We’re spending more time indoors than ever before so Colin Timmins, director of member services at BEAMA offers readers some top tips on ensuring clean indoor air during these unprecedented times.
With large parts of the population now working from home for the foreseeable future, it is an important time to remind yourself and others of the importance of maintaining healthy indoor air quality (IAQ) to maximise not only cognitive performance but also general health and wellbeing in your home.
In general, we spend around 90% of our time indoors and 16 hours a day on average at home2 – for many people this will now be even higher, if not exclusively the case. The risk of exposure is therefore considerably greater than that of outdoor air pollution, particularly given that indoor air can contain up to 900 potentially dangerous chemicals, particles and biological materials.
The problem – the causes and impact of poor indoor air quality
One key reason why the problems associated with poor IAQ are growing so rapidly is due to the recent drive towards air tightness and energy efficiency in homes. Whilst this may reduce energy costs, it also leads to a deterioration in air quality and the exacerbation of pollutants inside UK homes.
Poor IAQ occurs when there is a build-up of pollutants in the home to the extent that it affects an occupant’s health and comfort. Poor IAQ is linked to a range of health conditions and is reported to have an annual cost to the UK of over 204,000 healthy life years,4 with 45% of those lost to cardiovascular diseases, 23% to asthma and allergy, and 15% to lung cancer. In 2012 the World Health Organization reported that indoor air pollutants were responsible for around 99,000 European deaths a year.
The wider impact and cost of poor IAQ to the NHS and economy is also considerable, with the Royal College of Physicians warning that indoor air pollutants cause, at a minimum, thousands of deaths per year in the UK and are associated with healthcare costs in the order of “tens of millions of poundsâ€?.
Common symptoms of poor indoor air quality can include coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, wheezing, allergic reactions, and reduced cognitive function. Long term exposure to poor indoor air quality has been linked to serious health conditions such as allergic and asthma symptoms, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, airborne respiratory infections and cardiovascular disease.
Types of indoor air pollution include moisture and mould, carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), allergens (such as house dust mites) and CO2.
The solution – top tips
Fortunately, interventions can be made to rectify poor indoor air quality and ensure your home is the healthiest possible environment to live and work in. To achieve this, it is important that you know how your house is ventilated, ensure it is ventilated properly and keep up a good maintenance and cleaning regime.
Below we have included some simple top tips to help with this process:
One of the most effective ways to reduce indoor air pollution and your exposure to harmful particles is to make sure your home is properly and continuously ventilated. Consider having a ventilation system installed and, if you have one, make sure it is switched on and properly maintained.
Did you know carpets contain around 200,000 bacteria per square inch on average, making them 4,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat? Carpets harbour dirt, pet hair, fungus and other harmful particles that can cause and exacerbate allergic reactions and health conditions such as asthma. Clean your carpets regularly to ensure they are not making your indoor air quality worse.
Going for a walk every day to get some fresh air and make use of the limited availability to get outdoors? Make sure you remove your shoes when you go indoors to stop pollutants from spreading. Shoes can collect unwanted chemicals, dirt and dust from outside and bring them into the home; 96% of shoes contain over 420,000 units of bacteria.8
Dry your clothes outside or in a room that has a ventilation system (e.g. your bathroom). 65% of Europeans dry their clothes indoors9 but this creates damp and mould which is responsible for 2.2 million asthma cases and the deterioration of your building fabric, which itself can release harmful toxins into your home. The reality is that many people with an asthma condition, including children, will now be in their home for the vast majority of their day, making the risk even greater, and the need for action all the more important.
Thinking about using your time at home to give your room a new paintjob? Paints release VOCs which can be harmful to your health, so make sure the paint has properly dried before using a newly painted room.
Cooking on a gas hob gives off nitrogen dioxide, acrolein, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide, which have all been linked to respiratory symptoms and cancer. If it is not practical to replace your gas hob with an electric alternative ensure your extractor fan is kept on!
Particle pollution in smoke can damage lung tissue and lead to serious respiratory problems when breathed in high concentrations. If you can, avoid using a wood burner, or consider an electric alternative instead to maintain a cosy atmosphere.
About My Health My Home
The My Health My Home campaign aims to raise awareness of the impacts of poor indoor air quality (IAQ) on health and ensure that good IAQ is a serious consideration in public health and buildings. The My Healthy My Home campaign is supported by public health professionals, academics, Parliamentarians and industry representatives and is funded by the industry trade body BEAMA.