Are you indoors right now? Chances are yes since that’s where Americans spend 90 percent of their time.
Ironically, that's where allergens, mold and other irritants like to spend most of their time, too.
In fact, the EPA finds that indoor air pollution levels can be two to five times higher than outside– and in some instances more than 100 times higher. These pollutants can make it hard to breathe; they also raise your home’s energy costs.
To prevent this, here are five steps you can take, some as quickly as this weekend, to improve your indoor air quality. At the same time, you'll improve your home's energy efficiency.
1. Change your furnace air filters regularly and reliably.
Home air filter changes are extremely important.
Clogged air filters make your central heating and cooling system work harder and consume more energy. Furthermore, a clogged filter is the primary cause of home heating and cooling system failures that can cost thousands of dollars to repair. Finally, clogged filters do not capture airborne pollutants effectively, leaving them floating in your home.
If you always forget to change your air filters, air filter monitors tell you exactly when to change your filter by monitoring air pressure differences in your heating/cooling system. Just like an automobile’s gas gauge, the wireless air filter monitor takes a scientific approach to maximizing a home’s air quality by monitoring how much “cleaning power” remains in an air filter while in use. After the pressure reaches a certain predetermined level, the monitor will send a filter servicing reminder to your Smartphone or tablet, meaning you won’t have to ever guess again.
2. Take care of your home’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.
Energy use costs the average American home about $2,000 a year and nearly half of that goes toward heating and cooling.
Regular maintenance – including twice-yearly servicing by a professional, and regular air filter changes by homeowners—as mentioned above – can help your HVAC system operate at peak efficiency and rid your home of pollutants.
Common sources of indoor air pollution include:
• Combustion – Use of oil, gas, kerosene, coal or wood to heat a home can generate pollutants ranging from smoke to carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.
• Volatile organic compounds – Carpets, furniture, cabinetry, building materials, paint and other man-made items within a home can release VOCs.
• Household chemicals – Cleaning products, air-fresheners, personal care products such as hairspray and cosmetics, and glues used in hobbies and crafts can all be respiratory irritants.
• Natural sources – Radon is a colorless, odorless naturally occurring gas that causes approximately 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year, according to the EPA. Other common environmental contaminants are pollen, mold, mildew, dust and pet dander.
In fact, when you realize some of the items you're actually breathing, you'll never forget the importance of keeping your home's air filtered and clean. Here's an article, "What's Really in Your Air," that identifies some of the contaminants that might be affecting your air quality at home.
3. Ensure your home is properly ventilated.
It is important to vent contaminated air and excess humidity from your home year round. Make sure kitchens and bathrooms have operating exhaust fans to help vent stale, contaminated or moisture-laden air from your home.
The health impact of indoor air pollution can range from minor to extreme. While pollen, pet dander and VOCs may simply inflame the airways of healthy individuals, such irritants can trigger severe reactions in those who suffer from allergies and/or asthma. Other indoor pollutants such as radon have been linked with cancer, while carbon monoxide can kill quickly and silently. Clearly, air quality monitoring is essential for all homeowners and especially for anyone with respiratory concerns such as asthma or allergies.
4. Kick the habit, and don’t indulge anyone else’s in your home.
Just as smoking impacts the smoker’s health, secondhand smoke greatly affects the quality of indoor air. If you smoke, stop. Additionally, don’t
allow others to smoke in your home, either. Smoke residue – which contains carcinogens – can linger on surfaces long after the smoker has departed.
5. Add a touch of green life throughout your home.
A 30-year NASA study found that houseplants are very effective at cleaning indoor air. Sure, room air purifiers serve the same basic functions, but houseplants won’t add to your utility bill while they’re removing contaminants from the air and emitting fresh oxygen. Plus, houseplants give your home a burst of color, beauty and life. NASA recommends one houseplant per every 100 square feet of home.
Additional Steps to a More Energy Efficient Home
Further steps to enhance a home’s energy efficiency include:
• Replacing incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) or LEDs. Both consume between 60 to 80 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and produce far less heat.
• Installing and using a programmable thermostat. Automating home cooling and heating through proper use of a programmable thermostat can reduce annual energy costs by about $180 on average according to ENERGYSTAR.gov.
• Washing clothing in cold water. Modern washers and detergents can effectively clean clothes in lower-temperature water.
• Using ceiling fans to supplement heating and cooling system operation.
• Replacing older appliances with ENERGY STAR-qualified models. ENERGY STAR rates the energy efficiency of a variety of home products.
• Unplugging unused electronic devices or placing them on a power strip that can switch off multiple appliances simultaneously. Many electronic appliances, such as computers and TVs, continue to draw energy whenever they’re plugged in, even if they’re turned off.
Ready to improve your home's indoor air quality?
These tactics are simple, speedy ways to get started with improving your home’s indoor air quality and overall energy efficiency. You can find numerous other steps with a simple online search or view the informative ebook, "Top Tips to Improve Home Air Quality and Cut Energy Costs," that is chock-full of money-saving tips.