Indoor Air Quality

Understand indoor air in homes, schools, and offices

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.

Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air are the primary cause of indoor air quality problems in homes. Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the home. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants.
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The best way to address residential indoor air pollution usually is to control or eliminate the source of the pollutants and to ventilate the home with clean outdoor air. But ventilation may be limited by weather conditions or the levels of contaminants in the outdoor air.

If the usual methods of dealing with indoor air pollutants are insufficient, air-cleaning devices may be useful. Air filters and other air-cleaning devices are designed to remove pollutants from indoor air.

They can be installed in the ductwork of most home heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems to clean the air in the entire house, or the same technology can be used in portable air cleaners that clean the air in single rooms or specific areas.

Most air-cleaning devices are designed to remove particles or gases, but some destroy contaminants that pass through them.


Improving your 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.