Care for Your Air: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality

Care for Your Air: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality

Understand indoor air in homes

Some pollutants in the air are especially harmful for children, elderly people, and those with health problems.

Most of us spend much of our time indoors. The air that we breathe in our homes, in schools, and in offices can put us at risk for health problems. Some pollutants can be chemicals, gases, and living organisms like mold and pests.

Several sources of air pollution are in homes, schools, and offices. Some pollutants cause health problems such as sore eyes, burning in the nose and throat, headaches, or fatigue. Other pollutants cause or worsen allergies, respiratory illnesses (such as asthma), heart disease, cancer, and other serious long-term conditions. Sometimes individual pollutants at high concentrations, such as carbon monoxide, cause death.


Learn about pollutants

Understanding and controlling some of the common pollutants found in homes, schools, and offices may help improve your indoor air and reduce your family’s risk of health concerns related to indoor air quality (IAQ).

Radon is a radioactive gas that is formed in the soil. It can enter indoors through cracks and openings in floors and walls that are in contact with the ground.

  • Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers, and the second leading cause of lung cancer overall.

Secondhand smoke comes from burning tobacco products. It can cause cancer and serious respiratory illnesses.

  • Children are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke. It can cause or worsen asthma symptoms and is linked to increased risks of ear infections and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Combustion Pollutants are gases or particles that come from burning materials. In homes, the major source of combustion pollutants are improperly vented or unvented fuel-burning appliances such as space heaters, woodstoves, gas stoves, water heaters, dryers, and fireplaces. The types and amounts of pollutants produced depends on the type of appliance, how well the appliance is installed, maintained, and vented, and the kind of fuel it uses. Common combustion pollutants include:

  • Carbon monoxide (CO) which is a colorless, odorless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen throughout the body. Carbon monoxide causes headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, and even death.
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which is a colorless, odorless gas that causes eye, nose and throat irritation, shortness of breath, and an increased risk of respiratory infection.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals found in paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, varnishes and waxes, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment, moth repellents, air fresheners, and dry-cleaned clothing. VOCs evaporate into the air when these products are used or sometimes even when they are stored.

  • Volatile organic compounds irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and cause headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Some of them can cause cancer.

Asthma triggers are commonly found in homes, schools, and offices and include mold, dust mites, secondhand smoke, and pet dander. A home may have mold growing on a shower curtain, dust mites in pillows, blankets or stuffed animals, secondhand smoke in the air, and cat and dog hairs on the carpet or floors. Other common asthma triggers include some foods and pollutants in the air.

  • Asthma triggers cause symptoms including coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and breathing problems. An asthma attack occurs when symptoms keep getting worse or are suddenly very severe. Asthma attacks can be life threatening. However, asthma is controllable with the right medicines and by reducing asthma triggers.

Molds are living things that produce spores. Molds produce spores that float in the air, land on damp surfaces, and grow.

  • Inhaling or touching molds can cause hay fever-type symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rashes. Molds can also trigger asthma attacks.

Improving your indoor air

Take steps to help improve your air quality and reduce your IAQ-related health risks at little or no cost by:

Controlling the sources of pollution: Usually the most effective way to improve indoor air is to eliminate individual sources or reduce their emissions.

Ventilating: Increasing the amount of fresh air brought indoors helps reduce pollutants inside. When weather permits, open windows and doors, or run an air conditioner with the vent control open. Bathroom and kitchen fans that exhaust to the outdoors also increase ventilation and help remove pollutants.

Always ventilate and follow manufacturers’ instructions when you use products or appliances that may release pollutants into the indoor air.

Changing filters regularly: Central heaters and air conditioners have filters to trap dust and other pollutants in the air. Make sure to change or clean the filters regularly, following the instructions on the package.

Adjusting humidity: The humidity inside can affect the concentrations of some indoor air pollutants. For example, high humidity keeps the air moist and increases the likelihood of mold.

Keep indoor humidity between 30 and 50 percent. Use a moisture or humidity gauge, available at most hardware stores, to see if the humidity in your home is at a good level. To increase humidity, use a vaporizer or humidifier. To decrease humidity, open the windows if it is not humid outdoors. If it is warm, turn on the air conditioner or adjust the humidity setting on the humidifier.

Take Action to Improve Air Quality in Every Room

Important tips that will help control indoor pollutants
  • Test for radon and fix if there is a problem.
  • Reduce asthma triggers such as mold and dust mites.
  • Do not let people smoke indoors.
  • Keep all areas clean and dry. Clean up any mold and get rid of excess water or moisture.
  • Always ventilate when using products that can release pollutants into the air; if products must be stored following use, make sure to close tightly.
  • Inspect fuel-burning appliances regularly for leaks, and make repairs when necessary.
  • Consider installing a carbon monoxide alarm.

Asthma is a serious, sometimes life-threatening respiratory disease that affects the quality of life for millions of Americans.

