It’s a cold week in Austin. As temperatures dipped near freezing, no doubt the windows stayed tightly shut. While the air is warmer inside, unfortunately it’s usually more polluted.
We don’t think of our houses being polluted compared to the outdoors, however more toxic pollutants are floating around inside than out. The sad truth is, we’re used to it.
Even in Austin, where, despite a killer allergy season we enjoy ample time outdoors most of the year, our indoor air quality is no better than the rest of the country’s inside air.
Because of Austin’s high humidity, mold is common. Even if we can’t see it or smell it, mold can form within three years in a “leaky” home and diffuse harmful spores. Some folks claim that older homes “breathe” more than newer homes, touting that as a benefit. Others say outside air causes more problems than fresh scents, and wreaks havoc on our air quality and lungs.
Proponents of tight houses advise sealing drafty cracks, windows and attic spaces; and keeping windows shut during mild weather. If you’re worried about serious contaminants like mold or asbestos, you can always hire a professional air quality service to test it.
Polluting culprits, especially in a new home.
Insidious air surrounds us during winter and summer months, when the weather is too harsh to spend time outdoors. The first main sources of troublesome pollutants include things we introduce to our environment, like pet dander, cleaning solution, fumes, candle and fireplace smoke, mold or dust mites.
The other is a little more insidious, especially in new homes, because chemicals that are toxic to humans are inherent in new home building materials and products like furniture and carpet.
That “new home smell” includes formaldehyde, benzene, acetone, and other known carcinogens and compounds found in materials like plywood, particle board, carpet, and glue. According to The Healthy House Institute, outgassing from new materials can last between 6 and 10 years.
What can you do about poor indoor air quality?
HEPA room air purifiers retail for between $300 and $1200 and are small enough (around one square foot) to bring relief to a targeted living space. Some are specially designed to deal with various types of allergens and toxins (tobacco smoke, pet dander), while others safely treat, neutralize, and oxidize most air born chemicals.
For a whole house treatment solution, we talked with Rick Starr of Stellar Energy Solutions. While Rick’s company offers window films for energy efficiency, he also offers something called a Green Screen, designed to remove the smallest allergens and bacterial air born particles from the air.
Originally designed for hospitals, this commercial grade filter removes contaminates and microbes with an efficiency rating down to one micron. Replacements are ordered online, through the website, saving homeowners a trip to the hardware store. Starr says the company will send you a reminder to purchase again in a few months. An initial, one-time purchase of the aluminum frame in which the fiber mat sits, means you reorder just the mat (the green part), making these filters much more cost effective than the disposable cardboard filters. .
Finally, Green Screens will not restrict airflow and clog up like the ones you’re used to. Their “progression density” design means that the fibers that trap particles get denser as the air moves back through it. They are efficient, clean, and more effective, too, well worth the cost of the first investment.
Finally, there’s the Phytofilter Air Purifier, an actual plant that provides the purification equivalent to 100 plants. Far more efficient than a room purification system, this plant technology developed by NASA actually reduces the need for highly efficient air filtration systems. It’s not available to the public yet, but you can get more information here. http://phytofilter.com/
Soon it will be spring. For most of us, that means open windows and more unknown dirt tracked in from the outdoors. This year, instead of ignoring the invisible onslaught of pollution, reduce your vulnerability with an improved purification system in one of the three solutions above. Your commitment to your health will also improve the quality of your life, as you breathe cleaner air into your body.