The Best Ways To Improve Indoor Air Quality
Best ways to improve indoor air quality
You may not have thought much about indoor air quality before 2020, but the Covid pandemic has undoubtedly raised the awareness of the risks associated with poor indoor quality.
The truth is, aside from the heightened risk of infection, poor air quality can have a much bigger impact on your health than you think. According to the Environmental Protection Agency – humans spend 90% of our time indoors. The quality of air that we breathe in that time is crucial to our overall and long term health and well-being. It is little known that indoor air is on average 3-5x worse than outdoors. Health effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon after exposure or, more likely years later.
Immediately Noticeable Effects of Indoor Air Pollution
Some health effects may show up shortly after a single exposure or repeated exposures to a pollutant. Such immediate effects are usually short-term & treatable, and the likelihood depends on several factors including age and pre-existing medical conditions, but may include:
- Irritation of the eyes, nose & throat
- Dizziness & fatigue/lethargy
- Worsened symptoms of respiratory conditions or allergens, for instance asthma & hay-fever
- Rapid Airborne Infection Spread & Contamination
- Odours that won’t go away
- High Staff Absenteeism
- Low productivity & performance outputs from teams
Long Term Effects of Indoor Air Pollution
Other health effects may show up either years after exposure has occurred, or only after long repeated periods of exposure. These effects can be severely debilitating or worst case fatal.
- COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
- Pneumonia & Bronchitis
- Pregnancy Problems – including pre-term delivery, low birth weight
- Heart Disease & Heart Attacks
- Lung Cancer
Now we’ve covered the seriousness of poor indoor air quality, let’s look at what we can do to mitigate any risks and ensure we’re living and breathing healthy air.
Firstly, we need to look at SOURCE CONTROL
There are many sources of indoor air pollution, these can include; Carpets, Upholstery, New Flooring, Fuel-Burning combustion appliances, tobacco products, household cleaning products, central heating & cooling sources, humidification devices, excess moisture, paint, glues, insulation and then any elements which make their way indoors such as traffic pollution, pesticides, radon, etc. There are many more, but the key point is to know how you can control these sources so that they don’t pose a risk.
Simple actions such as the following can make a huge impact your indoor air quality:
- Install an air quality meter to understand what your current air quality is like
- Vacuum Frequently
- Make your building smoke free
- Change cleaning chemicals to COSSH Free Disinfectants
- Ensure any cooking is done with an extraction vent
- Control humidity so that it’s between 30-50%
- Fit a carbon monoxide alarm in your home or workplace
- Hire a professional to remove any mould and use an antimicrobial coating to prevent mould and bacteria growth.
- When renovating, ensure there is enough ventilation by opening windows (if you are not in a highly polluted area)
- Make sure any garages/attached buildings with cars or gas-powered machinery are properly sealed off
Once you’ve understood the sources of pollution indoors and how you can control, you should then try to IMPROVE VENTILATION.
Ventilation describes the movement of air into or out of buildings, and proper ventilation is a key component of good indoor air quality. Air may enter a building in several different ways, including;
- Through natural ventilation such as windows & doors
- Through mechanical means, such as outdoor air intakes associated with the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system
- Through infiltration, a process by which outdoor air flows into the building through openings, joints and cracks in walls, floors and ceilings, and around windows and doors – infiltration occurs in all homes to some extent.
Ventilation – when managed properly – can help to increase the flow of fresh air in a building to ensure that CO2 levels are maintained low (below 1000ppm) and the atmosphere we live and breathe is comfortable and not humid. Ventilation helps to limit the build-up of indoor moisture, which can contribute to mould growth, as well as removing stale indoor air by pulling in fresher air from outdoors (that’s if your local air pollution levels are healthy).
There are ways to improve the ventilation in your home, such as leaving interior doors open, using bathroom and kitchen fans, keeping baseboards and heating vents clear of furniture, opening windows when the outside conditions permit, allowing good air flow around furniture and using and maintaining mechanical HVAC systems appropriately.
However, what is commonly mis-understood about HVAC ventilation is the basic principle that it is designed to mix air efficiently to provide comfortable conditions, rather than a means to reduce infections. Essentially, what this means is that you could open windows and doors and implement a powerful ventilation system to increase the flow of air around your building, but for one – you cannot control what comes in from outside (pollen and dust is a great example), and two – when you are mixing air with a HVAC system, and pushing air from zone to zone (as most buildings are designed to do), you can actually spread, or move tiny airborne particles of viruses such as Covid or Flu from one zone to another – which ironically is often how many outbreaks were started.
Which is why many organisations are opting for in room AIR PURIFICATION.
There are many types and sizes of air purifiers on the market, ranging from relatively inexpensive table-top models to sophisticated and expensive whole-house systems. Some air purifiers are highly effective at particle removal (those with true HEPA 13 or 14 filtration), while others, including many table-top models (ionisers, ozone generators and UV/C) are much less so. Air cleaners are generally not designed to remove gaseous pollutants.
In short, an effective HEPA 13 or 14 grade air purifier will draw in the air in a room and pass it through multiple layers of filters to trap very tiny particles before they can spread and cause harm. Guidelines state that air should be filtered at least every 12 minutes in a home or work setting, or 6 minutes in a clinical or healthcare environment.
This ‘in-room’ HEPA filtration approach has been proven by many institutions to massively reduce harmful particulate matter, prevent odours & VOCs, prevent respiratory conditions, reduce sickness absence, improve productivity & cognitive function – plus many more benefits.
The effectiveness of an air cleaner depends on how well it collects pollutants from indoor air (expressed as a percentage efficiency rate) and how much air it draws through the cleaning or filtering element (expressed in cubic feet per minute). A very efficient collector with a low air-circulation rate will not be effective, nor will a cleaner with a high air-circulation rate but a less efficient collector. The long-term performance of any air cleaner depends on maintaining it according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Whether you look after the facilities in a multi-storey office block, or you’re simply looking for an effective solution for your home – it’s important to follow this 3 step process to improve the air you breathe indoors. Firstly, understand and implement a strategy to mitigate and control the common sources of air pollution. Secondly, try to improve the ventilation so that you’ve got an increased supply of fresh air to your building or home. Under ventilated spaces can be a breeding ground for rapid contamination and high CO2 levels which lower cognitive function and increase fatigue. Finally, look to implement air purification as your measure to filter out the nasty stuff, prevent infection and lead a healthy lifestyle. Ventilation cannot substitute for air purification, and vice-versa! Both have different objectives and must work in conjunction for best results.
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