  • Environmental asthma triggers: are found around the home and can be eliminated with simple steps.
  • Don’t allow smoking in your home or car.
  • Dust and clean your home regularly.
  • Clean up mold and fix water leaks.
  • Wash sheets and blankets weekly in hot water.
  • Use allergen-proof mattress and pillow covers.
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom and off soft furniture.
  • Control pests—close up cracks and crevices and seal leaks; don’t leave food out.

Children are especially sensitive to secondhand smoke, which can trigger asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Secondhand smoke: smoke comes from burning tobacco products such as cigarettes, pipes, and cigars.

  • To help protect children from secondhand smoke, do not smoke or allow others to smoke inside your home or car.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer.

Radon gas: enters your home through cracks and openings in floors and walls in contact with the ground.

  • Test your home with a do-it-yourself radon kit. If the test result indicates you should fix, call a qualified radon mitigation specialist.
  • Ask your builder about including radon-reducing features in your new home at the time of construction.

Mold can lead to allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory ailments.

Mold: can grow anywhere there is moisture in a house.

  • The key to mold control is moisture control.
  • If mold is a problem in your home, you should clean up the mold promptly and fix the water problem.
  • It is important to dry water-damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.

VOCs cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, and can damage the liver, kidney, and central nervous system.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): are chemicals that evaporate at room temperature. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products used in homes including paints and lacquers, paint strippers, varnishes, cleaning supplies, air fresheners, pesticides, building materials, and furnishings. VOCs are released from products into the home both during use and while stored.

  • Read and follow all directions and warnings on common household products.
  • Make sure there is plenty of fresh air and ventilation (e.g., opening windows and using extra fans) when painting, remodeling, or using other products that may release VOCs.
  • Never mix products, such as household cleaners, unless directed to do so on the label.
  • Store household products that contain chemicals according to manufacturers’ instructions.
  • Keep all products away from children!

Carbon monoxide causes headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue, and high levels can be fatal.

Nitrogen dioxide causes eyes, nose, and throat irritation, impairs lung function, and increases respiratory infections.

Sources include: indoor use of furnaces, gas stoves, unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, leaking chimneys, and tobacco products.

  • Ventilate rooms where fuel-burning appliances are used.
  • Use appliances that vent to the outside whenever possible.
  • Ensure that all fuel-burning appliances are properly installed, used, adjusted, and maintained.


When It Comes to Buying a New Home: Go Green To Save Green

Energy efficient doors and windows can have a big impact on reducing your utility bills

Home buyers are going green, and research shows that they are even willing to pay more for green homes in a down economy! Especially because buying a green home usually means saving a lot of green on utility bills. With the rising costs of energy, savvy homeowners are paying more upfront to save more over time. A two-year study by Carson Mathews of Atlanta Fine Homes reveals that EarthCraft House certified homes sell for more money and sell faster than standard built homes. EarthCraft House is a residential green building program designed to address the climate conditions of the Southeast. A blueprint for creating and maintaining energy- and resource-efficient living environments, the EarthCraft House program is intended for single-family detached homes, townhomes and duplexes.

According to the 2009 and 2010 Atlanta Green Homes Sales Report, homes certified by EarthCraft, LEED for Homes and ENERGY STAR sold for 3.4% more than standard built homes and sold 28 days faster. To find a sampling of builders embracing green, home shoppers can turn to Atlanta Real Estate Forum for energy efficient home builders, the communities they build in and their latest news.

Active adult home builder, Windsong Properties has partnered with ENERGY STAR® to build energy efficient, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved homes in their Somerset community located in Woodstock, Ga. The home builder has built 50 ENERGY STAR® homes using eco-friendly products such as radiant barrier roof sheathing, LP® TechShield®, Silver Line windows with low-emission glass and high-efficiency Lennox HVAC home comfort systems. These homes are beneficial for homeowners as well as the environment. Proven to provide homeowners with less maintenance and lower utility bills, these energy efficient homes also improve air quality by producing less harmful greenhouse emissions. With an estimated 2 million ENERGY STAR® qualified homes expected in the United States by 2012, this trend is clearly not going out of style.

Ashton Woods Homes builds eco-friendly single-family homes and townhomes in the Atlanta area through its PowerHouse Green with Environments for Living program. This program ensures buyers are purchasing homes that are safe and green, with feature such as CFL lighting, water management fixtures, fresh-air ventilation, controlled humidity and more. Home buyers can expect to save up to 45 percent on energy costs compared to a same-size home without the PowerHouse Green features.

Taking a bit of a different twist on green, Traton Homes has focused on reducing the waste during the framing stage of building homes. By utilizing a highly engineered method of cutting and allocating wood based on Traton’s floor plan requirements, Traton’s framing process has virtually eliminated waste. When cuts do require waste, the excess pieces are used in other areas of the building process, resulting in an environmentally responsible and efficient use of left over materials.

There are a wide variety of green programs and energy efficient homes for new home shoppers to choose from. Thanks to Atlanta Real Estate Forum, a popular Atlanta real estate blog, for sharing this article! You can find green resources and homes on their website.

Source:  Our Green Atlanta on May 15, 2011 ·

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