As cold weather moves across the country, people will spend more time indoors where air is dirtiest. Since the gas crisis of the 1970s, building techniques have favored energy efficiency, which has had a profound impact on the reduction of heating and cooling costs, but it has also affected the quality of indoor air quality.
Despite all of the cars and factories pumping out pollution, there is a massive volume of air in the atmosphere. When outside air pollution is produced, it tends to move with air currents, or washes out of the air with heavy rains. This is not the case with indoor air pollution. When we run heating and cooling systems, polluted air is drawn into return vents, then is redistributed and continually recirculated.
Over time, the pollutants produced from office equipment, smoke that results from cooking, pet dander, skin flakes, and gases found in furniture finishes and paint evaporates and builds up in the air. Knowing this, it is easy to understand why indoor air is on average 2-to-5 times more polluted than outdoor air, according to the EPA.
All is not lost. There are steps you can take to improve indoor air quality. None of these require a change of regular habits, but instead only require an occasional simple task to contribute to better indoor air quality.
Step 1: Replace HVAC air filters
Air filters trap microscopic contaminants that come into contact with the filter media. A new air filter provides an exceptional balance of air flow and contaminant reduction. Depending on indoor air quality, an air filter should last one to three months. Replacing air filters is one of the easiest ways to improve air quality due to its location inside your HVAC system, which is responsible for recirculating all of the air in a building.
Step 2: Use a HEPA filter when vacuuming
HEPA filters are made from materials that capture particles down to 0.3 microns, which includes bacteria, viruses, mold, and more. Standard vacuum cleaner filters may not be trapping these particles. Rather, the particles may be blown back out into the area you just vacuumed. Worse, contaminates safely lodged in carpet may be loosened and expelled into the air where they will be inhaled. If you ever start having an allergic reaction after vacuuming, not using a HEPA filter may be the cause.
Step 3: Purchase a HEPA air purifier for your bedroom
Most air purifiers do an exceptional job of trapping larger particles like dust and hair, but smaller particles may easily escape. As we mention above, HEPA filters trap smaller particles and provide a much greater improvement to air quality. Air purifiers are ideal for smaller rooms, especially bedrooms, if you keep your door closed during rest. If you are sleeping at least 7 hours, you will benefit from improved air quality without any awareness that it’s happening. Allergy suffers will also appreciate that pollen and other respiratory triggers will be reduced or removed before they cause issues.
Step 4: Buy indoor plants
Ongoing research is looking to the effect of plants on indoor air pollution, particularly compounds such as such as benzene and other gases that are emitted from finishes on furniture, and the carbon dioxide we exhale. In nature, plants of all sizes contribute to oxygen production, and the absorption of gases and other compounds. These same benefits may be present in potted plants. Simply having different greenery around the room may not just improve air quality, but also gives the room some color and may contribute to a better mood, especially during grey winter months.
Step 5: Periodically open windows
Opening windows during cold winter months sounds ridiculous, especially when you look at heating costs, but just consider what we mention above. When we are stuck inside during winter months, we are forced to breathe the same recirculated air continuously. Not just that, but even with air filters, regular vacuuming, and filling window sills with plants, air can become stale and smelly. To improve things, pick a day when the weather is warmest, turn off your heat, and leave windows open for just a few minutes. Fresh air will enter and recirculate when you run the heat again.
The above steps are easy to integrate into your life without having to change very much. They may also contribute to keeping spirits high during cold winter months. When you can’t get outside, don’t suffer from breathing the same recirculated indoor air, be proactive and improve the quality of indoor air.