Indoor Air Quality Is Your Space Making You Sick?

Exhaust fumes, smog, secondhand smoke: when you step outside you expert to be exposed to unhealthy elements lurking in the air. But if you think staying indoors is automatically safer, think again. Your home can be up to five times more polluted with organic chemicals than outdoor air, according to the  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And in the winter, as you keep windows locked tight to seal in warmth, you could be inhaling a concentrated cocktail of potentially dangerous chemicals found in products like air fresheners and cleaning supplies.

Detoxify the Way You Clean: The cleaners sprays, and stain removers you use to keep  your home spotless are major sources of indoor toxins.  A 2012 guide of more than  2,100 common cleaning products by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit research organization, found that 53 percent contained chemicals like sodium or potassium hydroxide, which may damage the lungs (many oven cleaners have high levels), while 20 percent include carcinogens like formaldehyde. But do not rush  out to buy everything you see with a “nontoxic” or green” label. “unfortunately, most cleaning products don’t list all their ingredients, and even some with labels like “all natural” still contain harmful substances”, says Rebecca Sutton, PhD, an environmental chemist and contaminant specialist with the EWG. Look for cleaners with the EPA’s Design for the Environment label-a seal of approval given to products that contain only the safest levels  of chemicals to get the job done.

Be Suspicious of Scents: No one wants a musty home, but some air fresheners contain phthalates (multi-purpose chemicals that in this case are responsible for dispersing a scent throughout the room) and synthetic fragrances that may disrupt the endocrine system’s control of hormones, potentially leading to reproductive issues and possibly even breast cancer. A 2012 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, which looked at chemicals found in more than 200 common household products ranging from laundry detergent to hand sanitizers, found that air fresheners were among the highest in levels of synthetic fragrances. You are better off filling your house with natural scents, like real rosemary.

Crack a Window, Already!: If you are relying on air purifiers to keep your airspace clean, know this: They can be great at eliminating small particles such as smoke and dust but not as effective as removing harmful gases. Before you cringe at what opening your windows will do for your heating bill, consider what it can do for your health. “ventilation is the best way to rid your home of chemicals, and it is well worth the sacrifice in energy efficiency”, says Junfeng Zhang, PhD, professor of environmental and global Health at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. “I open my windows for ten minutes several times a day to increase air circulation. If you live in a high traffic area, do this at night.”

Plants: After testing methods to purify the air inside space stations, a former NASA scientist has shown that microorganisms on the leaves and roots of certain common house plants help remove chemicals like formaldehyde and ammonia from the air. Boston ferns, pot mums, and lady palms are among the best at breaking down toxins, which mean a little greenery can spruce up your space and your health.

Smart Space Do it Yourself Tips for Energy Efficiency

LED light bulbs: Lighting accounts for close to 20 percent of the average home’s electric bill. LEDs use up to 75 percent less energy (electricity) than incandescent light bulbs and last up to 10 times longer. If every home in America replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an LED, in one year it would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes. LEDs are more expensive then CFLs but last longer and are dimmable and if you buy 2700K (Kelvin) they closely match an incandescent light bulb. Kelvin is the light tone. 5000 Kelvin is the brightest. The LEDs must also match your dimmer switches or they might not function correctly (hum or not turn off). It is important to recycle CFLs to prevent the release of mercury into the environment. CFLs and other fluorescent bulbs often break when thrown into a dumpster, trash can or compactor, or when they end up in a landfill or incinerator they will leak small amounts of mercury.

 Temperature settings and controls: Install programmable thermostats. Keep your home at or below 68° F and lower heating thermostat 10° F at night and when home is unoccupied. Close fireplace damper when fireplace is not in use. Lower water heater thermostats to 120° F.

Air Filters: Replace furnace air filters regularly. Check your filter every month, especially during winter and summer months, when use tends to be heavier. Change filter if it is dirty or at least every three months.

Water: Modern faucets and showerheads use 40-50% less water than those made before 1995. Consider installing a low flow or dual flush toilets. Water heating can account for nearly a quarter of the energy consumed in your home. For central hot water/radiant heat, have your boiler inspected and cleaned regularly. Oil burning equipment should be checked yearly, gas equipment every other year. Check for toilet leaks by placing food coloring in the tank. If color appears in the bowl without flushing than you have a leak. One leak can be up to 20 gallons a day.

Lawn and Garden: A typical family of four uses roughly 30% of water maintaining the yard. Apply a layer of mulch to reduce evaporation. Harvest rainwater for your garden and yard use. Water your lawn at dawn, rather than at night, to avoid water loss through evaporation and to prevent mold. Incorporate xeriscaping by designing a lawn that conserves water and choose indigenous plants.

Appliances: Replacing your appliances with new Energy Star rated appliances (when they need replacing) will help reduce the base load energy usage of your home. Base load is the minimum amount of electrical power that is required constantly in your home. By increasing the efficiency of appliances that are used constantly, the base load of your home will be lowered. A washing machine that does not qualify for an energy star rating can use 17 more gallons of water with every load of laundry.

HVAC: An estimated 40% of home energy use is for space heating. If your heating system is not working efficiently, as much as 30% to 50% of this energy is wasted. It is important to check, service, and replace old systems.

Home energy monitor:  It is a digital display showing your electricity consumption in real time. The actual consumption is displayed on the LCD screen which you can put in any room you like. They will show you your consumption in watts, as well as in monetary terms.


The following chart shows the difference in average efficiencies between gas and oil-fired central heating units. The numbers represent combustion efficiencies-how much useable heat is produced as opposed to what goes up the chimney-not distribution losses-heat loss from ducts or pipes.

Gas-Fired                                               Oil-Fired

Variable-Speed Furnace


Condensing Furnace/Boiler(plastic vent pipes)


Condensing Furnace/Boiler(plastic vent pipes)


Furnace/Boiler with flame retention burner-well tuned


Standard Furnace5-10 years old


Furnace/Boiler with flame retention burner- not maintained


Standard Furnace20+ years old


Standard Furnace