Follow these tips for better air quality in your home
Enforce a smoking ban
Keeping your home smoke-free is among the best things you can do for your health, says Connie Choy, Air Quality Coordinator, Ontario Lung Association, a provincial office of the Canadian Lung Association. Second-hand smoke is one of the most harmful indoor air pollutants, says Choy. Plus, contaminants linger in what she calls "third-hand smoke," the built-up residue of tobacco and other particles on floors, walls, curtains and furnishings.
"If you move into a home where the previous owner was a smoker, take care to wash everything and air it out to dilute this residue," says Choy.
Opt for gentler products
If powerful cleaning products and air fresheners are part of your spring-cleaning ritual, know that many release toxic ingredients into the air and can cause respiratory problems in some people, says the Lung Association's Choy.
"Limit use of these harsh cleaners or personal care products, especially if anyone in your family shows signs of sensitivities," says Choy. Symptoms may include itchy nose or eyes, headaches, dizziness or wheezing. "Your nose can be a great indicator, especially with cleaning or personal care products that may contain hundreds of ingredients," says Choy. "A tickle in your nose may be telling you there's something you're sensitive to."
Get tough on mould
While many may not react to it, mould in the air can be a cause for concern for those who have allergies, asthma or a weak immune system, as well as children or the elderly. Mould in the home almost always stems from a moisture problem, says Francis Lavoie, a biologist with Health Canada's Indoor Air Contaminants Assessment Section.
"To get rid of it, you need to first remove the water, dry everything and fix the source," says Lavoie. That can be a do-it-yourself project in small areas, but more extensive cleanups may call for professional help, especially if mould has penetrated into drywall, wood or any soft furnishings, which should be replaced, says Lavoie.
A simple solution of dish soap or spray soap can be used to wipe out mould on most surfaces, says Lavoie. "There's really no need to use bleach, as many people think. Bleach can be a harsh irritant in itself."
Keep dampness at bay
Control the moisture level in the air for easy breathing and to prevent mould growth, says Choy. The humidity level in your home should ideally be 30% to 50% according to the experts. Measure yours with an inexpensive hygrometer, available at most hardware stores.
"We recommend using a dehumidifier to reduce moisture levels in any damp or humid areas, especially in basements," Choy notes. Other steps to control moisture in the air include using bathroom fans and running your range hood vent whenever you cook or boil water.
Filter out allergens
Indoor air filtration devices and cleaners can remove particulates to improve air quality for allergy sufferers, although don't expect them to offset the effects of having a pet in the home, says Choy (sorry, Rover). While there are different filters available on the market, both Choy and Lavoie point to simpler models with a HEPA filter: ensure the device's capacity matches the size of your space.
Protect yourself from CO and radon
Both carbon monoxide (CO) and radon can be airborne killers in the home. CO, a product of combustion sources such as furnaces, fireplaces or cars, can be monitored on an ongoing basis with a household CO detector. "First symptoms can feel flu-like, achy with headaches or vertigo. More serious symptoms can happen very fast and can be deadly," says Lavoie.
Radon, a naturally occurring, odourless gas, can seep into your home through cracks in foundations and pipes. It can be found anywhere in Canada and is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking, according to the Lung Association. Protect your family by testing your home – test kits cost around $50 at most hardware stores, says Health Canada's Lavoie.
Stay healthy, in your home
Try these tips to tidy up your home's air quality this spring, but consult with an expert if you have any symptoms or health concerns, says Health Canada's Lavoie. "We always recommend people talk to their doctors if they think they are feeling any health effects related to indoor air quality."
Smart prevention can pay off
Many of these steps you can take to improve air quality as a homeowner can also make good financial sense. Preventing moisture issues such as rot and mould can help avoid costly renovation or repairs in the future, regularly changing air filters can help forced-air heating and cooling systems run more efficiently, and installing a carbon monoxide detector may qualify you for reduced home insurance premiums, for instance.
For more resources on indoor air quality, try the Lung Association's room-by-room cleanup plan at yourhealthyhome.ca, see the science behind Health Canada's Residential Indoor Air Quality Guidelines, and find more household health and safety tips in the home section of HealthyCanadians.ca.