The healthy home
Most of us spend a large percentage of our lives indoors so it is worth thinking more closely about air quality in our homes so it is worth thinking more closely about air quality in our homes. This article discusses the likely sources of indoor air pollutants and the possible associated health conditions. It provides advice and actions that you can take to protect the health of people living in your home. It will also help you make better informed decisions about health and indoor air quality issues when discussing a new building project or renovation with your architect, designer, builder or building material supplier.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Indoor air quality and health
Poor indoor air quality may produce a range of health effects from mild and generally non-specific symptoms such as headaches, tiredness or lethargy, to more severe effects such as aggravation of asthma and allergic responses. Most of these conditions can also arise from a number of different causes other than the quality of the air in your home.
Consult your doctor if you are concerned about any of these health conditions.
Whether a source of air pollutants causes an indoor air quality problem or not depends on:
- the type of air pollutant
- the amount and rate at which it is released from its source
- the degree of ventilation available in the home to remove it from indoors.
Common sources of indoor air pollutants include:
- building operations and construction materials
- household products
- various human indoor activities
- external factors (from outdoors).
People are most commonly exposed to air pollutants when they breathe in an air pollutant or allergen; exposure by swallowing or through the skin may occur in some circumstances. The body has a range of defences against airborne substances (e.g. skin, liver, immune system). Some defences keep substances out of the body; others overcome substances once they enter the body.
We spend much of our lives indoors where fumes can accumulate.
What you do in the home can make the single biggest difference to the health of the indoor environment, e.g. avoid smoking indoors, don’t let dust build up, don’t leave the car running in the garage and be wary of all fumes — if it smells bad it probably is!
What you do in the home can make the single biggest difference to the health of the indoor environment.
Generally, the greater the amount of pollutant (exposure), the greater the health impact. The duration of exposure is also important: if low-level exposure occurs over a long period of time (perhaps many years) the total dose may be large.
Some groups of people in the community are more vulnerable to pollutants than others. These include:
- the very young
- the very old
- those with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular disease
- those who are sensitised to a substance.
Some of these groups are also more likely to spend more time indoors than the general population.
Don’t let dust build up in living and bedroom areas.
Assessing your health
Before jumping to conclusions about whether or not your home is making you ill, look for clues and patterns:
- Do you notice any change in your health before and after a particular change in the home environment?
- Is there any change in your health after particular activities, like dusting or cleaning?
- Do your health problems occur at the same time each year?
- Do your health problems get better if you and your family are away from home for any extended periods, such as holidays?
Potentially hazardous air substances
There are many different types of airborne substances. Exposure to most substances indoors is generally low and of little or no health consequence. Discussed below are some important types of pollutants and allergens that might be found in Australian homes.
Four steps to better air quality
Eliminate — Identify the source of air problems and wherever possible eliminate through better product selection and design.
Ventilate — If too little fresh air enters a home, pollutants can accumulate to levels that can pose health and comfort problems. Ventilate the home to remove these.
Separate — Separate problem materials from occupants by using air barriers or sealers such as coatings.
Absorb — Indoor plants can be used to improve the quality of the indoor environment, as well as add beauty.