What Is It?
Indoor air pollution, very often referred to as “Sick Home Syndrome” (SHS), is an unhealthy and sometimes hazardous condition in which a home’s occupants experience illness, discomfort or allergy-like symptoms for which no explanation can be found.
What Causes it?
The EPA cites inadequate ventilation, along with chemical and biological contaminants as the main causes of Sick Home Syndrome. Houses today are so airtight that contaminants can’t escape. Throughout most of the 1900’s, building ventilation standards called for about 15 cubic feet per minute of outside air for each building occupant in order to reduce to dilute and reduce body odors, the EPA says. But as a result of the 1973 oil embargo, national energy conservation measures dropped the standard to 5 cubic feet per occupant. In many cases, these reduced outdoor air ventilation rates were inadequate to maintain the health and comfort of building occupants. If the building can’t breath in enough fresh air, it gets filled with indoor pollutants. And still today, most new homes are being built to be more energy efficient and more people are trying to make older homes more airtight by installing new windows, doors and adding more insulation.
Symptoms – Effect on People
According to the EPA, there are many symptoms of SHS: headache; eye, ear or throat irritation; dry cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness and nausea; difficulty concentrating; fatigue; sensitivity to odors. Usually these symptoms subside shortly after the affected person leaves the building or home.
There are four major types of allergens that are associated with SHS:
- Man-made chemicals found in building materials, including adhesives, carpeting, upholstery and manufactured wood products that emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs are chemicals that—like formaldehyde, benzene, solvents and cleaning agents—that are released into the air over time. VOCs can cause chronic and acute health issues and some are known carcinogens.
- Plant-based allergens, like pollen and ragweed. Pollen is one of the most widespread allergens. Most allergenic pollen is produced in large quantities and can drift from miles away
- Animal-based allergens, like pet dander and dust mites. These dust source allergens are found in mattresses, pillows, carpets, bed covers and stuffed toys. Dust Mite body parts and feces can trigger allergic reactions, specifically asthma. Exposure to dust mites can cause asthma in children who have not previously exhibited asthma symptoms.
- Biological contaminants, like bacteria, viruses and mold—including black mold, which can breed in moisture that has accumulated in ducts carpeting or insulation. Physical symptoms related to biological contamination include cough, chest tightness, fever, chills, muscle aches and allergic responses such as mucous membrane irritation and upper respiratory congestion.
How to Prevent SHS
Regardless of whether an indoor environment is the product of new construction or renovation, providing good indoor air quality starts during the design and construction phases and continues throughout a building’s/home’s life and it’s never to late to start managing Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).
The EPA recommends three primary strategies for good IAQ:
Ventilation: A well-designed and properly designed HVAC system brings in and conditions outdoor air and circulates the air through the home/building. The primary benefits beyond warming, cooling and managing the humidity of the air are to dilute indoor air pollutants to minimize their impact on the indoor environment and building occupants. The HVAC system also transports indoor air contaminants outside. The downside is the HVAC system may bring in outdoor air pollutants as well as pick up indoor air pollutants, such as mold spores, allergens, dust and VOCs form one area of the building and transport them to another.
“Furthermore, the Filtropur Whole Home Automated Air Filtration system provides valuable protection for HVAC systems in several vital ways: increases its efficiency, thus reducing the wear and tear on the system’s parts. This, in turn, reduces the need for maintenance, reducing maintenance costs and extends the life of the system.”
Air Cleaning: The goal of air cleaning is to remove indoor pollutants by trapping them inside a mechanical device. Effective air cleaning protects HVAC systems and components, protects furnishings and décor of occupied spaces, reduces housekeeping and building maintenance, reduces furnace and heating equipment fire hazards and, most importantly, protects building occupants. In addition to trapping particulates, it is necessary to remove, and hopefully destroy, micro-organisms such as mold, fungus, bacteria and viruses. Finally, efficient air cleaning involves the removal of gases, VOCs, vapors and odors that could very well be prevalent in the home.
“The Filtropur Sanitizing Filtration System consists of a sealed filtration system to capture particles at 99.99% that are .3 microns in size, while killing practically all harmful micro−organisms, without the use of harmful ozone. It also utilizes activated carbon to rid the air of odors, chemicals and VOCs.”
Source Control: While source control is the only completely effective way to remove pollutants from indoor environments, experts agree that total eradication of indoor contaminants often is not feasible or practical. More realistic approaches are to use materials, furnishings, finishes and cleaning products/processes that emit low levels of VOCs and to adopt surface cleaning practices such as regular hypo-allergenic cleaning and maintenance to remove larger particles and kill bacteria and viruses on floors, furniture, walls, doorknobs, bedding and linens and bathroom fixtures. In addition, keeping HVAC systems in good working order and air ducts and drip pans clean is important for minimizing dust and particle accumulation and indoor mold growth within the system.