Indoor Air Quality When Staying at Home

We are living in a very unique time in history. Now more than ever, indoor air quality (IAQ) along with fresh air has become a topic of much discussion. We have dedicated many blog posts to the importance of a properly ventilated home. In light of our current time we thought it would be good to re-visit these and highlight some benefits.

Before we get started we want to make one thing clear. Exhaust fans or fresh air do not kill viruses. Even a filter is not going to kill a virus. The information we are providing is to help you evaluate and think about the air you are breathing.

In times when we are being asked to shelter in place and not leave our homes, it can have some unintended side effects. One of them being our indoor air quality. When living indoors during a time of a pandemic there are some air quality issues to think about.

First is the overall quality of the air we are breathing. With many people working from home, staying home, and so forth, it is producing more pollutants inside the home. It is just simple math. The more you are in your home breathing, cooking, working – the more pollutants’ you will generate. If you do not have a plan to mitigate those pollutants there could be longer-term negative effects. A great way to mitigate is using natural as well as mechanical ventilation.

Natural ventilation is simply opening a window and letting fresh air come in. This will dilute the pollutants in the air and if you have a cross breeze will take the stale air out. Mechanical ventilation are items such as exhaust fans and especially range hoods. Sometimes opening a window is not an option, so making sure your range hood is running while cooking or your exhaust fan is running while in the bathroom is of utmost importance.

Second is dealing with spreading a virus. Historically, proper ventilation has been an effective way to lessen the impact of a virus. A 2019 study on tuberculosis showed a significant reduction in transmission just from making changes to the ventilation in hospitals. You can read the study here. The CDC and many state departments are also recommending opening windows and bringing in fresh air to reduce the spread. Stephen Morse, an infectious disease researcher and professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health says: “Changing the room air is a widely used measure for infection prevention and control. It replaces any virus-contaminated air with clean air. Opening windows is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to encourage this type of air turnover.”

Great, everyone open your windows and there is nothing to worry about – right. We really wish it was that easy, but as you probably guessed it is not. As we stated before, fresh air will not kill the virus. What is does is dilutes it to a point where it is not as contagious. There are ongoing studies to try and figure out at what point that is.

According to Erik Peper, a professor in the College of Health and Social Sciences at San Francisco State University. “People keep their windows closed to conserve heat and reduce heating-bill costs, but the lack of fresh-air circulation increases the viral density…. By increasing the fresh outside air circulation, you dilute the virus concentration that maybe shed by an infected asymptomatic or sick person,” Peper explains.

Again, fresh air and ventilation are unfortunately not the magic pill we are searching for and they need to be used properly. Here are a few considerations.

1. If you do have someone in the house that either has a virus or thinks they might, give consideration of how the air is moving. For instance, if you have a fan in the room they are quarantined in, make sure it is pointing outside and not into the living area. Pushing the air towards the rest of the home could have the exact opposite effect and spread the virus, especially if you do not have enough fresh air coming into the home to dilute it.
2. Understand where the fresh air is coming from. The outdoor air might be worse than the indoor air so using some type of air filter or air purifier will help. This is especially true in large city settings.
3. There is also a concern about bringing virus-contaminated air into the home. Professor Morse says the risks of this sort of home invasion are probably minimal — with a few exceptions. “I think the possibility would be vanishingly small of a virus coming in through a window situated well above the ground,” he says. But if you have a ground-floor or basement window that looks out onto a sidewalk or some other pedestrian-trafficked area, it may be possible — albeit unlikely — for a virus to enter your home via a sick passerby, he adds.

While no one wants to be in the situation we are in, it does give us an opportunity to evaluate and learn. When it comes to our indoor air quality, there are items we can do right now as well as things we can do moving forward. What is your IAQ plan? What changes can you make now and in the future to improve?