Resources

Is your home’s air quality healthy and clean? Here’s how to know.

It’s more important than ever to breathe fresh, clear air. Here’s how to make sure your indoor air is healthy and clean.

It’s more important than ever to breathe fresh, clear air. Here’s how to make sure your indoor air is healthy and clean.

Key takeaways in this article:

  • The problem: There’s a growing body of research suggesting that, in general, poor indoor home air quality contributes to a number of major health issues.
  • Why this matters: On average, Americans spend 90% of their lives indoors—and this was before the pandemic. Your indoor home air quality is more important than ever!
  • What you can do: This guide will help you better understand if you have indoor air quality issues in your house—and what to do about it. Improving your home air quality through filtration and circulation can make life indoors happier and healthier for you and your family. (And we’ll tell you how you can get the work done to improve your home air quality at no upfront cost.)

We all know that clean air is good for our health and the health of our planet, and it’s long been understood that getting a breath of fresh air outside can help clear the mind.

But what about the air inside? Americans spend 90% of their lives indoors (1), but we know far less about the quality of air we breathe in our homes and workplaces. So what about our home air quality? Is it hurting us?

You’ll find out in this article—and we’ll cover the following questions and topics: 

Recent studies have shown that the air indoors can play a big role in our health. 

Researchers now know that the air quality inside your home can be up to 10 times worse than the air outside.

AllergyUK

However, for the last several years, researchers at the University of Colorado have been leading the first-ever comprehensive study of in-home air quality (2). Using a research home loaded with sensors and gadgets, the researchers have begun to study the impact of common household activities like cooking and cleaning.

The findings so far have been jarring. And recently, researchers in the UK found that the air quality inside your home can be up to 10 times worse than the air outside (3). While there is still a lot we need to learn, we do know this much: Since we all spend so much time inside, it doesn’t hurt to think about how we can improve home air quality.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the science of indoor air quality and show you how you can clear the air at home—without breaking the bank.

(Feel free to skip ahead to discover surprising indoor air quality facts or indoor air pollution examples—or jump ahead to learn how to improve home air quality at no upfront cost.

What is poor home air quality?

Typically, air quality is measured by what’s known as a particulate count. The higher the particulate count in the air, the more debris you’re breathing in. This means air is less healthy for you to breathe, and the air quality is considered low or poor.

The particulate count is a tally of the very small particles (likely invisible to the eye) that are floating alongside the air molecules you breathe. A common measure of outdoor air quality is the Air Quality Index (AQI), which includes a calculation of ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide (4). You can find AQI readouts in many of the weather apps on your smartphone.

Ultimately, an AQI of over 100 means the air quality is considered unhealthy (5). And the latest research shows that during certain household activities, like cooking a big meal, raises the AQI in your kitchen and increases your indoor air pollution to the same levels found in the world’s most polluted cities on their smoggiest days. (Yikes!)

Family cooking healthily with electric stove
An induction stove is healthier for your indoor air than a gas stove: a gas stove can produce elevated levels of Nitrogen Dioxide, a toxic gas, which can have particularly harsh impact on children’s health.

What is the long-term health impact of poor home air quality?

Because research on indoor air quality is still in its early stages, scientists have yet to draw many definitive conclusions about the long-term effects of your home’s air quality. 

The good news is that the human respiratory system is extremely resilient. The likelihood of damage from short-term exposure to unhealthy air is very low.

However, prolonged exposure to air with high particulate count has been proven to lead to respiratory issues like sinus infections and asthma attacks (6). These initial respiratory illnesses can also make us more susceptible to further health issues down the line.

Indoor air quality facts—a quick list

  • UK researchers estimate that poor indoor air quality is attributable for at least 9,000 deaths a year (7). 
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 5% of lung cancer deaths can be attributed to airborne particulates (8).
  • Healthy home ventilation and air flow is essential to reducing indoor air quality problems. 
  • Long-term effects of indoor air quality issues can include respiratory diseases, heart diseases, and even cancer, according to the EPA (9).
  • Household air pollution exposure can almost double the risk for pneumonia in children, according to the WHO (10).
  • Common household products, like cleaners and beauty products, and household appliances that run on fossil fuels can harm indoor air quality.

Household air pollution exposure can almost double the risk for pneumonia in children.

World Health Organization

What causes poor indoor air quality in your home?

Many daily activities can have a short-term negative impact on your home’s air quality, like cooking and household chemicals and cleaners. But your HVAC system and overall home ventilation can have a negative impact on your indoor air quality, too, if they’re not optimized for healthy airflow. 

