Suggested date of release:
after October 24, 1999
Claudia Chandler (916) 654-4989
Media and Public Communications Office
933 Words
(Fourth in a series of 10 feature articles for 1999)

Air Quality and Health in Your Home

Most Californians think of their home as a haven from the air quality problems that sometimes plague them outside. Home is the one place you expect to be able to breathe easy.

Unfortunately, the air inside your home can be more polluted than the air that's outside. This can be especially true now, as the weather cools and you spend more time indoors with the heater on and your windows and doors closed.

Poor inside air quality is sometimes blamed on energy efficiency measures - measures designed to tighten buildings, reduce the leakage of air, and decrease the amount of energy needed to heat or cool. Even "leaky" buildings, however, can suffer from unhealthy air when the sources of pollution are inside.

The good news is that energy efficiency and good indoor air quality can go hand-in-hand. As winter approaches, you can take measures to keep your heating costs in check, even as you protect your home from pollution by invisible contaminants.

These pollutants can be organic - such as molds and mildews - or they may be the unintended result of such manufactured products as chemically treated building materials, foam insulation, carpeting, particle board furniture, aerosol sprays, paints and paint thinners, cleaning products and insect sprays.

The most effective way to deal with indoor pollution is to reduce its source. While you probably can't eliminate all of the most common air pollutants in your home - cooking and cleaning odors, and biological contaminants like viruses, animal dander, dust mites and pollen - you can effectively reduce your exposure to them. Installing and using exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms, and venting your clothes dryer to the outdoors are ways to accomplish this.

One of the simplest methods for reducing allergens is to keep your home as clean as possible. You should check the air filters in your furnace and air conditioner every month and replace them when they're dirty. You may want to consider using air filters and vacuum cleaners with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.

Be wary of products that give off fumes, such as sprays and cleaners, paints or hobby products. Make sure you have adequate ventilation when you use them, and keep volatile substances like gasoline, lighter fluids, barbecue charcoal starters and other combustible products in a well-ventilated area, preferably in a storage area outside your home.

Store household cleaners and toxic substances well away from children, and be careful not to mix certain household chemicals together. When combined, chlorine bleaches, drain cleaners, and common household cleansers can let off noxious fumes that can sometimes be fatal.

Although it's a relatively uncommon occurrence, carbon monoxide poisoning can be deadly, as well.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. It results from the incomplete burning of fuels such as wood, propane or natural gas, kerosene, or gasoline. According to the California Energy Commission, carbon monoxide can be released into your home by improperly working combustion appliances such as furnaces, gas dryers, water heaters, fireplaces, wood stoves, or fuel-burning space heaters.

There are simple ways to protect yourself from possible carbon monoxide poisoning. By maintaining your appliances according to manufacturers' recommendations, you not only protect your family's health and safety, but also help to preserve the energy efficiency of the appliance. That's why you should inspect your combustion appliances, as well as your chimneys and flues, periodically. Promptly repair any damages. If you're worried about carbon monoxide, you can install a device that will alert you to its presence in your home, much like a smoke detector will warn you in case of fire.

Some homeowners have complained of air quality problems after installing new carpeting. If you're sensitive, you might want to ask your carpet retailer for information on carpet emissions before making your purchase. You can also request that the carpeting be unrolled and allowed to air out in a well-ventilated area before it's installed. Ask your retailer or installer to use low-emitting adhesives, consider leaving your home while the carpet is being installed, and open your doors and windows to let fresh air inside. It's a good idea to keep fans running for 48 to 72 hours after installation to exhaust fumes outdoors.

If you're building a new home, explain any concerns you have about indoor air quality to your architect or contractor. They may be able to help you purchase building materials and furnishings that are low emitting. And if you've just moved into a newly built house, it's a good idea to increase the ventilation rate during the first 12 months or so. This helps to dry out the moisture initially contained in new concrete, drywall, plaster, lumber and other materials, as well as to exhaust air pollutants. Some building materials emit air pollutants at a high rate to begin with, but their emissions decrease significantly over time.

Indoor pollution affects people in different ways. In some it can cause health problems such as headaches, nausea, asthma, allergy attacks or frequent eye, nose, and throat irritations. At its most extreme, it can cause death.

You can avoid those hidden dangers to your family's health with a simple combination of sunlight, fresh air and good ventilation. And the good news is you can do it without sacrificing the energy efficiency you've gained from an airtight home.

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This article is based on the California Energy Commission's Home Energy Guide, to be published early in 2000.

You can find additional information about energy in California on the Energy Commission's Web Site at www.energy.ca.gov.

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