Indoor Air Quality


I've never heard anything about indoor air quality before?
You're not alone. The majority of people are not aware of the poor quality of some indoor air. The average North American spends approximately 90% of their time indoors, either at home or at their workplace, where they can be exposed to very high levels of airborne particles. These indoor levels can be higher than those outside. Today, the EPA ranks poor indoor air quality among the top five environmental risks to public health.

Common Terms:

ALLERGY: Hypersensitivity to a material that is inhaled, ingested or touched.
DANDER: Minute scales of animal skin.
HEPA FILTER: High Efficiency Particulate Air filter. A mechanical filter with a 99.97% efficiency rate of capturing 0.3 micron diameter particles from the air that passes through the filter.
HVAC SYSTEM: Heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system.

What causes poor indoor air quality?

Today's homes are built "tighter" to help conserve resources and save expenses. As a result, there's less fresh air circulation. Certain airborne particles can thrive in this "airtight" environment and promote poor air quality. The cooking process, heating, and cooling also contribute to the air quality problem.

EPA estimates place some indoor air pollutant levels at 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels. What some people have thought to be a nagging cold may be an allergic reaction to the poor quality of the air inside their homes.

The problem

Medical experts estimate that almost 5.5 million Canadians suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma, allergies, hay fever, acute or chronic bronchitis or other aggravating complications.

Moreover, as builders have increasingly practiced "airtight" home and office construction to save energy, even more health problems have developed. Reduced ventilation promotes higher concentration of indoor air pollutants. Today doctors recognize a link between poor ventilation and higher health risks.

Each time we breathe in we inhale a multitude of airborne particles, many of these are toxic. Others, although harmless to most people, can cause life-threatening asthma or allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Even mild allergies impair the quality of life for 20 and 30 million North Americans.

Since the 1970s, indoor air quality has declined drastically. Accumulation of suspended contaminants has reached such high levels in many modern structures that "Sick Building Syndrome" has become a familiar modern day hazard. General feelings of discomfort and lethargy (the "almost" headache and "almost" nausea) are being traced to poor indoor air quality.
Allergic diseases in children has increased to approximately 20% of the population in recent years, and to about 10% of adults. Hay fever, skin disorders such as hives, rashes, and eczema, allergic conjunctivitis, chronic nasal and sinus congestion, are but a few of the allergic responses affecting many of us. Even household cleaners, personal care products, and hobby materials and solvents can cause harm to the lungs, eyes, and skin. Some can cause dizziness, nausea, allergic reactions, and even cancer. Second-hand smoke from cigarettes is estimated to cause at least 300 deaths every year in Canada, and is associated with chronic and acute respiratory diseases, asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. For patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or those with suppressed immunity associated with HIV infections, transplant surgery, or chemotherapy, airborne pollution can be particularly life-threatening.

Some solutions

Doctors agree that removal of contaminants from indoor air and limiting their concentrations through air filtration can significantly reduce symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and wheezing to promote more restful sleep.

Physicians recommend using True HEPA Filtration, the air cleaning technology that removes almost every trace - 99.97 percent - of the most common allergens and indoor air pollutants *.

* (Ritter Research, 1995)

If the source of the contamination can be identified, sometimes it can also be easily eliminated. Smokers can be prevented from lighting up indoors and moisture can be reduced to curb the growth of moulds and mildew. A second approach is to ventilate with fresh air. As long as the concentration of airborne pollutants is lower outside than inside, ventilation will serve to dilute the contaminants or flush them from the building. However, this method puts an increased load on heating and air-conditioning systems.

Air cleaning is a recent approach to improving indoor air quality. Five predominant types of air cleaners are currently on the market: electrostatic filters, Hepa filters, electrostatic precipitators, ionizers and media filters. Their efficiency is measured by counting the numbers of 0.3 micron-sized particles that the unit is able to filter from an air stream.

Electrostatic filters have statically charged fibre or screen filters which attract particles from the air. They range from 7% efficiency for a screen-type to 60% for certain imbedded charged fibre filters. Their efficiency does not compare well with the best media filters and declines rapidly after only a few hours of use.

Electronic air cleaners (Electronic Precipitators) operate in two stages. The first involves electrically charging suspended particles with a high-voltage point or wire. In the second stage, the air passes between two highly charged metal plates which attract and retain the charged particles. Efficiency declines with use and the metal plates need cleaning.

Ionizers also charge airborne particles, but since there are no second-stage collector plates, the charged particles adhere to any oppositely charged surface, such as walls or furniture. The particles are not eliminated and tend to soil surfaces. They are eventually reintroduced into the air as they lose their electric charge. Minute amounts of ozone are also produced by these units.

Media filters contain fibres or foam that strain respirable suspended particles from the air. Media filters include simple furnace filters, which may catch as little as 2% of airborne pollutants, to the High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter, which performs at a minimum of 99.97% efficiency.

What the experts say!

Physicians who treat allergic and respiratory illnesses recommend using True HEPA air filtration, since the 99.97% of the most common allergens and indoor air contaminants are removed with this technology. The enviracaire® model is the brand most recommended by physicians for allergy and asthma patients, and is endorsed by national asthma support groups and recognized by the Lung Association of Canada. In fact, HEPA air cleaners improve indoor air quality to such an extent that even normal healthy people notice an improvement in their general feeling of well-being.

