By Jodi Donovan
Cooler weather is just around the corner and cooler weather generally means windows are open less and more time is spent indoors. Studies have shown that long–term exposure to low levels of air pollution is linked with increased risk for various health issues such as pneumonia, heart attack and stroke, so taking steps now to ensure your indoor air quality is of a high standard is not only a good idea for your long–term health but will give you the best chance at avoiding those winter lurgies!
With more time at home, it is often tempting to get stuck into those DIY jobs that have been on the to–do list for a long time, however, paints, solvents, sealants and building materials may contain high levels of toxic chemicals.
VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are carbon containing chemicals that have high enough vapour pressure to be a gas at room temperature and can cause varying problems from unpleasant odours to physical symptoms such as headaches and nausea or skin and eye irritation, with children, the elderly and pregnant women being most susceptible.
If you are undertaking a DIY project this winter, try to choose products that are low–VOC, wear suitable protective equipment and ensure ample ventilation if the project is indoors. Some products can continue to off–gas for days or even weeks after application, so an air purifier may also be a good option.
Dust and allergens
With less fresh air coming into the house from outside, it’s a great opportunity to get the dust load of your home under control. Dust can be a carrier for a vast range of contaminants including dirt, dead skin cells, insect particles, mould spores, bacteria, viruses, pollen, pesticides and dust mites. High levels of dust can increase symptoms of allergy, asthma and hay fever.
It’s a good idea to take shoes off at the front door and wear a suitable pair of indoor shoes inside (such as slippers in the colder months). Give the home a good dusting using a damp microfibre cloth followed by drying with a dry tea towel and give carpets and soft furnishings (such as couches and curtains) a thorough vacuum using a vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter.
Now is a great time to have your air–conditioner professionally cleaned and serviced (these are notorious for mould growth and re–circulating mould spores through the air). When engaging an air condition professional, ask if they are familiar with the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) Standards and check that the service will decontaminate the system if there is any mould (often a ‘standard clean’ will not cover this).
Wall mounted flued gas heaters should also be serviced before the first use of the season and un–flued gas heaters should not be used at all. Un–flued gas heaters do not have a ‘flue’ or ‘chimney’ to vent noxious gases and water vapour to the outdoors and are hazardous to human health.
Be sure to continue to ventilate your home daily in dry weather by opening windows to flush fresh air through the home. To avoid encouraging mould growth, keep windows closed on wet rainy days and use dehumidifiers to reduce indoor moisture. Keep wardrobe doors open as much as possible to encourage air flow and ensure extractor fans are used every time someone is showering/bathing/cooking to minimise water vapour coming into the indoor environment. An air purifier may also be a great investment for your home and your health at this time to help reduce indoor air pollutants, especially in the bedroom where you are spending a lot of time.
A little bit of attention to housekeeping can make a big difference to the overall air quality of a home and in turn, the health of the occupants. So while you are having your morning cuppa, have a think how you are going to prepare your home to encourage good air quality this autumn and winter months!
Jodi Donovan is a qualified Building Biologist and Committee member of the Australasian Society of Building Biologists and Indoor Air Quality Association of Australia. Building biology is a science that investigates the health hazards in the built environment which includes chemicals in building materials and household products, lead dust, noxious gases, house dust mites, allergens, mould, electromagnetic fields, drinking water contaminants and geopathic stress. For further information or to make an appointment please contact Jodi Donovan on 0400 916 057.