon sun streaming through the windows, then the air may not be flowing through your home as it should.
There are several possible causes for this, including clogged ducts. Regardless of the reason, though, know this: If you have problems with hot or cold spots in your home, you probably also have a filtration problem. You could have pockets of air contamination in those spaces.
Unwanted smells that linger or persist are another good indication that either the air in your home isn’t circulating the way it’s supposed to or it isn’t being filtered adequately.
For example, if you can still smell the fish you baked for dinner the night before when you get up in the morning, that’s not a good sign.
A thorough duct cleaning may resolve the issue.
What Can You Do About Poor IAQ?
The most obvious first steps to improve the quality of the air in your home or office are to increase the frequency of cleaning and dusting and introduce fresh air by opening windows. As noted in the section above, having the ducts cleaned may also be a good idea.
Another logical step is to change, and possibly upgrade, the air filters in the HVAC system. You could also buy an air purifier, although those are only intended to filter the air in a single room. If your issue affects the entire home or office, then an air purifier will be of limited use — and it won’t eliminate the underlying cause.
For pervasive or persistent IAQ problems, your best option is an indoor air quality screening. Alpha Environmental Services has both the expertise and the equipment needed to assess the quality of the air in your residence or workplace.
If we find that the level of air contamination is higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency deems acceptable, then we can discuss with you the various solutions available to address the situation.
You’ll be breathing easier — or at least better air — in next to no time.