Shouldn’t the air inside your home be clean? Shouldn’t it be healthy?
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, approximately 30% of new and remodeled buildings across the globe are causing illnesses attributed with poor indoor air quality.
We often don’t consider the air we breathe unless directly confronted with an acute respiratory problem or an obviously dangerous situation like exposure to smoke. Even so, the concerns of air quality almost exclusively pertain to outdoor air, smog, pollution, and ozone rating. This myopic focus on air quality has been horribly misleading, suggesting that outdoor air is potentially dangerous while the air inside your home is safe.
Yes, the air outside can be atrocious and has been known to be the cause of many illnesses globally, however indoor air quality has also been a HUGE problem for many years, though nobody is really talking about it.
Recently, the topic of clean indoor air has hit mainstream media, but only pertaining to the pandemic in an attempt to stave off air contamination of Covid-19. Nonetheless, the topic is finally on the table, and I’d like to take it to the next level.
In this third blog post of the Sick Home Series, I draw attention to 3 major air contaminants likely already in your home, where you can find them, and how you can avoid or get rid of them.
It’s time for this preventable issue to STOP!
Education, wise product selection, and intelligent design
are all that’s required to keep your air fresh and clean.
How on Earth Did Indoor Air Quality Get So Bad?
According to EPA studies of human exposure to air pollutants, it’s been found that indoor levels of pollutants are typically between 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels, AND occasionally more than 100 times higher!
How could this possibly be?!
For starters, the lack of regulated chemical production and use has led to chemical manufacturers creating, using, and selling chemicals without needing to fully understand the unintended negative effects.
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, around the same time many of these chemicals hit the market in the 70’s, the advent of energy efficient homes began taking main stage.
In 1973 the Arab oil embargo caused a global energy crisis. The United States responded to the rapid increase of oil prices by mandating all new homes to meet a new code of energy efficiency and HVAC manufacturers were required to redesign their systems to run with less energy.
This all sounds like good news, right?
Well, unfortunately, though the original energy efficiency campaign was well-intentioned, there was still tremendous misunderstanding of how your home functions as a whole system. The outcome led to homes loaded with chemicals that were now also built with a tightly sealed building envelope, preventing the flow of fresh air and, in essence, trapping the toxins inside!
What Are These Toxins in Your Indoor Air?
There are potentially MANY toxins and contaminants floating around in the air of your home. The following is a short list that is not intended to be exhaustive…
In this blog, we will draw close attention to only 3 of the major air contaminants you should seek to protect yourself and your loved ones from ASAP.
What is it?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas found across the entire country. It’s unable to be seen, smelled, or tasted. Radon is a byproduct of the decomposition of uranium in soils. The reason radon is found everywhere is because all rocks are composed of at least trace amounts of uranium.
Where in your home is it found?
Because radon is a gas it easily permeates through porous substances. Radon enters your home via basements, crawl spaces, cracks in foundation slabs, and pathways created by utility lines leaving/entering your home.
It can also be found in groundwater in areas with high levels of uranium. In these areas, it can be ingested while drinking untreated well water or inhaled from steam in the shower.
Negative health effects.
Radon is a known carcinogen. The EPA states that radon is the SECOND-LEADING CAUSE OF LUNG CANCER in the US, killing 21,000 people each year!
Symptoms of radon exposure are akin to symptoms of lung cancer:
How to avoid it.
What are they?
Biological contaminants are living things, or are produced by living things.
Mold is the most common biotoxin that can wreak havoc on your health. Learn more with this article by Dr. Natasha Thomas, M.D. Mold in Your Home is A Hidden Cause of Chronic Illness. Here’s Why, And What to Do About it.
Where in your home are they found?
Biological contaminants can be found almost anywhere in your home. They’re often found in areas that provide food, moisture, or water.
Stagnant water that has accumulated in ducts, humidifiers, condensate pans, air conditioning cooling coils, on ceiling tiles, carpeting, or insulation are prime breeding grounds for microorganisms. House dust mites, the source of one of the most powerful biological allergens, grow in damp, warm environments.
