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Keeping Your Home’s Air Healthy

Apr 3, 2020 | COVID-19, Education

By Art Nash and Leif Albertson

As Alaskans shelter in place, indoor air quality becomes a greater concern. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service offers these considerations on home air quality.

In the last few weeks, we have all become familiar with “social distancing.” This generally refers to staying 6 feet away from others and avoiding gatherings, but, as the pandemic has progressed, the strategy has evolved. This has resulted in families spending more time inside their homes engaging in activities that are normally done elsewhere, such as working, schooling and exercising.

This around-the-clock time indoors and the expanded range of activities means that indoor air quality is more important than ever for Alaska families. With this in mind, there are some simple ways to monitor and improve indoor air quality that can benefit the house and the health of its occupants.

As we take shelter in our homes, we need to remember that there are also many important health issues associated with breathing indoor air. Asthma, flu, respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, lung cancer and many other health conditions are intimately tied to the air we breathe in our homes.

On a very basic level, with more people conducting more activities for more hours, the air inside a home will require increased ventilation to bring fresh air into the home and exhaust stagnant air. The amount of fresh air that is taken into a home is often referred to as “air exchanges.” We expect more of these exchanges when seeing an increase with indoor activities.

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As people spend more time indoors, activities such as cooking, showering and simply breathing can cause large amounts of moisture to build up inside the home. Often you will notice this in the form of condensed moisture or fog on your windows. Excessive moisture in a home can lead to drywall deterioration, mold growth and human health problems.

As we breathe, our lungs remove oxygen from the air around us and replace it with carbon dioxide. You may notice that an unventilated room might feel stuffy if it is crowded with people for an extended period of time. As we breathe stagnant, indoor air, carbon dioxide levels tend to rise, and this can lead to things like headaches and difficulty concentrating on schoolwork.

Fortunately, there is a range of strategies to improve the indoor air quality and home ventilation. Ideally, it is good to have a mechanical, whole-house, ventilation system, such as a heat recovery ventilation system (HRV) that is designed and installed for your home. These systems allow an occupant to easily increase or decrease air changes in a home to account for changes in occupancy.

If you don’t have a complicated ventilation system in your home, don’t worry! Running bathroom and range hood fans more often will help remove stagnant air from the home by allowing fresh “makeup air” to enter. Finally, as weather permits, simply opening a window can improve indoor air quality tremendously.

While everyone is at home on extended stay, this is the time to improve your indoor air quality as much as possible. It is a good time possibly to make sure your smoke alarms are current and that a carbon monoxide detector is installed. These steps will help your home stay healthy, which will help us stay healthy as we wait out the epidemic.

If you have any other questions on indoor air quality, contact Art Nash at Extension’s Alaska Healthy Homes Partnership at 907-474-6366 or [email protected].

Art Nash is the Extension energy specialist and Leif Albertson is an Extension agent based in Bethel. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service is part of a national educational network supported by a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and land-grant universities.

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