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Indoor air pollution

How can I improve the air quality in my home?

You can do simple things to improve the air quality in your home such as keeping your home well-aired, preventing condensation and monitoring the temperature

DEFRA has a handy tool to check your local air pollution levels.

Nowadays many buildings are tightly sealed, meaning very little fresh air gets in and air pollutants can linger. To get rid of them, keep your home well-aired. But remember that outdoor air pollution can also travel inside.

Check your local outdoor air pollution levels regularly and consider avoiding opening windows at times when the Daily Air Quality Index is high or very high. 

Keep your home well-aired

Open your windows or skylights for 5-10 minutes several times a day, especially if you’re cooking or using the shower. 

If you’re having building work done, ask how your home will be aired, and if there’ll be dust or a chemical smell. If you think your health might be seriously affected, think about staying somewhere else while the work is going on or ask the builder to do the polluting work outside.

Air filtration systems can reduce the background concentrations of particulate matter. But the limited evidence available suggests they probably only work well in small rooms.

Look out for condensation

In Britain, a lot of our houses are old, and the weather can be wet and cold, so we must watch out for our homes getting damp and mould growing.

Damp leads to condensation, which encourages mould and other fungi to grow.  Lots of things can cause this, from cooking to washing and drying clothes. Condensation is more likely to happen in cold places in your household, like windows or rooms with external walls.

If your home’s damp, you might have an irritated nose and throat, or feel short of breath.  If you have asthma, your symptoms may get worse. It’s common to have an allergy to moulds.

One fungus often found indoors is called aspergillus. It grows on dust and powdery food items like flour. It can cause a wide range of conditions, from mild irritation of your airways to more serious infections if you have a lung condition.

How do I prevent condensation in my home?

  • Do your best to prevent leaks from your roof and any water damage
  • Keep your home well-aired
  • Use your extractor fan when cooking or showering to suck moisture out of the air, and keep the door closed to stop damp air spreading 
  • Dry your washing outside, if you can
  • Wipe down your windowsills daily to keep condensation down
  • If you find any mould, remove it straight away

If you have bad damp, mould or fungi, get professional help to deal with it – especially if you think it might trigger your breathing problems. If you are renting, you should tell your landlord about the problem and they should arrange to fix the underlying cause. Shelter has advice on dealing with damp and mould in a rented home.

Drying your washing

One study found that 30% of moisture in homes in Scotland is from drying clothes indoors. Dry your washing outside if you can!

If you can’t, the study recommends using a well-ventilated utility room or a low-energy drying cupboard. It also suggests that tumble driers are healthier, though they are expensive and use more energy.

Keep your home at a comfortable temperature

Air pollution can affect your breathing, but so too can low or high temperatures. High humidity, for instance, allows for the air in your home to stay moist, making it easier for mould to grow.

Keep rooms you spend a lot of time in, like your bedroom, at a comfortable temperature. The recommended temperature is 18°C (64°F). Don’t forget the importance of airing your home though. 

In cold weather, you might prefer your living room to be slightly warmer during the day. This is especially likely if you feel the cold and can’t move around very easily, or if you know that cold or moist air can trigger a flare-up of the symtoms of your lung condition. 

In winter, close your bedroom window at night, as breathing in cold air increases the risk of chest infections.

In most cases, following the common-sense rules outlined above is all you need to do to have good air quality. If you want to have the air quality in your home or any other building tested, there are companies which offer this service.  There are also a wide range of indoor air sensors that can be used to measure dust, carbon monoxide and other gases, and VOCs as well as relative humidity and air temperature. Some of these also monitor carbon dioxide concentrations, which can identify when a room is stuffy and needs to be aired.

Next: Indoor air pollution at work >

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