Woman living a healthy lifestyle in a home with clean air
Why indoor air quality is so important

Clean Air, Healthy Home

Home is often associated with safety, a cosy warm place where we can relax, be ourselves and not worry about the stresses of the world. However, we often share our living space with some unwelcome visitors.

When we're inside, whether at home, at work or in school, some concentrations of pollutants can be two to five times higher than outdoors. And given that we spend about 90% of our time in buildings, that's a worry. We've put together this guide to explain what indoor air pollution is, the health effects associated with certain pollutants and how you can boost the air quality in your home.

What is indoor air pollution?

Indoor air pollution is the contamination of the inside of buildings by harmful chemicals and biological agents.

Examples of pollutants found indoors include:

1. Carbon monoxide (CO)

CO is a toxic gas created when fuels like wood, coal, and gas don't fully burn. It's also found in cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes.

2. Carbon dioxide (CO₂)

Humans and animals breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. This can lead to a build-up of CO2 in buildings, especially when ventilation is poor.

3. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

VOCs are gases released from certain products, like paint, varnishes, cleaning products and fuels. Some paraffin-based candles and new furniture can release VOCs too.

4. Mould

Mould is caused by excess moisture and high humidity. It can release spores and cells into the air, which can be dangerous, especially to young, old, and vulnerable people.

5. Biological contaminants

It's not just chemicals and gases that can cause indoor air pollution: animal droppings, dust mites, pet hair, and pollen can all contribute to a decrease in air quality.

6. Radon

Radon is a radioactive gas released from rocks, water, and soil. It can enter a building through cracks in walls and floors, where it can stay trapped for a long time.

7. Asbestos

Asbestos was commonly used to insulate homes before the 1980s; however the fibres were found to cause diseases including mesothelioma, a type of cancer. Asbestos is generally safe if not disturbed.

Indoor pollution is not something to be ignored

The World Health Organisation (WHO) refers to it as 'the world's largest single environmental health risk'. This is because – unlike outdoor pollution – pollutants aren't diluted by the air and, as a result, can become highly concentrated in a small space.

Why do we get indoor air pollution?

There are many different sources of air pollution, and the bad thing is that we typically don't realise that these things have a significant effect on air quality. In the previous section, we looked at some of the things that can cause indoor air pollution to increase, like mould, cleaning products, and cigarette smoke. Here are some more reasons why indoor air pollution has risen to such high levels.

Energy-efficient homes

Modern homes are built to be energy efficient, meaning heat is less likely to be lost to the outside environment. While this helps us save on our energy bills and reduces our carbon footprint, it can be bad for indoor air quality. As homes are more insulated, pollutants are more likely to be trapped indoors rather than lost to the external atmosphere.

The burning of fuel indoors

While it's important to keep warm indoors, burning fuels can be a significant factor when it comes to air pollution. Biomass heating systems, wood-burning stoves, and gas boilers can all cause issues, especially when they aren't working efficiently.

Inadequate ventilation

The main reason why indoor air quality can be so poor is because outdoor air can't get in. When fresh air can't get into a home or commercial building, levels of indoor pollutants build up to high levels. While people can improve ventilation in their buildings by opening windows and doors, this isn't always practical, especially when it's cold outside. A study by the UK Government showed that only 4% of new homes met the minimum ventilation provisions recommended by national building regulations.

What are the health effects associated with high levels of indoor air pollution?

If you regularly suffer from what you think are colds and flu at home, it might be that your symptoms are the result of indoor air pollution instead. Single or repeated exposure to pollutants can cause headaches, tiredness, itchy eyes, a sore throat or a runny nose.

Pollutants can also affect productivity. For example, elevated carbon dioxide levels can lead to poor decision-making, slower reaction times, and tiredness. Some people experience a medical condition called sick building syndrome. This is when people experience illness after spending time in a particular room or building, only to feel better when they leave.

Indoor pollution can cause serious long-term health problems too, like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). People with chronic conditions are more likely to stay indoors, meaning more contact with the pollutants that make them unwell. It's estimated that 3.2 million people a year die from illnesses attributed to household air pollution, including heart disease, strokes, respiratory infections, and lung cancer. High concentrations of certain gases can also be dangerous. For example, prolonged exposure to CO levels of up to 70 parts per million (ppm) won't have an effect on most people. However, levels above 150 ppm can lead to disorientation, unconsciousness, and even death.

How can I measure the air quality in my home?

Most air pollutants are invisible. You can't see them, you can't taste them and, in most cases, you can't smell them. So, how do you know that they're there?

The easiest way to do this is to buy or borrow an air quality monitor. These either come as handheld monitors or control panels you can leave on a surface. Over time this monitor will tell you the levels of VOC, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and humidity in the air. Most air quality monitors don't test for radon but you can get specialist test kits that monitor levels of radon in your home. These are left in place for three months and then sent to a laboratory for analysis.

It's also important to keep safe by installing carbon monoxide detectors in your home – ideally where everyone sleeps and near devices that produce CO, like boilers and gas cookers. These monitors will let you know if there are high levels of CO in your home so you can ventilate and exit your property safely.

Simple ways you can improve indoor air quality

The good news about indoor air pollution is that there are several things you can do to create a high-quality indoor climate. We've put together an article about boosting the air quality in your home, but here are some additional ways you can keep all the rooms in your home healthy and safe.

Keep your home clean

A clean home is a healthy home. By removing mould, dust, and pet hair on a regular basis, you're improving air quality and getting rid of pollutants. Of course, some cleaning products contain VOCs, which can make air quality worse. However, there are many natural and eco-friendly products on the market that do not contain these harmful chemicals. For an all-natural approach to cleaning, why not try using a paste of bicarbonate of soda and water to clean your fridge or sink?

Reduce humidity

High levels of humidity in the home can lead to mould. However, you can take simple steps to reduce the amount of moisture in the air:

  • Putting lids on pans when cooking
  • Drying clothes outdoors or opening a window when drying them indoors
  • Having colder showers and baths
  • Using a dehumidifier
  • Keeping gutters clear – this stops water from spilling down walls and causing dampness in the home

Better ventilation can also help with mould and dampness…

Improve ventilation

Increasing airflow in your home will reduce contaminants and is the best solution in the long run when it comes to reducing air pollution. You can do this by:

  • Opening windows and doors to let fresh air in
  • Turning extractor fans on in kitchens and bathrooms, and keeping them clean
  • Leaving trickle vents on windows open and ensuring any air ducts aren't covered
  • Investing in a mechanical ventilation solution

We hope this guide has told you all you need to know about indoor air pollution. Remember that while you can't control the air quality outdoors, there are steps you can take to make the air in your home safer and more pleasant. The installation of a quality ventilation system can significantly improve indoor air quality, ensuring a healthier and more comfortable living environment.

Discover more about the benefits of ventilation systems and their role in maintaining a clean and healthy home by exploring our range of solutions.