Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Breath of Fresh Air

Did you know that February is National "Care About Your Indoor Air" Month?

The picture above is of the lake across the road from our house... last summer. Doesn't it look pristine? It doesn't quite look like that now! Nope-- It's all ice and snow. We've had a lot of sub-zero days this winter, which has unfortunately kept me indoors most of the time. I know, I really ought to brave the cold weather and be a real northern Minnesota girl. Well, maybe tomorrow. :)

When I do go for a walk outside, I love to breathe in the crisp air. It really feels like you're getting more oxygen per breath in the winter. The contrast between the fresh outdoor air and the air that we breathe inside our house each day is quite noticeable. It really makes a person long for warm weather and the opportunity to spend full days outside. But... it's just the beginning of February, so that means we have a couple months to go yet. In the meantime, we'll have to settle for braving the chilly weather outside or doing our best to improve the air we breathe indoors.

What's wrong with the air in our homes? Well... here are some facts for you:
  • Studies show (and the EPA states) that indoor air pollution can be 2 to 5, and even up to 100 times as bad as outdoor air pollution.
  • One of these pollutants may be Formaldehyde, present in most buildings, which can leach into the air.
  • Polluted air can lead to heart diseaserespiratory problems, asthma, and even cancer
  • If health problems have not progressed to the point of serious disease, one may still experience something called "Sick Building Syndrome," which is characterized by chronic nasal congestion, fatigue, reduced cognitive functioning, headaches, dizziness, and an increased sensitivity to odors.
Most people spend 80-90% of their time indoors.

Where does this air pollution come from?
(These are just a few sources)
  • Outgassing from paints & stains, furniture, carpet, other building materials
  • Biological pollutants (mold, bacteria, viruses, dust mites, animal dander, etc.)
  • Household cleaning products
  • Cosmetics (think nail polish), Hair-care products (hair sprays), Body care products (scented lotions & potions)
  • Candles and Air fresheners
  • Office machines and tools (copy machines, computers, printers, correction fluid, permanent markers, etc)
  • Second-hand smoke

What can you do?
  • Paint over your existing paint or stain with a low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint like SafeCoat to keep the VOCs out of the air you breathe
  • Practice regular surface cleaning
  • Purchase a good quality air cleaner
  • Burn pure beeswax candles or soy candles naturally scented with essential oils instead of artificially scented and/or parrafin candles. (Beeswax candles actually help purify your air!) Make sure they have cotton wicks. Other wicks have been known to contain lead!
  • Use only non-toxic cleaning products. Look at your local natural foods store or make your own!
  • Choose safer cosmetics, hair care, and body care products. Here's a great resource.  
  • Open the windows on warmer days
  • Add some detoxifying plants to your home decor. NASA studies have proven that house plants can reduce toxins in the home by up to 85%. Some of the best are palms, ferns, English Ivy... and even Gerbera daisies!
  • Don't smoke! (Just say no to drugs)
  • Take the Indoor Air Quality Quiz and learn about the air you breathe.

Sources/Additional Reading:

Natural News:
The Daily Green: How to Purify the Air in Your Home

The Environmental Protection Agency: Indoor Air Pollution: An Introduction for Health Professionals

The Ontario Lung Association "Your Healthy Home: Tips for Improving Air Quality In and Around Your Home"