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Manage Indoor Air Quality: Creating a Safer Home for Everyone

Dr. E. Neil Schacter

According to Dr. E. Neil Schacter, medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York: “If you live in a home with chronically poor air quality, you can experience frequent headaches, long lasting colds, and bronchitis as well as chronic asthma.” This is especially true during winter months when we tend to keep our doors & windows shut. Combined with the cold and typically more rain during this season, you’re bringing in moisture, allergens, and bacteria then never allowing fresh air to circulate in an attempt to stay warm. This could make your home a perfect breeding ground for flu, colds and other allergens.

The introduction of outdoor air is one important factor in promoting good air quality. Air may enter a home in several different ways, including:

  • through natural ventilation, such as through windows and doors
  • through mechanical means, such as through outdoor air intakes associated with the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system
  • through infiltration, a process by which outdoor air flows into the house through openings, joints and cracks in walls, floors and ceilings, and around windows and doors.
  • Outdoor air infiltration occurs in all homes to some extent.

Most residential forced air-heating systems and air-conditioning systems do not bring outdoor air into the house mechanically, and infiltration and natural ventilation are relied upon to bring outdoor air into the home. Advanced designs for new homes are starting to add a mechanical feature that brings outdoor air into the home through the HVAC system. Some of these designs include energy efficient heat recovery ventilators to mitigate the cost of cooling and heating this air during the summer and winter.

Here are some simple DIY remedies to make your home cleaner, and safer home for everyone.

  1. Air-out your home. When weather permits, open a window. Easy and free. This is one of the most effective ways to get the old air out and fresh air in. If you live in a heavy industrial or chemical area, be careful that you are not trading one concern for another.
  2. Air Purifiers. Good air purifiers will improve indoor air quality by removing allergens, harmful particles, and odors. Purified air is especially important to people suffering from asthma, allergies, or chemical and pollutant sensitivities. Ideally, according to the layout of your home, it is best to have air purifiers in all bedrooms as well as the main living areas.
  3. Essential Oils. Essential oils can be used to effectively clean and freshen indoor air. A good DIY essential oil room spritzer recipe is the following: Add 12-15 drops of pure essential oil to 1/2 cup of white vinegar and 1 1/2 cups of purified water. Place in a dark glass spray bottle shake well before each use. This recipe is especially useful for bathrooms, closets and “sick rooms”. Make sure that the essential oils you use are free from chemical additives as this could cause other unwanted allergens. Other essential oils for air purification include: Lemongrass, Lime, Lavender, Sweet Orange, Peppermint, Pine, Rosemary, Sage, Tangerine, Tea Tree, Thyme, Frankincense, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Grapefruit, Helichrysum, White Camphor, Marjoram, Myrrh, Cilantro, Citronella.
  4. Regular Cleaning. Regular dusting and frequent vacuuming will help tremendously in reducing airborne pollutants like mold, pollen, pet dander, and dust mites. Use non-toxic cleaning products.
  5. Change HVAC filters. Change furnace and air-conditioning filters frequently. Spray rubbing alcohol on the vents inside your home. If there is mold on the vents use a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water to kill the mold.
  6. Remedy mold issues. If your house has ventilation concerns, your home has a basement or you live in a humid area, it’s a good idea to have your home checked yearly for mold.
  7. Dry Cleaning. Before bringing in clothes that have been dry cleaned, allow them to hang in the garage or on the patio before bringing them indoors. Dry cleaning products emit chemicals like formaldehyde.

By improving the air quality of your home, most likely you and your family will experience less respiratory concerns and feel better all year long.