With winter officially arriving on December 21st, the cold months ahead of us can have a direct affect on your indoor air quality. During the winter months we spend more time indoors, so thinking about your indoor environment and the air you breathe can have a huge effect on your health and wellness.
As the mercury drops, we generally spend more of our days curled up indoors to evade bad weather, but poor indoor air quality could be affecting your enjoyment of those quiet winter months. Something that can cause poor indoor air quality is simply raising the heat in your home.
Cold and flu season is already well underway in Toronto and the GTA, but do you know whether you have flu season symptoms or poor indoor air quality symptoms? It’s easy to mistake the two because they share a number of commonalities, but if you just can’t shake that flu, it might be time to consider your indoor air quality as one of the contributing factors.
There are over 3 million Canadians who suffer from asthma, a disease doctors describe as a chronic inflammation of the airways. There are many reasons why people experience a flare up of the condition, but many people don’t realize that poor indoor air quality can trigger asthma.
As the nights get longer and the days colder, it’s important to be thinking of your home’s indoor air quality, since you’ll be spending that much more time indoors. One of the things many homeowners don’t realize is that mold often grows better during the winter months, making mold health effects a concern. Knowing what to look for and recognizing mold, as well as treating it promptly are key to protecting you and your family’s health.
Understanding how your home works will help you keep your indoor air quality at a high level, and reduce the conditions that cause indoor air quality pollutants to grow or accumulate. A healthy home is not just four walls and a roof, it’s a complex ecosystem with parts that need to work together efficiently in order to perform at their best.
For those concerned with their indoor air quality, there are so many different terms, words, and chemicals that it get very confusing for the consumer. For some people, learning what and where these things can be found in your home, and if they have adverse affects on your indoor air quality can be a job in and of itself – so, faced with an insurmountable amount of learning to do, many people turn away.
Whether or not you are a first-time or experienced home buyer, purchasing a new home is one of the biggest investments you are likely to make. It’s also an investment that can be fraught with worry and unknowns, and having a home inspection is key to reducing some of those mysteries. Indoor air quality is often forgotten during the home inspection process though, and as it affects the whole home, it’s important to pay attention to a home as you inspect it prior to signing on the dotted line.
Whether or not you’re a professional home inspector, there are a few things that should be noticeable in a potential new home. Indoor air quality can be worsened by past poor decisions, bad ventilation or air circulation, temperature and humidity, and improper building techniques or materials. The good news is that many of the things that cause poor indoor air quality can be improved or eliminated through renovation, but the size of that renovation job (contractor versus DIY) is an important consideration in the home buying process.
The kitchen, bathroom, or basement are all areas in a home that can suffer from an excess of humidity, poor ventilation, or bad air circulation – all things that will have an adverse effect on your indoor air quality. Is there a dehumidifier running in the basement, and can you smell mold in the indoor air quality? Is there moisture collecting on the pipes or darkening the walls? Humidity will help to increase the growth of mold, mildew and other bacteria that cause poor indoor air quality, so it’s important to make note of spaces where it seems to be collecting.
Water leaks in any of these three spaces, as well as in the attic or around exterior doors or windows could be the trigger for mold growth. Mold adversely affects your indoor air quality through spores, the tiny ‘babies’ it sends out to colonize new locations. These spores are easily inhaled and can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as respiratory effects. Materials that are damaged by mold growth should be removed promptly by a professional – household chemicals will only cause temporary indoor air quality problems and the mold will return more often than not.
A good home inspection will also pay close attention to the mechanical systems that affect your indoor air quality: your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment (HVAC). They may be new or running efficiently, but poor indoor air quality can be exacerbated by dirty filters, dust, bacteria or mold that is hiding within machinery. These interior problems mean that your HVAC may just be recirculating poor indoor air quality instead of refreshing it, so checking all of the indoor and outdoor equipment, as well and air intake is a key part of good indoor air quality.
Finally, while walking the interior and exterior of the property, check for chemical contamination that could be causing poor indoor air quality. Unsafe building materials used in the past, like vermiculate or asbestos is a big warning sign, but so is rusting metal, fuel tanks, car exhaust, and old carpeting and flooring. Old paint can contain lead, which, when chipped or sanded, is released into your indoor air quality where it can be breathed in and cause serious health problems, especially in children.
If you can, find a home inspector trained in indoor air quality assessment to ensure any latent problems are caught. If you’ve already moved in, it’s never too late to have an indoor air quality test – call us at SafeAir today, and we’d be happy to tell you more about our services.