Contaminated central air handling systems can distribute these toxins throughout your entire home. Draperies, bedding, carpet, and other areas where dust collects may accumulate biological contaminants.
Negative health effects.
Children, elderly people, and people with breathing problems, allergies, and lung diseases are particularly susceptible to disease-causing biological agents in the indoor air.
How do you know if you have a biotoxin issue?
Hire an indoor environmental professional to test your home. Please know that even mold experts are not always successful at finding mold biotoxins. Some companies simply do a walkthrough of your home and take an air sample to test for spores. Air sampling fails to detect species of mold with heavier spores that do not stay airborne for long. This includes the dangerous black mold, which is often NOT detected by air sampling.
EnviroBiomics, Inc. specializes in microbial identification and offers a couple of home test options for examining the DNA of dust samples in your home. The HERTSMI-2 tests for the ‘Big Five’ most dangerous molds and the ERMI test examines 36 different species of mold. These affordable home test kits are a great place to start.
How to protect against biological contaminants.
Reducing the habitable environment for biological contaminants is the best way to prevent their growth and proliferation. Proper design, installation, and maintenance of heating and air conditioning equipment is VITAL! Maintaining an indoor relative humidity between 30% - 60% will help control biological contaminants. Use a high-quality MERV rated air filter in your HVAC system that’s capable of trapping airborne contaminants.
Fact: Not all air filters are capable of trapping microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. Read our next blog for our air filter recommendation.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s)
What are they?
Volatile Organic Compound is an umbrella term used to refer to many different toxic substances that vaporize at room temperature. Many VOC’s are man-made chemicals widely used as ingredients in household products. VOC molecules off-gas from the materials in your home and enter the air you breathe. Concentrations of VOC’s are consistently higher indoors than outdoors (up to ten times higher).
The following are a few VOC’s used in household materials and products:
Where in your home are they found?
Negative health effects.
How to avoid them.
The best thing you can do to avoid indoor air pollution of VOC’s is to communicate with your home designer, builder, interior designer, HVAC contractor and any other professional involved FROM THE VERY BEGINNING that you want to minimize as many VOC’s in your home’s creation as possible.
HVAC is the Heart of Your Home
You can reduce the number of chemicals used in the creation of your home through wise product selection (and we STRONGLY recommend that you do), though ultimately the quality and cleanliness of the air inside your home comes down to the abilities of your HVAC system.
Think of it this way…if your home were a human body, the HVAC unit would be the heart and the duct work would be the veins and arteries. Just as your heart pumps blood to all your organs and extremities, your HVAC system pumps air to every room and living space of your home.
Bet you never really considered how vital your HVAC system was?
The biggest contributor to poor indoor air quality is the HVAC system!
Only a properly designed HVAC system that meets ALL the energy codes and the unique requirements of your specific house will be able to assure high indoor air quality (IAQ).
NOTE: Most HVAC contractors are not equipped to design and install a system that meets your home’s needs. More on this in the next blog.
Achieving high IAQ is complex and requires the understanding that the home operates as a whole system that is constantly interfacing with outdoor elements.
I encourage my clients to retain the services of a qualified HVAC designer at the very beginning of home design creation. Your HVAC system is not an add on and should not be an afterthought. It’s imperative that the heart of your home is designed in tandem with the rest of the structure.
I reveal my secret weapon against indoor air issues in our next blog on January 18, 2022!
I intend you breathe easy in your health-inspired home.
Inspired by you,
Jenny Pippin, CPBD, FAIBD, CGP
Pippin Home Designs
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I am Jenny Pippin, founder of Pippin Home Designs and creator of my own inspired living. I grew up as an ordinary southern girl, working in the fields of my family’s tobacco farm. It didn’t take me long to realize I had greater gifts and so I chose to step into my power and create my own path in life, inspired by my heart’s true passion. (More on my personal story HERE!)