Outdoor air pollution has gotten a lot of attention. Industrial and automotive emissions, smog, and gases such as ozone can be harmful. But did you know indoor air problems can be just as bad, or worse? Indoor air pollutants include particles just nanometers in size, both organic and inorganic, and gases emitted from common building materials and consumer products, among many other contaminants.
There are many sources of indoor air pollution, making it even more important to address air quality and air filtration in any building. The environment is filled with health risks that need to be dealt with.
Indoor air pollution is among the top environmental risks; given how much time people spend indoors, it’s important to be aware of common pollutants that can affect your health. The leading environmental health hazards, including respirable particles, mold, chemical emissions, radon, and combustion gases, are present indoors. Other potential indoor hazards include radon and pesticides, while tobacco smoke poses a range of health risks as well. In fact, some pollutants may be two to five times more concentrated indoors than in outdoor air, according to the EPA.
The most common pollutants in homes, schools, and offices that pose serious health risks include:
Proper ventilation can reduce the concentration of indoor air pollutants in a home or business. However, a ventilating system must provide consistent operation. While an improperly adjusted gas stove may emit carbon monoxide while it is on, other sources can emit pollutants continuously. These include building materials, air fresheners, and furnaces. Solvents used for cleaning, hobbies, and in paint strippers and pesticides can remain in the air for a long time.
It’s therefore essential to address ventilation whether you live in a:
Whether you or someone in your home has symptoms or are concerned about indoor pollution, there are steps to take to improve air quality. In order to control sources of pollution, you must:
Air filtration can dramatically improve indoor air quality. But whether you install a whole house or single room filtration system, it is important to maintain the filter. A dirty filter can contribute to pollution and even impede air flow, especially in ductwork.
If you have a central air conditioning system, install a filter with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) of at least 10 (out of 16). This measures how efficient it is at trapping airborne particles. To maximize the efficiency of a filter:
Addressing air quality goes beyond cleaning and replacing filters. It must also include cleaning your air ducts and associated components, including grilles, registers, and interior surfaces. If you’re not comfortable cleaning your ducts, consult a professional. They know how to access each unique system and also check for leaks and other problems.
Common problems include duct clogs due to dust and debris as well as infestations by insects and other pests. Also, mold can grow on interior surfaces of sheet metal and cause air quality problems.
Cleaning HVAC ducts sometimes requires using specialized equipment to loosen contaminants. A technician may use compressed air, specialized brushes, or vacuums. Fine particles can be removed using continuous negative pressure, which prevents airborne materials from entering your living space. Sanitizers, disinfectants, and deodorizers may also be used on surfaces within your HVAC system.
Cleaning your HVAC ducts regularly can:
Not all air quality improvements in your home require extensive work. Effective strategies, depending on the problem you have, include:
Other air cleaners use UV radiation for pollutant destruction. These include UVGI cleaners, which use UV lamps to destroy biological pollutants in the air and on HVAC surfaces. Not designed to remove particulates, PCO cleaners use UV light and a catalyst that reacts with light to convert gases into harmless substances. Ozone generators, on the other hand, generate ozone (via UV light or electricity), but don’t remove most indoor air pollutants (and can cause lung irritation).
If your home has indoor air pollution, it can be controlled. To improve IAQ, you can:
The performance characteristics of your HVAC system impact the level of indoor pollutants as well. With proper air filtration and maintenance, you can reduce the amount of dust, pollen, mold, and bacterial spores in the environment. What is in your air ducts circulates through your home’s air. If you don’t have the equipment or experience, contact a professional for routine maintenance that can make your indoor air healthier.
Following best practices can address poor air quality in places people spend a lot of time indoors—such as homes, schools, and office buildings.
Remodeling a home can pose a variety of air quality risks. Even fixing damaged paint can be hazardous, but a fresh coat isn’t always the answer. Condensation, leaks, and structural damage may have caused the damage, so it’s important to identify and correct any underlying causes.
If your home was built before 1978, it’s best to assume it has lead-based paint and to take appropriate precautions. Contact an asbestos professional if the material is present and the project requires working near it. An asbestos removal specialist has the proper tools and equipment to deal with the issue safely before you move forward.
If you find mold during a renovation, clean it up and be sure to remove excess water and moisture, where it can continue growing. Detergent and water can be used to wash mold off hard surfaces. Check for leaks in plumbing or other sources. These should be fixed, while moldy carpet, ceiling tiles, and other absorbent materials should be immediately replaced.
When working in potentially dusty areas, use a water mist to wet surfaces down before scraping or sanding, or place a barrier around the work area. Use fans and other ventilation to remove pollutants and prevent them from spreading to other rooms. When using paints, sealants, or adhesives, check Material Safety Data Sheets for information such as toxicity, health effects, and how to deal with exposure. Storage, disposal, protective equipment, and spill leak procedures are typically included as well.
