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Do you know what’s in the air you breathe? Probably more than you think. Indoor air quality is generally worse than most people believe. In fact, it’s not uncommon for indoor air quality to be worse than that of outdoor air, especially here in Upper Michigan where our houses are sealed up all winter.
What Causes Bad Air?
There are several factors that influence indoor air quality: biological pollutants, moisture, ventilation, air circulation, and non-organic pollutants. Let’s look at each of these categories to see how they affect your indoor air.
These are air pollutants that come from living things. Common sources of biological air pollutants include dead skin cells, pet dander, mold, and dust mites. The easiest way to reduce biological air pollutants in your home is regular cleaning and moisture control.
Air with too much or too little moisture can cause a variety of problems. We usually emphasize the importance of lowering humidity levels, since high levels of moisture encourage biological pollutants such as molds and dust mites. However, air that is too dry can also be a problem, especially during winter. Dry air sucks the moisture right from our bodies. This can cause cracked skin on hands, lips, and airways, allowing viruses and bacteria a way into the body. To combat humid or dry air, use dehumidifiers or humidifiers to keep humidity between 30-60%.
Many homes in the Upper Peninsula are sealed up tight to keep out the cold winters. While this is great for your heating bill, many homes are sealed up without regard to maintaining the ventilation necessary for good indoor air quality. Without proper ventilation, the air pollutants in your home won’t have a way out and clean, fresh air won’t have a way in.
Just as important as ventilation is the circulation of the air already in your home. Heating and cooling systems tend to blow a lot of air around, which helps regulate humidity and keep the air fresher. However, dust can easily accumulate within air ducts and on ceiling fans where it can re-enter your air. Be sure to clean air ducts and fans regularly and use filters where possible.
Did you know that your house itself is contributing pollutants to the air? Appliances such as gas stoves and space heaters, furnaces and water heaters, and if your house has an attached garage, vehicles and power tools, can put carbon monoxide and other unwanted combustion products into the air. Depending on your location, radon gas may also pose serious health risks. Additionally, many household items such as carpets, drapes, and cabinetry often off-gas formaldehyde. Paint, air fresheners, aerosols, cleaning supplies, and dry-cleaned clothing can release VOCs and other toxic gases into the air. While some of these non-organic pollutants can be avoided, many are inevitable. Proper ventilation is the best way to minimize their impact on your indoor air quality.
How You Can Increase Indoor Air Quality
Taking appropriate action can help keep your air clean and healthy. For example, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are an important safety feature that can alert you to some air quality problems before they become deadly.
However, most common air pollutants such as mold, dander, insect parts, and dust cannot be detected by smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. For these, you’ll need to have an air quality test done.
While our standard air test is focused on mold detection, it also includes testing for plant fragments, insect fragments, pollen, fiberglass, and cellulose fibers. To ensure accuracy, we do three tests: two inside, and one outside for comparison. You can also add a radon test if that is a concern for you.
When it comes to healthy air, we believe that knowledge is power. We encourage you to do some reading on the subject – the EPA website is a great place to start. And when you’re ready to find out what’s in the air you breathe, you can schedule your air quality test here.