A breath of fresh air
Throughout the winter months up to 90% of the air we breathe is indoors. Best make sure it’s up to scratch.
We breathe approximately 11,000 litres of air every day with 50 to 90% of this being indoors. Therefore minimising or eliminating air pollutants in the home becomes essential in our quest to create healthier indoor environments.
So what’s wrong with our homes?
• Many houses are poorly insulated and therefore too hot in summer and too cold in winter
• The poor quality of our homes leads to damp indoor environments and condensation
• Three main groups of indoor air pollutants have been identified and need attention. They are: - material off-gassing of toxins such as formaldehyde, dioxin and others - particles such as dust, dust mites, glass fibre, asbestos and smoke particles - microbes such as mould, mildew, fungi and bacteria.
What can we do to improve our living environment?
A good start is always to make sure our house is well insulated as a first step to creating a comfortable indoor environment. It will be cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
A warm house also helps to minimise dampness and condensation. This is significant as cold and damp houses are mould breeding-grounds. Mould is one of the first key triggers of allergic reactions and can be the eventual demise of the immune system leading to life-debilitating symptoms. In order to remove moisture from the house there are a number of simple ventilation options, including: • opening windows regularly, • using extraction fans or rangehoods in bathrooms, laundry and kitchen, • avoiding un-flued gas heaters (which create large volumes
of moisture), • drying clothes outdoors or, if using a clothes dryer, making sure it is
vented to the outside. Adding to these a vapour barrier and adequate ventilation under the house and we can achieve cost-effective and proven results for reducing moisture in the home. The value of ventilation and good air circulation around the whole house can’t be over-stated when aiming for a healthier indoor environment.
Apart from removing moisture and preventing the growth of mould and mildew they also reduce the build-up of airborne toxins and pollutants.
In the last 50 years 80,000 new chemical compounds have been developed and many of them have been used to improve the performance of building materials. All chemical compounds off-gas toxic fumes (Volatile Organic Compounds – VOCs) into the air during the lifetime of a building material. The most common elements are formaldehyde (used to produce manufactured wood products such as particle board, MDF etc, also common in carpet underlay), carbon dioxide and dioxins (PVC, vinyl).
How to avoid formaldehyde and other toxic off-gassing:
• Use natural or ‘Environmental Choice’ certified local NZ materials, paints and finishes for floor, wall and ceiling, untreated timber, clay tile, brick, stone. • Avoid or reduce PVC products. • Use building products which have independent indoor air quality certification such as the North American Greenguard and the Finnish M1 certification. • If the house is over 30 years old it is best to presume that it has been painted with lead-based paint. Seek professional help to sand or remove paint. The third group of pollutants in the house are particles such as dust and dust mites and those emitted from furnishings and building materials, such as asbestos.
Dust mites are a significant asthma trigger. They thrive in warm and humid environments which makes a bed their ideal home. Since exposure to air dehydrates the creatures an unmade bed may help you breathe easier.
The poor quality of our homes by no means concerns just old houses. Many new and renovated homes lack adequate insulation, heating and ventilation and thus healthy indoor environments. If we value our family’s health and wellbeing we have ample opportunities to make real improvements to our living environment – if we want to come home and be able to take a deep breath and relax – and feel good about it.