  • Cooking: As mentioned above, cooking can dramatically alter the air quality in your kitchen—especially if you use a gas stove (11). In one recent experiment, researchers at the University of Colorado tracked the air quality in a kitchen while cooking a traditional Thanksgiving meal. They determined that the indoor air quality had deteriorated significantly enough to qualify as an “airborne toxic event” (12).
  • Household cleaners and even personal beauty products: Many everyday products—for instance, hair spray, or the cleaning products you use to wipe down surfaces in your kitchen and bathroom—emit fumes that radically alter the quality of air in your home. In one study, mopping with bleach after cooking with a gas burner triggered a chemical reaction that produced nitryl chloride, a chemical known to create coastal smog (13).
  • Heating and cooling your home is another big culprit: Fuel oil-fired heating appliances give off health-related air pollutants like sulfur at about 130 times that of natural gas heaters (14), and they can also become a source of carbon monoxide emissions. Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves put even more particulates into the air. Burning wood inside the home is also a known cause of problems for people with allergies.

Indoor air pollution examples—a quick list

  • Household cleaners and disinfectants
  • A boiler that runs on heating oil
  • Gas cooking stoves
  • A furnace that runs on fossil fuels, such as natural gas or heating oil
  • Water heaters that use fossil fuels, such as natural gas or heating oil
  • Wood-burning stoves and fireplaces
  • Natural gas fireplaces
  • Aerosols, like hairspray, spray adhesives, and room air fresheners
  • Candles and room fresheners that aren’t made of natural products
  • Secondhand smoke from cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and vapes
  • Off-gassing from new paint, flooring, carpeting, or upholstery
  • Harmful substances such as radon gas, asbestos, or lead paint
  • Chemicals used for home maintenance or pest control

After reviewing that list, it can be really unsettling to know how many pollutants are regularly in your own home. 

But here’s some good news: By taking a few smart steps—like creating healthy airflow and ventilation in your home—the negative impact of these activities can often be mitigated altogether. Many of the negative effects on your home air quality caused by cooking and household chemicals are only temporary, especially if you have adequate home ventilation.

Adequate home ventilation is essential to improving indoor air quality.

How do you know if you have poor indoor air quality?

Wondering how to test the air quality in your home? If you want to assess your home’s air quality, you have a few different options:

  1. Evaluate your home air quality yourself with a home test kit.
  2. Get a professional to assess your indoor air quality.
  3. Educate yourself on the signs of unhealthy home airflow.

Test your home air quality yourself

First, you can go the high-tech route. There are a growing number of home air quality test kit units available. These machines can be pricey, and while they may be good at identifying unhealthy air, they’re not great at showing you how to clean it up.

Get a professional to evaluate your indoor air quality

Many home ventilation and airflow experts, including HVAC and insulation professionals, environmental professionals, or certified home performance contractors, can test the indoor air quality of your home. And they can also help you remedy the issues found.

 At Sealed, we’re absolute nerds about home health and comfort—we’re here to make sure your home feels amazing year-round and is performing optimally for your health (and the health of our planet). If you’re concerned about your home’s air quality, we can help you find the right solution.

Educate yourself on the signs of unhealthy home airflow

Luckily, you don’t need an expensive monitor to see unhealthy airflow. You can identify many problems with the naked eye. 

Here are a 6 signs of poor home air quality to look for:

  1. Mold buildup inside the house
  2. Steamy or drafty windows
  3. Uneven temperatures throughout your home
  4. Cold air drafts
  5. Ice dams (excessive buildups of ice on your roof)
  6. Excessive dust

How to improve indoor air quality in the short term

If you’re noticing unhealthy air or the symptoms of poor airflow in your house, there are a few easy ways to address the problem immediately.

1.) Open your windows

It may sound like a no-brainer, but opening the windows will often make an immediate difference. 

For instance, if you’re cooking a big meal, getting the windows open is a great way to help keep the air in the kitchen healthy. 

There is one big caveat here: To get healthy air inside, the air outside must be healthy. So if you live near a busy road or if it’s a smoggy day outside, you may want to consider other options.

2.) Improve your kitchen ventilation

A hood fan can get funky air out of the house in a hurry or filter it before returning it to the kitchen. And switching from a gas range to an induction stovetop has also been shown to make a big difference in indoor air pollution.

3.) Say so long to your fireplace

That roaring fire may look nice, but bringing wood into the house and burning it for fire can really impact people with allergies and asthma.

4.) Purchase in-room air purifiers.

In-room air purifiers are useful, but they often cover only a single room, so you would need to get units for all rooms where you spend significant time to realize the full benefit. Individually they can be expensive, and the cost of operation (electricity and filter replacements) can add up in a hurry.