A structure can be built such that wooden building materials aren’t in contact with the soil. This prevents termites from accessing the structure and avoids requiring pesticides to address a termite problem. Solid wood products can prevent indoor air quality problems, as can exterior grade pressed wood products (for floors, walls, and cabinetry) with phenol-formaldehyde.
During construction, add proper drainage and sealing to foundations. More moisture can enter from here than any activities in the home. Mechanical ventilations systems, installed from the start, can consistently deliver outdoor air to maintain IAQ. Also make sure furnaces, fireplaces, and heaters are both well-ventilated and get enough supply air. You can prevent backdrafting of particles and gases, especially from a chimney or flue.
Air quality is a concern at elementary and secondary schools, where 20% of the U.S. population spends their days, and in preschools, day-care centers, colleges, and universities. There are also about four times as many occupants within the same amount of floor space as an office building. This means more people are exposed to pollutants; plus, even the carbon dioxide they exhale can contribute to air pollution.
School indoor air pollution can affect not only students but also teachers, administrators, parents, and facility managers. The EPA created the Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Program to help facilities assess and improve IAQ and pollutant sources such as kitchens, locker rooms, and cleaning storage areas.
A school air quality inspection often finds issues with design, construction, operation, and maintenance. Problems often arise in combinations such as a broken fan belt preventing outdoor air from venting inside (and diluting the pollutants) or air leakage through the ceiling or roof. Other issues include using housekeeping products at higher strengths than recommended and storing them in utility closets connected to return air ducts.
As in homes, good ventilation and proper storage can protect school building occupants. Local exhaust can best address specific problem areas while air filtration is effective at mitigating IAQ problems. Ventilation and filtration are important because pollutants can be distributed within an individual room, to adjacent rooms, between upper and lower levels, and through HVAC ducts. Ensuring healthy air in school buildings is a complex process. In addition to EPA guidance, helpful tools include:
Common IAQ issues in office buildings include poor ventilation, a lack of temperature/humidity control, and contamination from construction and renovation activities, cleaning supplies, and airborne chemicals. Unfortunately, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have IAQ standards, but it does have standards pertaining to ventilation and some common air contaminants. Facilities can also follow indoor air quality regulations of states such as California, which covers:
IAQ problems can’t be diagnosed with one single test. Facility managers should check for leaks, water damage, odors, dirt, pest droppings, and issues with ventilation, heating, and air condition systems. Employees can provide helpful information such as experiencing symptoms only at work and if they occur at certain locations or times of the day. Identifying whether they began during a renovation or construction project can be helpful as well.
In addition, OSHA has put forth Workers’ Rights, stating workers have a right to:
Office managers can improve indoor air quality by communicating with building management on potential issues. They can also:
Employees are responsible for maintaining air quality as well. Compliance with non-smoking policies, proper food storage and disposal of garbage, and avoiding blocking air vents or grilles can help maintain air quality. You can also avoid bringing items inside that could release harmful substances. It’s also important to promptly notify a building/facility manger if an IAQ problem is suspected.
Indoor air pollution is one of the top environmental risks to humans. Ventilation is an effective way to control IAQ, but it is sometimes limited by high levels of contaminants or weather conditions. However, air cleaning devices remove pollutants directly from indoor air. Rather than vent it to the outside, these systems just filter whatever air passes through them.
Air passes directly through an air filter. In the process, materials are trapped by the medium so air flowing outward has fewer contaminants. Common filter elements include carbon and fiberglass. When shopping around for an air filter or air filtration system, the most important aspects to consider include:
Aside from the performance characteristics of specific types of air filters, there are other considerations. Here are additional factors to think about when choosing an air cleaning device for your home, school, office, or other building:
Installation: If you’re installing an in-duct air cleaning system, certain requirements must be met. For example, an access point is needed to inspect the device, which is necessary whenever the product is used, maintained, or repaired.
Purchasing Costs: The initial price isn’t the only cost you’ll incur. Operating an air filtration system may reflect on your electric bill, while cleaning/replacing filters and other types of maintenance may involve ongoing costs.
Odors: Air cleaners designed for odor removal have their limitations. Gas vapors that still pass through can add unwanted odors. When carcinogenic pollutants such as those from tobacco smoke pass through, they still contribute undesirable smells and health risks.
Soiling of Walls and Other Surfaces: A problem with ion generators, soiling occurs when the electric charge no longer suspends airborne particles, which may then be deposited onto walls and other room surfaces.
Noise: If a portable air cleaner has a fan, it may emit noticeable noise that can be distracting. However, fanless portable units are generally less effective.
At Nexgen, we offer several solutions to your indoor air problems, including the AM11, a MERV 11 media air cleaner for air handlers and furnaces. Our product line also includes the duct mounted Air Scrubber, a UV light ionic air scrubber, and the AE14 four-stage filtration system for airborne particles. A lifetime warranty for unit replacement is available, as is a parts and labor warranty when you join our X Protection Plan. To learn more about our air filtration products and their benefits, Our ENERGY STAR rated heating and cooling systems, incentives, and other services we offer in Southern California, call 888-569-6913 today!