The Top 4 Causes of Poor Residential Air Quality
If you have ever inhaled the smog-filled air in downtown Los Angeles or have seen the spooky haze of the outside air when a wildfire is raging nearby, you probably feel a sense of relief when you head indoors to breathe what you believe to be uncontaminated air. Though the air quality inside our homes might be better if there is a major wildfire nearby or if you live next to a busy interstate, in many cases, the air inside our homes is significantly more contaminated than the outdoor air.
According to studies conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor levels of pollutants could be two to five times — and occasionally more than 100 times — higher than outdoor levels. Because the average person spends upwards of 90 percent of their time indoors, exposure to poor indoor air quality is one of the leading health hazards and contributes to numerous health problems affecting millions of people.
Here we will take a look at the top four causes of poor residential air quality. Plus, we then explain a few simple solutions for how homeowners in California can quickly and efficiently address that problem to ensure optimum air quality inside their homes.
Poor Residential Air Quality Cause #1: The Use of Chemical Cleaners and Air Fresheners
A clean home is generally considered to be a healthy home. In today’s COVID-ravaged world, disinfecting your home’s floors and countertops might have become a daily task for many people. Though a lack of cleanliness in a home can certainly lead to the buildup of mold, bacteria, and other pathogens that could negatively affect your health, many of the cleaning agents that we routinely use in our homes may very well contain dangerous chemicals that can spread volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into our homes. Consider the chemical ingredients and subsequent VOC emissions associated with several common household cleaners:
- Cleaning products with high chlorine bleach levels as one of their main ingredients “can release volatile organic compounds such as chloroform and carbon tetrachloride into your home when mixed with other chemicals”. These chemicals pose a carcinogenic risk to public health and may increase your risk for cancer over the long term.
- Windex and other glass cleaners you use to clean your windows may include chemicals such as toluene, 2-butoxyethanol, ethylbenzene, tetrachloroethylene, camphene, and limonene. Some furniture and floor-cleaning sprays may also contain high levels of formaldehyde, another cancer-causing agent.
- Scented Air Fresheners: In a somewhat ironic twist, those fragrant air fresheners that promise a clean, fresh smell to your home may actually be filling your home with dangerous VOC emissions. One 2011 study that looked at 25 scented household products found 133 unique VOCs, 24 of which were classified as toxic.
Fortunately, avoiding these types of VOCs and chemicals in your home is fairly straightforward. Opting for natural ventilation or an HRV system (instead of air fresheners) is a better way to get rid of smells in your home. Also, today you can find a wide range of healthier cleaning products that don’t contain harsh chemicals that leave cancer-causing volatile organic compounds invading your indoor space. Conrado Home Builders HomeCare Program can help you organize deep cleaning of your home’s flooring, furniture, and other interior household items. Our HomeCare professionals can help ensure that your home gets the spring cleaning it deserves without negatively affecting your indoor air quality.
Poor Residential Air Quality Cause #2: Carpets, Both Old and New
There is nothing that completely ruins a home interior, quite like old, raggedy carpets. Besides being unsightly, older carpets are most likely harboring an enormous amount of dust mites, pet dander, pollen, microscopic insect parts, mold, and dozens of other common allergens. Old carpets can make your home’s indoor air quality essentially unbearable for people who suffer from asthma and other types of respiratory allergens.
Unfortunately, replacing your old flooring with new carpeting can negatively affect your indoor air quality. Newly installed carpets are one of the primary culprits for off-gassing dangerous, volatile organic compounds into the home. Chemicals from the vinyl backing and the adhesive used to hold the carpet to the floor can lead to several serious health problems, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, and asthma.
In most cases, the majority of the chemicals will leach out from the carpet within the first four months. However, some VOCs from new carpet can linger inside the home for up to five years after installation.
In fact, according to the EPA, “some studies indicate that poorly maintained carpet can release significant quantities of particles into the air during daily activity…If covering a large surface area, carpet and other fabrics can act as “sinks” for the adsorption of VOCs from other sources (during application of paint and other finish coatings, for example) and re-emit them later.”
One simple way to avoid this problem is to steer clear of carpeting in your home. However, many types of manufactured wood flooring products also may contain high amounts of formaldehyde that could off-gas into your home. Opting for the most natural flooring alternatives is often the best way to protect your home’s indoor air quality. Here at Conrado Home Builders, we have years of experience in the best green building practices. Our building experts can recommend the safest and healthiest flooring alternatives, from natural wool carpeting to FSC-certified hardwood flooring finished with VOC-free varnish.
Poor Residential Air Quality Cause #3: Paints, Varnishes, and Other Interior Finishes
Everyone knows that “fresh paint smell.” Though some people may find that unique smell brings to mind a refreshed and renovated home, many paints, varnishes, and other interior finishes may very well be the cause of those pounding migraine headaches that cause you to lose sleep at night. The vast majority of paints and varnishes contain several compounds and organic solvents that help to facilitate performance and improve the quality of the paint. Formaldehyde is one of the most common substances in household paints that are known to off-gas into the home.
The American Cancer Society states bluntly that formaldehyde is a “probable human carcinogen.” Extended exposure to formaldehyde may increase the odds of suffering from leukemia, particularly myeloid leukemia. If you are the type of homeowner who routinely enjoys spicing up your home with a fresh coat of paint, opting for zero-VOC paint should be a priority. Low VOC paints are required by regulation to have less than 50g/l per liter. Paints that are labeled as “Zero VOC paints” are required to have less than 5g/l with no intentionally added VOCs.
Whether you hire Conrado Home Builders for a custom home build or f a luxury remodel of an existing home, we are 100 percent committed to ensuring that none of the paints in your home off-gas formaldehyde or any other dangerous VOCs. We can recommend the best zero-VOC paints on the market to help you make the best decisions for protecting the air that your family will breathe on a daily basis.
Poor Residential Air Quality Cause #4: Poor Household Ventilation
Even if you religiously use only non-toxic household cleaning products, have replaced your old carpets with FSC-certified wood flooring, and only use zero-VOC casein paint to renovate your home’s interior walls, poor ventilation will inevitably lead to poor indoor air quality. Homes that do not have adequate ventilation may very well “increase indoor pollutant levels by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources”. For example, the simple act of cooking an evening meal for your family may lead to the emission of several different types of VOCs. Your gas stoves can lead to nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide emissions into your indoor air. Even the process of heating oils and fats has been shown to release potentially harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
High-quality ventilation systems throughout your home is one of the best ways to ensure that the stale indoor air inside your house is frequently replaced by fresh air from the outside. This ensures that volatile organic compounds, allergen-causing agents, and other types of contaminants and pollutants are circulated out of your home.
Unfortunately, many ventilation systems protect your home’s indoor air quality at the expense of your home’s energy efficiency and thermal performance. Here at Conrado Home Builders, however, we can help you design a beautiful custom home that has an airtight building envelope that keeps your home energy efficient while simultaneously ensuring optimum indoor air quality. From mechanical ventilation systems like HRVs and ERVs to ingeniously designed natural ventilation systems, our building teams can help you design the best ventilation system to ensure that you always have fresh, uncontaminated air to breathe within your home.
For Improved Indoor Air Quality, Consult with Conrado Home Builders
If you are interested in discovering the best ways to design and build a home that provides you and your family with the best indoor air quality, contact Conrado Home Builders today!