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Thought Leadership Sustainable Communities

7 Steps to Better Indoor Air Quality During the COVID-19 Crisis

Southface Institute

By Southface Staff

Your home should be your sanctuary—an inviting place where you can rest, rejuvenate and heal from life’s daily stressors. These days, it is where you may be spending most of your waking hours, trying to keep yourself and your loved ones safe and healthy. But creating a haven takes more than investing in trendy decorations and a security system. It also means getting serious about what you allow (and don’t allow) inside your home and saying “no” to harmful pollutants and chemicals. These simple yet powerful changes can transform the health and safety of your home without a ton of time or money.

1.Banish dust

A little dust can do a lot of harm. It can trigger allergies and cause respiratory distress, and it can contain traces of harmful chemicals such as lead, flame retardants and pesticides.¹ Invest in a quality vacuum with an efficient filtration system, such as a HEPA filter, and vacuum at least twice a week. Don’t just graze the floors either—use vacuum attachments to clean furniture, curtains and hard-to-reach places, like high corners and air filters. Empty and clean the filter after every use to prevent dust from spewing back out.

2. Get some fresh air

Since COVID-19 has most Americans under shelter-in-place orders, which lessens our time outdoors, getting fresh air is vital in keeping us healthy and happy. Stagnant air can cause poor indoor air quality due to the build-up of contaminants like pet dander, dust mites and pollen. Make a habit of opening a window or door to circulate some fresh air into the house. If you’re looking to upgrade your central air system, energy recovery ventilators (ERVs)2 can help introduce fresh air while keeping humidity levels balanced in your home.  And don’t forget to enjoy walks/runs/hikes, as long as you can keep your distance from others. 

3. Clean overlooked areas

Ceiling fans and baseboards can easily accumulate dirt and dust. Keep an eye out for grimy baseboards when sweeping, mopping or vacuuming, and clean your ceiling fans at least every two months, using either a vacuum extension or a microfiber cloth with mild dish soap and water. Keeping lint and dust from circulating in the air of your home will help keep it from clogging ductwork, which constricts air flow and can cause humidity levels to rise. Excess moisture may also cause mold and mildew to form on surrounding areas. Also, don’t forget to clean the lint filter in your dryer to prevent the chance of fires!

4. Consider your air filter

Your HVAC air filter is your first line of defense against allergens and contaminants coming into your home. Dirty or clogged air filters prevent healthy airflow, damage components inside your air conditioner and decrease your system’s efficiency. Even with the thicker, high-efficiency filters, HVAC professionals3 recommend cleaning and/or replacing your air filter every one to three months. If it looks visibly dirty, replace immediately to ensure you’re getting the most out of your HVAC and filtration system.

5. Keep those kitchen extractor fans on

Now that many municipalities have enforced stay-at-home orders for all non-essential businesses, eating out, unless you get it to go, is no longer an option. When cooking at home, always have the kitchen extractor fan on, especially if your kitchen operates on gas. Cooking naturally releases formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and VOCs4 into the air from heating oil, fat and other food ingredients at high temperatures. Always cook with your kitchen extractor fan on to ensure your home is circulating healthy air during mealtimes.

6. Upgrade your flooring

A few carpeted rooms shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s best to limit the amount of carpet in your home if you can. Carpet more easily traps dust, dirt and dust mites, which can aggravate allergies and conditions like asthma. Installing carpet may also introduce harmful VOC gases,5 which can impact respiratory health, irritate the eyes, nose and throat and may even cause damage to the kidneys and central nervous system.6 Play it safe when choosing flooring and consider easier to clean wood instead.

7. Go green

It’s a mantra you can apply to your everyday activities. Use reusable water bottles (stainless steel when possible), choose glass food containers over plastic ones and nix plastic cutlery and straws. Already taking these steps? Great job! Try these additional creative ways to live more sustainably: Install a low-flow showerhead (you’ll use between 25 to 60 percent less water);7 invest in a pressure cooker (quicker cooking times and less energy used!); and start a compost pile. Composting helps eliminate food waste and can save you money on chemical fertilizers for your own garden and houseplants.

These changes may seem small, but collectively they can make a huge impact on the health of your home and your overall well-being. And given how inexpensive and simple they are, there’s really no excuse not to try them. Over time, you may find you are able to breathe easier and feel even more relaxed in your safe space.

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