5.) Sound the alarm.

A carbon monoxide alarm is an essential, affordable tool for preventing dangerous air inside the home. In fact, every home should have them in key areas—including one on every level of your home.

Do plants improve indoor air quality?

You might be wondering why adding houseplants isn’t included on the above list of short-term solutions. Everyone knows that plants are one of nature’s best air purifiers. But the truth is you’ll need a lot of them to improve the air quality indoors. 

To be specific, you’d need about 80 plants per room, according to Wired (15). So buy as many ferns and ficuses as you like, but just know they won’t do much to improve your home air quality or officially filter your indoor air.

Here’s how to improve your home’s air quality issues long-term

If you want a big, lasting difference in your home, you’ll need to improve two things: 

  • Your home’s ability to control airflow
  • Your home’s ability to clean the air 

Sealed has performed this work for hundreds of homeowners over the years. We improve your home’s air quality through three main strategies: 

  1. Regulating indoor airflow
  2. Whole-home air filtering 
  3. Converting from fossil fuels (like heating oil and natural gas) to electric heating
attic insulation and air sealing
Proper air sealing and insulation is critical to keeping particulates outside of the air your breathe inside your home.

Regulating indoor airflow

Professional air sealing and insulation form a 1-2 punch that helps regulate airflow inside the home. 

Insulation regulates temperature, which keeps the heat inside in the winter and outside in the summer. And air sealing prevents unwanted air from getting into the house through air leaks (most homes have 3-4 times more airflow than is necessary through air leaks).

It’s important to note that both air sealing and insulation work should only be done by qualified professionals. Getting the airflow right in your house is a delicate balance and a science. 

Too much air sealing might lead to the problem of “over tightening,” which can contribute to stuffiness. And too much insulation can actually be counterproductive, and limit your home’s ability to regulate temperature or moisture.

To learn more about how Sealed gets this important work right, read our guides to air sealing and insulation.

Insulation regulates temperature, which keeps the heat inside in the winter, and outside in the summer.

Whole-home air filtering

Making sure your home’s air is being filtered correctly is one of the essential ways to improve your air quality long term.

In the report “Can HVAC systems help prevent transmission of COVID-19” completed by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, air filtration was shown to be the most effective method for cleaning the air and preventing airborne transmission of COVID-19.

It’s obvious that filtration has a powerful effect on indoor air quality (as shown by the McKinsey & Company report alone). And there are a number of ways that you can apply the benefits of air filtration to your whole home. 

At Sealed, we recommend a whole-home heating and cooling system run with heat pump technology. Heat pumps are the most energy-efficient HVAC are truly a marvel of modern home technology: 

  • Heat pumps work to heat and cool your whole home—but they’re up to 3X more efficient than traditional heating and cooling systems. 
  • Heat pumps constantly recirculate the air inside your home to keep it fresh. 
  • Heat pumps have built-in filters that filter everything that comes into your home.

That’s why heat pumps are the only HVAC system we’ll install. We (and our clients) love them that much.

Converting from fossil fuels to electric heating

When you switch from oil or natural gas heating to electric heat—like when converting from an oil furnace to an electric heat pump—you’re reducing the indoor air pollution that comes from combustible fuels being used to heat your home. 

Many homeowners are nervous to make the switch at first. But when you heat your home with an energy-efficient heat pump, even on the coldest of days, your home stays cozy and your energy costs throughout the year are lower.

Heat pumps truly are the best way to heat a house, no matter its size or how old your house is. (Check out our winter heat pump guide to learn what temperature a heat pump stops working.) 

Making the switch to electricity as the only energy source in your home eliminates harmful fumes and off-gassing from spreading through your ductwork to heat your home in the winter.

Cleaner energy equals cleaner, healthier, more comfortable home air.

Improve your home air quality—at no upfront cost

Improving your home’s air quality can get expensive, but we don’t think you should have to put a price on your family’s health. 

Not only does air sealing, insulation, and HVAC work improve your indoor air quality, but it also can significantly reduce your energy bills. So when you improve the health of your home, you’re improving the health of the planet, too.

At Sealed, we cover the upfront costs of essential home upgrades that will improve your indoor air quality and energy efficiency. And you only pay us back for the work done if you save energy. (Yes, you read that right!)

To see if your home qualifies, take our quick quiz.

Learn more about payments with Sealed, or give us a call at 888-985-7481 to speak with one of our experts if you have indoor air quality concerns.

We’re here to help you breathe easier and make your home feel amazing!


March 2, 2022