September’s hurricanes in the southern United States caused untold damage to homes and lives. Beyond the destruction caused at a personal level, one of the under-reported aspects of this natural disaster has been the indoor air quality issues that were caused by spilled toxic waste and chemical leaks. Especially in Texas, where oil refineries, chemical plants, and coal-fired power plants are big business, indoor air quality has been taking a huge hit after Harvey moved through. In Houston, Texas, officials are reporting high levels of benzene (a chemical by-product of the oil industry) in the air near a refinery in the Manchester neighbourhood. At concentrations of up to 324 parts per billion, this is at the level at which safety professionals recommend specialized breathing equipment – for residents stuck in this neighbourhood, this is a serious indoor air quality and health concern.
While the GTA may not have mega oil refineries in close range, natural disasters, extreme weather, and flooding can still have a huge effect on our indoor air quality. The most common weather event that happens in Southern Ontario is flooding. After a record of 191 millimeters of rain in 2014 (nearly two months’ worth!), the city of Burlington began to work on a flood and waterways management strategy to help mitigate damage from future flooding. The mayor himself had to deal with one of every homeowner’s worst nightmares – a flooded basement. These basement floods can bring with them serious indoor air quality concerns in part because it’s not just water that comes in, but sewage, toxic waste, and other things that have been flushed into the water system. After the water has receded, all that moisture creates the ideal conditions for mold growth, and the spores released by this growth can cause respiratory issues in people with indoor air quality sensitivities.
The increasing airtightness of modern buildings may also contribute to some of these indoor air quality issues too, as substances brought in by floods or weather events can trap pollutants indoors. The materials used to help clean up after these events can also negatively affect your indoor air quality by releasing volatile organic compounds or chemical allergens that can linger and cause trouble in the long and short term.
With climate change comes increasingly severe weather events, and we should be aware of how these events can have a significant effect on our indoor air quality. At SafeAir, we are indoor air quality specialists with over a decade of experience working with homeowners affected by natural disasters, floods, and other weather events. Our focus on ensuring safe indoor air quality after your home has been affected by weather or a local event can give you the peace of mind needed to feel comfortable in your home. Indoor air quality testing can help pinpoint the source as well as offer solutions to improve your indoor air quality if local businesses or events are causing the problem. If you have any concerns about your indoor air quality after an unexpected event in your home or neighbourhood, give us a call or write us an email, and we’ll be happy to assess your home’s indoor air quality and offer solutions!
The freedom of being able to hop in your car and go off on an adventure is one that teenagers and commuters alike dream of. When you’re stuck in traffic on the 401 or any other major Ontario highway day after day, the car may not seem so much like a vehicle to adventure but the highway to hell. While we often think about the indoor air quality of our homes as being paramount, the indoor air quality of our cars is actually an important thing to consider as well, especially if you’re spending a lot of time in it every day.
The obvious trouble with the indoor air quality of cars is that you’re likely on the road surrounded by other cars, which are all spewing toxic exhaust fumes. These fumes enter through your car’s air intake system can affect the indoor air quality, especially if you’ve set your car’s air conditioning to recirculate. When it’s hot outside (or when your car heats up idling in traffic), materials used in its construction can also affect the indoor air quality by releasing VOCs and other harmful chemical substances.
Things you bring into your car also have a big effect on its indoor air quality. Pet dander, old food, cigarettes, chemicals, pollen and other minute particles can all enter the indoor air quality of your car and get stuck, causing you to feel uncomfortable or ever ill whenever you enter. The trouble with indoor air quality pollutants in cars is that these irritants can get stuck in the system, where they either perpetuate the problem or, in the case of mold, continue to grow.
So what can we do to improve the indoor air quality of our vehicles?
- Just like our home’s furnaces have fans and filters, so too do most cars, and it’s important to change and clean filters regularly. As the first line of defence against poor indoor air quality, the filter does a lot of heavy lifting. Cleaning and replacing it regularly can help keep the air in your car smelling fresh.
- Another well-known indoor air quality pollutant in your car is cigarette smoke. Butt out and use that cigarette lighter to plug in a mini air purifier. These help improve indoor air quality by using negative ions to zap contaminants from the air.
- The most obvious way to improve the indoor air quality of your car is to open the windows! As a much smaller space, opening the windows helps refresh the entirety of your car in a much faster way than it does for your home.
- Having your car’s soft furnishings steam cleaned every few years is one way to remove some of the indoor air quality contaminants that could be hiding within the textiles. Believe it or not, mold, a problem common to leaky, damp basements, can also be causing you indoor air quality trouble in your car. Cars both new and old can have small leaks that may be causing moisture to enter, and once those doors are closed, the lack of fresh air flow can help mold take root. Steam cleaning will help remove surface dirt, but will also have an effect on mold growth in your car, and result in better indoor air quality.