Indoor air pollution: what you need to know

Find out the best ways to keep your home's air quality healthy; before, during and after your renovation.

Indoor air pollution checklist

You’ve probably heard about ‘indoor air pollution’ but not many homeowners know what it is, where it comes from, how to identify it or how to clean it up and that’s because it’s something that isn’t typically measured in residential spaces.
However, in commercial spaces, where people work, it is a legal requirement to have indoor air quality that falls within certain parameters.
The purpose of measuring indoor air quality is to determine the comfort levels of the worker who must work in a setting for eight hours a day, five days a week.
SGS business development executive Caitlin Meredith says the test used in commercial settings is the Workplace Exposure Standard (WES) which measures the four facets of comfort: relative humidity (shown as a percentage); temperature; carbon dioxide; and carbon monoxide. The measurement is based on an eight-hour time-weighted average and a direct reading can be taken from a handheld monitor.
When it comes to residential settings, indoor air quality isn’t routinely tested, unless the effects of air pollutants are being experienced, such as asthma, headaches, coughing, sneezing, fatigue,  dizziness, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat or skin.

How do you test for air pollutants?

When it comes to measuring air pollution, or toxins in the air, Meredith says an air sample must be taken. Air samples can test for dust (inhalable or respirable); volatile organic compounds (VOCs) - which are chemical substances that become airborne at room temperature and can be inhaled (such as formaldehyde); hydrocarbon; asbestos; mould and a lot of “-esters”.
Common sources of air pollutants include airborne particles from indoor fireplaces, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide from un-flued gas heaters, leaking chimneys, car exhaust gases in attached garages, airborne sprays from air fresheners, pesticides and cleaners, and bacteria from animal fur and pest droppings.
Keeping these pollutants out of your air is vital for good health.
“I think [indoor air quality] is something that people need to be more aware of,” says Meredith. “The last thing you want in your home is for your home to make you sick.”
Some pollutants in air quality can have serious adverse effects, such as asthma, increased hospital visits and illnesses from exposure to mould, particularly for the very young and elderly.
But air pollutants can also be fatal.
“A lot of these things take so long to take effect. Asbestosis takes 20 to 30 years to even see the symptoms – you can’t see it, you can’t smell it, you don’t even know if it’s there”
One common pollutant Meredith tests for in commercial settings is for VOC formaldehyde, which is used in some adhesives for wallpaper and flooring and can be released into the air with the rubbing of carpet fibres, for example.
“It’s something that we get a lot, especially when it comes to new buildings.”

So how can we prevent indoor air pollution?

If you suspect your indoor air quality isn’t at its best, or you simply want to know how it fares, you can have your home tested for specific contaminants. However, if you are renovating, it’s a great chance to prevent further pollutants from coming into your home.
Here are a few ways you can reduce indoor air pollution:
- Choose safe materials: Using building materials and products that are unlikely to emit toxins is your best chance to reduce air pollution. Choose materials that are pre-finished, are low or zero VOC and use water as the solvent (such as water-based paints).
- Ventilate your home: Ventilation helps remove air pollutants and brings in healthy air – it’s crucial to ventilate during and after a renovation to remove VOCs. In an ideal world, you’d be best not to use renovated rooms for one to two months after construction ends – particularly for babies’ rooms.
- Insulate: Your best defence against mould spores polluting your air is high-quality insulation – so don’t skimp on this in your budget, it will have massive health benefits for years to come.

Get in touch

For guidance on creating a renovation design that will keep you and your family healthy, get in touch with Refresh today to arrange a free consultation with a renovation specialist near you. 

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