Six Essential Steps
to Healthy Indoor Air
by Building Inspector and Indoor Air Specialist, Dan Schilling
The Soup Concept
Indoor air is like a soup with a variety of pollutants in it. Most of these indoor air contaminants are known to cause or contribute to a long list of health problems (See list symptoms at the article titled "Sick Homes and Buildings") and each of these pollutants requires its own strategic solution in order to eliminate them from the air you inhale.
It is difficult to write this article knowing that so many of the points mentioned below could be elaborated on in much greater detail, nonetheless this short article should serve as a general guide for understanding the basic steps to cleaner indoor air. For your convenience, more specific details can be found within some of the other articles here at indoorair.com.
There are six steps in total that must be followed; miss one and you compromise your indoor air quality and your health. I use the acronym “EFVOID”, to outline these strategic steps:
E = Elimination
Eliminate or reduce as many obvious indoor air pollutant sources as is reasonably possible. These would include but are not limited to the following: Un-maintained or very old carpet, especially if laid over concrete, dust accumulation in air ducts, all visible mold growth no matter the amount, indoor pesticides, perfumes, hair sprays, animal dander, cat boxes, unsealed paint cans, indoor smoking of tobacco products, metabolic sewer gasses from unused plumbing fixtures, candle burning, unencapsulated man-made building materials, and plug-in, spray, or standing deodorizers that emit man-made chemicals. Laundry and cleaning products, personal care products, etc. that you can purchase without chemical fragrances will be most advantageous to reduce exposure and indoor related health problems.
Many of the indoor air pollutant sources mentioned above are common sense when given a thought, yet the cumulative affect is often overlooked. Eliminate as many as you reasonably can. In some cases a professional air quality inspection may be in your best interest to assure you are not missing indoor air pollutant sources such as sewer gas entry, small combustible gas leaks, areas of hidden mold, negative air pressure problems, or ventilation/heating/cooling failures or inadequacies. This is especially important for those homes where occupants have already begun experiencing any of the indoor air quality symptoms listed at indoorair.com.
F = Filtration
Use good air filtration. This entails the use and maintenance of quality furnace filters (Read the article titled "Understanding Furnace Filters"), the possible use of high efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA) in rooms, particularly if you do not have a ducted air handling system, and lastly, a high quality vacuum cleaner which does not allow ultra-fine particles to re-circulate back into the air. Reducing airborne particles with the use of good filtration techniques will improve indoor air quality by making indoor air less dense of particle pollutants and consequently easier to inhale. This will also reduce physical irritation that causes allergy and asthma symptoms. It is additionally important to never feather dust your home or sweep hardwood flooring. Sweeping and feather dusting launch massive amounts of particles back into the air. Dust these areas with damp cloths or mops, or vacuum with a quality vacuum cleaner to prevent acute exposure.
V = Ventilation
The first thing ventilation entails is circulating your indoor air by using your ducted air handling system (if you have one), even if you are not air conditioning or heating. Air should be circulated continuously, or at minimum, at critical times of each day during high activity when significant amounts of airborne particles are being created (when people are changing clothes or during high activity periods indoors). Circulating indoor air helps to scrub airborne particles from your air (provided you are using quality air filters in your air handling system) and helps to prevent dead air space and micro climates were mold can take hold. Circulating your indoor air also helps true air purification systems to work more efficiently by mixing the air in your indoor environment.
Secondly, ventilation includes opening windows frequently to allow replenishing of indoor oxygen levels. This is essential because there is nothing in indoor environments that “makes” oxygen for you. Maintaining good oxygen levels will help reduce headaches, tiredness and fatigue while increasing mental alertness and improving overall health. Opening windows should be done whenever needed, all year long. If the weather is extremely hot or cold, the indoor air exchange process will be expedited by default. This is due to the differences in outdoor and indoor air temperatures. During extreme temperature differences windows can be closed again very soon after opening them.
Third, ventilation includes the use of exhaust fans to remove bathroom odors, moisture from showering and cooking, and to reduce exposure to chemicals in hair spray or other aerosol products. (Read all of the articles about ventilation and make-up air vents).
O = Ozonation
Ozone, also known as “activated oxygen”, is one of natures ingredients for purifying outdoor air and is absolutely essential in the elimination of indoor pollutants. Indoor ozone levels should be constantly maintained to the same levels as those found naturally over the entire planet. Ozone oxidizes chemical gasses and eliminates virtually all odors. Ozone also helps control viruses, bacteria and mold growth. Ozone is the primary reason we always go OUT for fresh air and is the sole reason for the fresh air smell outdoors. Proper indoor ozone replacement can only be accomplished by using a true air purifier with adjustable ozone output. (Read the article titled "Understanding Ozone.")
I = Ionization
Ions are the second ingredient that nature uses for cleaning the outdoor air of particulate (physical matter floating in air) and are another essential for indoor air quality. Indoor ions must be maintained in the right amount, and in the right ratio of positive ions to negative ions, just like nature produces outdoors. Ions are effective for indoor particle reduction even if no filtration is used, albeit you should still use filters if you can. Ions also work on particles that are so small they would pass through virtually any man-made filter media and vacuum bags. Furthermore, ions inadvertently help eliminate odors by reducing odor carrying particles from sources such as mold spores and airborne fecal and urine matter. Ion replacement is accomplished by using a true air purifier with constant ion output. (Read the article titled "Understanding Ions.")
D = Dehumidification
Maintaining indoor humidity levels at or below 50% is absolutely essential to help protect your indoor air from bio-contaminants such as mold, bacteria, insects, mites and their related metabolic gasses and excrement. Most indoor environments today require dehumidification. A humidity gauge is the only way to know if your humidity is within safe parameters year round. (Read all of articles on the topic of indoor moisture.)
Follow the six steps above (EFVOID) and your indoor air quality will be as good as it can be. Miss just one of these steps and your air quality will certainly be degraded or compromised.
with those you care about.
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