According to Health Canada, and Common sense, Clean air is essential for good health.
But here are a few facts that might surprise you:
- As Canadians we spend close to 90% of our time inside whether at home, at work or in recreational environments.
- Most people, contrary to the common-sense above, are unaware of the quality of the indoor air in their environments
- Moist people are unaware of the consequential effect that poor air quality can have on both their short and long-term health.
- Research has shown that the quality of indoor air can be worse than that of outdoor air.
- Newer homes are built to conserve energy, and are therefore more airtight than the older properties. (Known as “tight” buildings). This emphasis on airtight
design has been shown to a clear downside – the minimal entry of fresh air, which invariably contributes to an increase in the concentration of pollutants in
the air within the buildings.
- Our homes today contain many furnishings, appliances and products that can affect indoor air quality.
- Our home comfort activities can have serious repercussions not just on the home itself but on the quality of the indoor air.
- Renovations can have serious long-term impacts on indoor air quality.
- Paneling, pressed-wood furniture,carpets and modern cabinetry products release more formaldehyde gas than poorly installed UFFI yet we think nothing of it.
Everyone has the ability to control the quality of our own indoor air. Knowing about a problem is the first step in fixing that problem, this holds true for Indoor Air Quality as it does everywhere else.
What the hazards are
There are a number of airborne hazards that exist in our homes. Some have natural causes, some are from man-made components, some are from poor maintenance and some are from actions taken in ignorance of the consequences.
Three major contributors to poor indoor health are Allergens, Mould and Radon Gas. The third is easy to mitigate, the former two not so much. This is perhaps a good thing as while Radon Gas itself is not a killer, the bi-products from it’s nuclear degradation are. Ensuring you home has the lowest levels of Radon Gas possible means that the creating of the by-products is also kept to a minimum. Mould and allergens such as pollen, animal dander etc. is much more difficult to keep in check as it occurs naturally in the environment and is frequently brought in by animals, pets and people and can float in and out when windows and doors are opened.
Man-made component hazards
Modern furniture, manufactured wood products, soft furnishings and paint all have chemicals that are considered hazardous because of the airborne emissions they can give off. By far the greatest known health hazard is that from Formaldehyde. This is a colourless gas that is emitted mainly from household products and building materials. Low levels of formaldehyde in indoor air are actually very common. When found at high levels in air, it can be detected by a sharp smell. High concentrations of formaldehyde can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat and can worsen asthma symptoms in children and infants.Health Canada states that ” is a colourless gas that is emitted mainly from household products and building materials. Low levels of formaldehyde in indoor air are actually very common. When found at high levels in air, it can be detected by a sharp smell. High concentrations of formaldehyde can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat and can worsen asthma symptoms in children and infants” and “At very high concentrations, formaldehyde can cause cancer of the nasal cavity. It has been linked to this rare type of cancer in industry workers who are regularly exposed to high levels of formaldehyde (higher levels than most people are ever likely to encounter in their homes)” they go on to say “The risk of developing cancer from formaldehyde exposure at concentrations found in most Canadian homes is essentially zero” but then go on to provide measurement protocols and limits that should not be exceeded and go on to say that homes have had recorded levels that exceeded those limits.
Another man made hazard is the use of products that are made up of VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds. A VOC is a compound that “boils” in the range of 50 to 250 °C (122 to 482 °F). This means that they become gases completely at those temperatures of above. At lower temperatures, some “evaporation” occurs which can degrade indoor air quality. Not all VOCs are man-made but those that are come generally from Paints, Coatings, Stored fuels (e.g. lighter fluid), house and industrial cleaning products, dry cleaning, fuel additives (Octane booster and fuel stabilisers) as well as photocopiers, and laser printers. Formaldehyde is a VOC but because of the widespread use of products that release it, it is treated here in its own right.
This is by far the easiest area where we can improve indoor air quality, and also the area that can create the most immediate, and deadly hazard. Failure to maintain furnaces, gas and solid fuel heating equipment, cookers, stove tops, gas-fired dryers and the venting of these is the biggest cause of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas, but, being colorless, odorless, tasteless, and initially non-irritating, it is very difficult for people to detect. Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning includes light-headedness, confusion, headaches, vertigo, and flu-like effects; larger exposures can lead to significant toxicity of the central nervous system and heart, and even death. Keeping a Carbon Monoxide alarm operational in a home is important, but finding possible sources of Carbon Monoxide before the alarms sound is sensible. Preventative maintenance of the sources is a prime factor in this prevention, Indoor Air Quality Inspections is a prime defence in identifying sources that may have been maintained but are still dangerous.
The next biggest hazard due to poor maintenance is water intrusion and air permeation. As homes get more airtight they also get warmer, and more moist, because warm air carries more moisture than cold air. Adding more water to the environment, or allowing cold air to get to warm air creates condensation. Condensation creates water, and water, organic material (dirt, dust, wood, material, paper etc.) and warmth creates a feeding ground for mould.
Proper education of how to look after your home is important. The techniques for looking after an older loose home are markedly different from the techniques of looking after a newer tighter home. Again the resultant hazard in incorrect actions is the potential for mould. The advantage here is that when mould is created through uneducated action, it is usually, but not always, visibly evident. The mould itself is generally easily treated once the source of the problem has stopped, but again action on the part of an uneducated home owner can make matters much worse, and because of the breeding life-cycle of mould, much quicker..
Indoor air quality (IAQ) deteriorates much quicker and even further when there is a lack of emphasis placed upon the maintenance of HVAC units installed in building. This factor, coupled with the absence of air handlers testing and optimization, often leads to conditions the result in the growth of microbiological contamination.
What an IAQ Inspection gives
IAQ inspection involves checking for humidity, temperature and pollutant levels in the air.
- Humidity and temperature check.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOC) check (optional)
- Carbon monoxide check.
- Carbon dioxide check
- Ventilation check
- Surface Mould formation checks
- Airborne Mould check