Indoor air quality

Indoor air quality

What is indoor air pollution?

You probably know that it’s harmful to breathe in polluted air when you’re outside. The same is true when you’re indoors. We spend about 90% of our time indoors – at home, at work, at school, or when we go to shops or restaurants. Poor indoor air quality has been linked to lung diseases like asthma, COPD and lung cancer.

Many of the things we do to make our homes more comfortable, such as decorating, burning candles and using air fresheners, can increase our personal exposure to pollutants, and contribute significantly to our collective national emissions.

Open windows

Opening your windows regularly is the easiest way to remove polluting particles from the air in your living space. It’s especially important to do this in winter, when humidity is high, however tempting it is to keep all windows tightly closed.

Be strategic about when you do this. If you live near a busy road, keep the windows closed at peak traffic time. If you suffer from hay fever, don’t open your windows in the morning, when the pollen count is highest.

Use an extractor fan

Cooking produces grease, smoke, smells and moisture. Switch on your kitchen hood and fans during and after cooking – even if you find them annoyingly noisy – to clear the air of oil and other ingredients that have evaporated into it.

Ensure that you are using vented appliances

Don’t use unvented (aka vent-free) appliances such as freestanding gas and paraffin heaters. These may sound convenient, as they don’t require a vent pipe or chimney, making them easy to install, but they release a number of harmful pollutants into your room. All gas heaters, even when burning properly, produce carbon dioxide (CO2). When carbon dioxide builds up, it results in drowsiness, dizziness and headaches, creating an impression of a stuffy, closed house. Avoid blocking or decorating over existing permanent ventilation features, such as air bricks and trickle vents on windows, even if you’ve heard that doing so could help you save on your heating bill.

They are there to allow air to circulate naturally when windows and doors are closed. They also allow oxygen in, moderate internal temperatures, reduce the risk of condensation, and prevent pollutants building up inside.

Vacuum frequently – particularly if you have pet

Make sure you vacuum often to remove polluting particles.

It’s particularly important to vacuum if you have pets, as pet dander can add to the air pollution in your home. Dogs and cats naturally shed old hair – some twice yearly, some all the time. Pollen can also attach itself to your pet’s fur and be carried indoors, which isn’t ideal if you’re a hay fever sufferer, so keep your pet off your soft furniture and bed if you can.

Lookout for damp and mould

High humidity levels can cause respiratory problems, and provide a perfect breeding ground for mould spores, dust mites, clothes moths, fleas, cockroaches and other nasties. If you’ve got asthma or a weakened immune system, you should take particular care to keep humidity levels in your home in check. According to charity Asthma UK, 42% of asthmatics surveyed said that mould and fungi triggered their asthma.

We have more tips for managing condensation and damp.

Where can I find out more?

The organisations below can give you more advice and support.

Dealing with damp and mould

Damp is a major problem in many houses and flats. Severe mould growth can make asthma and other respiratory illnesses worse due to the inhalation of mould spores (NHS Choices 2015).

In order to reduce damp, it is important to investigate where it is coming from. The Centre for Sustainable Energy has a useful damp and mould information leaflet.

Managing condensation

Condensation is caused by warm air rising. Warm air can hold far more water vapour than cold air. If the air cools or comes in contact with a cooler surface it cannot hold the moisture and releases it. This is condensation. You may notice it when the mirror mists over when you have a bath.

When warm moist air cools it condenses on surfaces such as floors, walls, ceilings, furniture, bedding and clothes. Mould grows on these moist surfaces and dust mites can increase in number; both can be bad for your health. The problems can particularly affect young children or those who have breathing or skin conditions.

Steps to reduce condensation

Some ordinary daily activities produce a lot of moisture very quickly.

Cooking: To reduce the amount of moisture, cover pans and do not leave kettles boiling. Microwave cooking creates less moisture in the air than cooking on a hob and uses less electricity than if you use electric hobs.

Spend less time in the shower: You can limit the amount of condensation that builds up by reducing time spent in the shower or bath. Spending one minute less in the shower each day will also save up to £7 off your energy bills each year.

Washing clothes: Put washing outdoors to dry if you can. Or put it in the bathroom with the door closed and the window open or fan on. It is best to fit a fan that can be switched to run continuously for clothes drying. If you have a tumble dryer make sure you vent it to the outside (unless it is the self-condensing type). DIY kits are available for this.

Paraffin and portable flueless bottled-gas heaters: These heaters put a lot of moisture into the air. One gallon of gas or paraffin produces about a gallon of water. If you have a problem with condensation, try to find alternative means of heating.

You will need to take proper steps to deal with the source of condensation, however here are some simple things you can do right away:

Avoid drying clothes or damp towels on radiators with the windows closed

Keep the bathroom door closed and open the bathroom window after a bath or shower to help dry the room out quickly

Keep the kitchen door closed and open the window a little when cooking

Wipe down the windows and sills every morning and then wring out the cloth.

Condensation channels and sponge strips can also be bought at DIY shops. They are fitted to windows to collect the condensation and thus help prevent window frames from rotting and avoid damp forming under sills. Care must be taken to fit these devices properly.

This helpful video by the Energy Saving Trust is worth a watch.

 

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