Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) directly affects your health. Indoor air pollutants contribute to poor IAQ, causing medical conditions such as upper respiratory problems, headaches, memory lost/concentration issues, fatigue and dry, itchy skin. Poor IAQ also acts as a trigger for allergy and asthma conditions. Understanding IAQ factors can help improve your home’s indoor air quality, creating a healthier environment.
Air Quality Standards
American Society for Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has set standards for IAQ. All new homes and any homes receiving HVAC upgrades must comply with a specific set of minimum ventilation rates regarding the home’s IAQ and its direct effect on all human occupants.
ASHRAE published the first IAQ standard in 1973—Standard 62.1.
Indoor Air Pollutants
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ranked indoor air pollutants that affect IAQ as “a high priority public health risk.”
Pollutants contributing to poor IAQ as listed by the National Institutes of Health include:
- Tobacco smoke
- Carbon monoxide, radon
- Mold, pollen
- VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
Materials such as asbestos and formaldehyde also contribute to poor IAQ. Inhaling asbestos fibers from insulation can lead to lung irritation and other diseases. Formaldehyde may be in the bonding or adhesive used in carpeting, upholstery and other similar products. When it releases into indoor air, it can cause respiratory issues and more. Look for air filters rated MERV 8 or higher and opt for products labeled “formaldehyde free.”
IAQ and Tobacco Smoke
Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is secondhand smoke. Two types of smoke form ETS—side stream smoke and mainstream smoke. Side stream smoke emits from the lighted end of a tobacco product while mainstream smoke is exhaled smoke. The EPA reports that secondhand smoke causes “between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory infections for kids ages 18 months and younger.” These infections require more than 7,500 hospitalizations annually.
Pollutants such as carbon monoxide and radon can be deadly. An air filter for your home’s HVAC unit will not prevent carbon monoxide from entering the home. To monitor carbon monoxide levels, a reliable carbon monoxide detector is needed. Regarding radon, the EPA cautions air filters alone are not sufficient to remove it from a home and recommends active soil depressurization or ASD as the most effective radon control.
The American Lung Association states, “Indoor radon exposure is estimated to be the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., responsible for at least 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year.”
Improve IAQ: Reduce Allergens
A pleated air filter with a MERV rating between 5 and 8 may help reduce allergens that contribute to poor IAQ. A HEPA filter also may be effective in trapping particulates that affect allergy and asthma symptoms, including animal dander, pollen and mold spores.
HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air filter. Invented during World War II, the HEPA filter originally was designed to stop radioactive particles from escaping laboratories.
VOC Danger to Indoor Air Quality
Volatile organic compounds or VOCs are gaseous emissions from specific liquids or solids such as polyurethane, benzene, toluene and styrene. Inhaling VOCs can cause health problems such as headache, nausea, irritated eyes, nose or throat as well as respiratory issues and even liver and kidney damage. VOCs are found in interior paint and many household-cleaning products. An air filter with a MERV rating of 6 or higher may help reduce the presence of VOCs in your home.
The Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA) in conjunction with the University of Tulsa has initiated studies regarding the connection between IAQ and the performance of students. Because poor indoor air quality can adversely affect memory function and concentration, these ongoing studies include “the physical measurement of IAQ parameters, test scores, absenteeism as well as economical and social factors to determine if indoor air quality impacts student performance.”