Tips: Top 10 ways homeowners can ensure good indoor air quality

The particles you see in a beam of afternoon sunlight streaming through the window only represent about one percent of the millions of airborne contaminants in your indoor air. Most standard fiber glass-mesh furnace filters only trap about 15 percent of these particles, leaving the other 85 percent to pollute your air, furnishings and even your lungs, according to Carrier Corporation.

Over half of the United States population lives in areas which have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution, and nearly 75 percent of Americans live with someone who has allergies, asthma, emphysema or another respiratory illness (American Lung Association's State of the Air 2004 Report). This indoor environmental problem has created a growing industry for home improvement manufacturers and retailers -- environmentally friendly cleaning products and home appliances that improve air quality and home conditions.

Studies from EPA on human exposure to air pollutants show that indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times, sometimes more than 100 times, higher than outdoor levels. Engineers have identified ways to move air in and out of homes to minimize the factors that lead to indoor air quality problems. The key is to design HVAC and other systems to work together to effectively ventilate homes and minimize sources of indoor pollution.

In a new standard developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), home ventilation would generally result in increased indoor air quality and decreased health problems compared to those that do not. Residential ventilation traditionally was not a major concern because it was felt people were getting enough outdoor air by opening their windows and by air leaking through the building's walls.

Top 10 Ways Homeowners Can Ensure Good Indoor Air Quality

  1. Vent bathrooms, kitchens, toilets and laundry rooms directly outdoors. Use energy efficient, quiet fans.
  2. Avoid locating furnaces, air conditioners and ductwork in garages or other spaces where they can inadvertently draw contaminants into the house.
  3. Properly vent fireplaces, wood stoves and other hearth products; use tight doors and outdoor air intakes when possible.
  4. Vent clothes dryers and central vacuum cleaners directly outdoors.
  5. Store toxic or volatile compounds, such as paints, solvents, cleaners and pesticides, out of the occupied space.
  6. Minimize or avoid un-vented combustion sources, such as candles, cigarettes, indoor barbecues, decorative combustion appliances or vent-free heaters.
  7. Provide operable windows or additional mechanical ventilation to every space to accommodate unusual sources or high-polluting events, such as the use of home cleaning products.
  8. Use sealed-combustion, power-vented or condensing water heaters and furnaces. When natural-draft applications must be used, they should be tested for proper venting and should be located outside the occupied space when possible.
  9. Put a good particle filter or air cleaner in your air handling system to keep dirt out of the air and off of your ductwork and heating and cooling components. Maintain it or replace it regularly as required.
  10. Distribute a minimum level of outdoor air throughout the home, using whole-house mechanical ventilation.

(Guidance from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers)

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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