In "The Asthma Self-Help Book", Dr. Paul J. Hannaway reports that the most effective air purifiers are those with True HEPA filters. Allergic patients and patients with asthma participating in a double-blind study had reduced symptoms and required less medication when their homes were equipped with enviracaire® HEPA air cleaners.

The Lung Association of Canada and enviracaire® are in the process of developing an educational partnership to jointly tackle the issue of indoor air quality. Through research and consumer education, these two organizations are committed to informing the public about poor indoor air quality, and ultimately eliminating the detrimental effects of contaminated air.

How to improve indoor air quality!

Although you're surrounded by indoor air pollution, there are ways to control the problem:

Source control eliminates air pollutants before they enter your home. For instance, if radon gas is the problem you can install subslab ventilation in a basement or crawl space to vent the gas before it enters your home. If a family member is allergic to dander and fur from the pet, you may decide to keep the pet outdoors or find it a new home. Although source control is the most effective way of dealing with an air quality problem, it's usually not the cheapest way and it's often impractical. And sometimes it's not the most preferable ~ especially for that furry friend.

Dilution replaces a portion of your indoor air with fresh outdoor air. It's a natural process that happens whether you plan it or not. All homes experience continuous air exchange (i.e. dilution) as outdoor air works its way in through cracks around foundations, doors, and windows. This process is called infiltration. Heated or cooled indoor air can take the same routes to escape from the houses, too, in a process called exfiltration. Opening windows is one way to increase the pace of air exchange, although it's an energy-wasting solution. A better way is to install a home ventilation system, sometimes referred to as an energy recovery ventilator (heat and moisture transfer) or a heat recovery ventilator (heat transfer only). A home ventilation system extracts stale air from your home and replaces it with fresh outdoor air. In the process, the home ventilation system recovers most of the energy used to heat or cool the air being exhausted. Combined with an efficient air cleaner, it's an excellent way to ensure a continuous supply of fresh, outdoor air.

Air filters and air cleaners actually remove particulates found in your indoor air. Central system air filters or air cleaners are installed in return-air ductwork, just ahead of the heating and cooling equipment. Whenever the blower motor runs, dirty air is pulled into the return air ducts and passes through the air cleaner before it's heated or cooled. In the process, a portion of airborne particulates is removed. Central system air cleaning efficiency depends on the type of air filter or air cleaner used, and the type and number of the particles in the air stream. It varies from as little as 3% for ordinary throw-away fibre glass filters to up to 95% for Honeywell's electronic air cleaner. Portable room air cleaners are measured in Clean Air Delivery Rates, or CADRs. A CADR tells you the amount of a specific particle that the portable room air cleaner can take out of a cubic foot of air in a minute. CADRs are displayed by a seal on portable room air cleaners and range from 10 to 350 for dust, from 10 to 300 for tobacco smoke, and from 25 to 400 for pollen.

Cold or allergy, how do you tell the difference?

Your nose is runny. Your eyes are itchy. You're assaulted by frequent sneezing jags. You ask yourself, "Why can't I shake this cold?" But, is it a cold, or an allergy?

A Lung Association survey revealed that a majority of people could not tell the difference between a cold and an are a few symptoms to look for:

Nasal DischargeThin, watery, clearThick or thin, yellow to green colour
FeverNoneOccasionally, low-grade
ItchingIn ears, nose, and throatRarely if at all
SneezingOften occurs in violent prolonged jagsOccasionally
DurationWeeks to months7 to 10 day

See your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment if you suspect someone in your family has allergies. Improving indoor air quality and controlling your home environment are important parts of allergy care.

What can I do to improve the air quality in my home?

The Lung Association suggests three strategies for reducing indoor air pollution:
- control the source ~ reduce or remove as many asthma or allergy triggers from your home as possible.
- ventilate ~ keep your windows open as much as possible to allow air to circulate. Use air conditioners in hot weather and when outdoor pollen and smog are present.
- clean the air ~ there are several ways of doing this. One method is to use a HEPA air cleaning system. It helps capture airborne particles such as pollen, cat dander, tobacco smoke particles, mould spores and household dust in any room of your home.

Indoor Air Checklist

- Are you exposed to indoor air pollutants such mould, bacteria, pollen, animal dander or tobacco smoke?
- Do you have dry air?
- Do you have static cling and static electricity "shocks" in the winter?
- Do you have moister damage to windows and woodwork?
- Do you have woodwork, wood furnishings, artwork, wooden musical instruments or collectibles that you need to protect and preserve?
· Do you have window condensation when temperatures drop?
- Is black mould growing on your window sills?
- Do you own pets?
- Do you have small children?
- Does the indoor air seem stale during winter months?

Quick Tips

Consider these simple strategies to improve your home's air, and increase your comfort and peace of mind.
- Control pollution at the source. For example, keep windows closed during the prime ragweed season.
- Ventilate your home. Use exhaust fans when you cook or shower and refresh your air with a Honeywell® ventilation system.


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