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A Breath of Fresh Air: Creating Healthy Indoor Air

Close your eyes and imagine walking into a clear, uncluttered room. Plants hang by an open window and a cool breeze trickles in. You feel energized, alert, and positive. Now imagine the same room, but this time it feels stuffy. An overpowering mix of pet odor, rotten food, cigarette smoke, or paint fumes greet you. Suddenly you feel tired, overwhelmed, grumpy perhaps, and maybe even a little queasy.

Those are pretty extreme examples, but it may be not be far off—according to the Environmental Protection Agency.  Air quality in some homes can be more toxic than the polluted air in a large, industrialized city. Here are a few ways to make sure your air is as fresh as it can be.

Open the Window
Some homes are so air-tight that fresh air can’t enter and pollutants can’t escape. Without fresh air, levels of carbon dioxide go up as oxygen levels go down. Breathing stale air consistently can disturb sleep, cause headaches, allergies, sore throats, and the list goes on. Remedy the situation by opening a window or two. Turn on ceiling fans, your HVAC fan, or a portable fan to get air circulating. In the heat of summer, open windows early in the morning and late at night to let some fresh air in. In winter, open a couple of windows for 15 minutes, twice a day.

Go Green!
Plants are Mother Nature’s air purifiers; they use no electricity, but do a wonderful job of cleaning the air. In the late 1980’s, NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America tested houseplants to see if they could purify the air in space facilities. Several plants were found to help filter common volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) like formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide. The study determined that 15 to 18 houseplants could improve the air quality in a 1,800 square foot house. Here are a few plants to consider for your home: Aloe, Spider Plant, Azalea, English Ivy, Chinese Evergreen, Bamboo Palm, Peace Lily, and Snake Plant.

Keep Filters Clean
Clean or change the filters in your home regularly. This includes heater, furnace, air conditioner, air purifier, range hood, and vacuum filters. As far as vacuums go, look for a vacuum with a HEPA filter. This captures dust, dirt, and tiny irritants like mold spores that might be lying around.

Control Moisture
Mold can lead to all kinds of allergies and respiratory problems. You can discourage mold from growing in your home by controlling humidity. Most hardware stores carry an inexpensive humidity gauge. Ideal home humidity is about 45%. Under 30% is too dry, and over 50% is too high. To increase humidity use a vaporizer or humidifier and to decrease humidity use a dehumidifier. It is also important to address any window or outside door leaks which could be causing the problem.