Breathe Easier: Tips for Better Indoor Air Quality in Winter

| 11/15/2011 9:16:26 AM

A portrait of Susy, the author of Chiots Run.I've read many places that indoor air may be more polluted than outside air. This isn't surprising to me because I'm very sensitive to smells and really notice the off-gassing of chemicals from anything new I bring into the house (the laptop I'm typing this on being the most recent). That's why this time of year when I start seeing all those articles about sealing up the drafts in your home I kind of cringe – when you do this you're only keeping in all the pollution!

Open Window Season

Over the past couple years I've been thinking more about indoor air quality because I've been searching for ways to detox my life. We started with food, getting rid of any non-organic, non-local, prepackaged items. Then moving on to personal care and cleaning products. We have also been replacing items in our home that were made from pressed wood, plastic and other materials. Thankfully we never used non-stick cookware, but I have been replacing my stainless steel with enameled cast iron (even stainless steel can leach baddies in some instances). I've been using VOC free paint and only painting in the summer when I can have the windows open. I also replaced any CFL lightbulbs with incandescent *gasp* I know - but I'm no longer comfortable with the risk of any pollution they cause and I've noticed they also cause sleep issues and headaches for me personally. The FDA and EPA tell us all these toxins and pollutants are within "safe" levels for healthy humans, but I believe that while each individual level might be "OK" they all add up to a toxic overload for our bodies. All the toxins increase our risks for cancer, nervous system problems, lung and breathing issues, headaches, colds and flu, allergies, and all sorts of other health problems.

Houseplants and Clean Air

Since we spend so much time indoors, especially during the winter, it actually doesn't make sense to over insulate your home and seal out all air flow. This traps all the VOC's and other air pollution inside. As a result of all of these things here are some tips I came up with for keeping the air a little safer in your home this winter:

  • Don't seal up your house too tightly, allow some air flow. Spending a few extra dollars on heating is well worth it and you will most likely more than make up your savings in health care costs!
  • Don't caulk too much (this also off gasses chemicals into the air, don't over insulate, don't use draft dodgers). Little cracks here and there throughout your home will allow fresh air in from outside.
  • If you're going to add more insulation to your home consider using a natural material like wool. Wool itself can help mitigate VOC's and other pollutants.
  • Crack a window, even in winter, especially if you're doing something like printing, painting, cooking, using a ventless heater, etc.
  • Change your furnace filter often and consider switching to an activated charcoal filter, these do a better job mitigating air toxins.
  • Run exhaust fans when cooking/baking/showering (if you don't filter your water the chlorine and other pollutants in your water get into the air)
  • Do not use ventless free space heaters (especially gas), if you have one make sure you crack windows. There's a reason these have been outlawed in many states and most other countries beside the US! We have one in our home but it's only used in emergencies if the electric is off.
  • Do not paint, stain or use any kind of chemical inside your home. Do not store lawn or other chemicals in your house.
  • If you haven't already make the switch to non-toxic cleaners (you can save tons of money here by making your own).
  • Have lots of houseplants. Plants are one of the best ways to keep the air in your house clean and purified. On average each houseplant will clean 100 sq feet of air. Try to have at least one plant in each room if possible. (here's an article on my blog about which plants can mitigate different chemical pollutants).
  • Avoid running printers, photocopiers, etc in your home. If you do have a home office make sure you have some plants in the office and keep a window cracked especially during printing.
  • If you purchase new items, let them off gas in a garage or outside before bringing them indoors.
Houseplants help with clean air

So if you're thinking of sealing up your house against drafts to save money on heating - think again.  That exchange of fresh air might just be what's keeping you a little healthier!

Have you ever considered indoor air pollution? Do you do anything specific to keep the indoor air clean and fresh in your home?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, maple sugaring, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Your Day Magazine, Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter and on Facebook

12/2/2017 3:56:38 PM

Indoor air pollution is one of the main reasons my new house will be built with straw bales and plastered with earthen and lime plasters, inside and out. This type of wall actually breathes (as well as being super insulated) and you can make your doors and windows as tight as you want then. No drafts AND no indoor air pollution. I'm still careful about what comes inside, of course. No pressboard, no synthetic carpets or upholstery loaded with formaldehyde, etc.

7/7/2014 7:56:22 AM

Keeping the air safe in the house is very important, especially in the winter when we don`t open the windows. The last winter my husband bought windows and their specialists gave us a lot of valuable tips on how to ventilate the house on winter days, also they checked the furnace and suggested us to replace the furnace filter.

Nebraska Dave
11/17/2011 8:13:50 PM

Susy, you are certainly going against the flow with this post. It is true though that the tighter the house the more polluted the air becomes. That's why the industry had add outside air tubes for the efficiency furnaces. The new houses were so tight that it wouldn't allow enough air to bleed into the houses to allow the furnace to work right. Just through natural breathing carbon dioxide would build up over time. I am also firm believer in not having a house too tight. The plant idea is great but I just don't have the house to grow winter plants. Window space is at a premium and drapes are mostly closed to keep out the heat in summer and cold in winter. In addition to that, I can kill a house plant that's virtually indestructible. Have a great Thanksgiving.

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