Study Reveals Home Indoor Air Quality is Worse Than Office
Indoor air pollution has been classified as one of the top five environmental health hazards. And in the United States, where it is estimated that we spend close to 90% of our time indoors, the quality of the air we breathe – indoors – can have an impact on our health. Since the pandemic, more people have been working remotely, which has led to higher than usual interest in the quality of the air they were breathing.
Interest in studying the impact of COVID-19 in different settings has led to higher scrutiny of the indoor air quality (IAQ) at homes during the lockdown. Researchers at Texas A&M recently published a pilot study that found that IAQ was worse in homes than in offices. Fine particulate matter (PM) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the home were significantly higher that offices, 90% of which were in compliance with environmental standards. The study also found a higher frequency of Sick Building Syndrome symptoms while working from home as the IAQ was worse at home.
Why is IAQ worse in homes than in the office?
“In the home, building materials, cleaning agents, air fresheners, adhesives, paints, pesticides and biological contaminants from poor ventilation systems all contribute to poorer air quality,” explains Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and principal of RTK Environmental Group. “There also may be dust from construction or renovation work that may contain lead or asbestos, mold, pesticides, chemicals from cleaning supplies, VOCs from new furniture or carpeting, and other airborne chemicals.”
However, the likelihood of poor IAQ in office buildings can be lower because offices have better heating and air conditioning systems, as well as air filtration systems. “Offices are also more likely to maintain their HVAC systems, servicing them every 6 – 12 months and changing filters regularly, whereas homeowners may go years without taking these steps,” Weitz says.
He points out that homes today can be made to be airtight, reducing natural ventilation as they are controlled by HVAC systems. “A big difference between home and office HVAC systems is that non-residential buildings typically have a mechanical ventilation for outdoor air change, whereas homes could be closed up for months without significant fresh air exchange, depending on the season.”
With estimates that 1 in 4 Americans are still working remotely, and that 22% of the workforce (36.2 million Americans) will continue to work remotely through 2025, indoor air quality is definitely something to monitor.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, poor indoor air quality poses a significant threat to well-being. Short-term symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, dry cough, skin irritations, irritated eyes, nose and throat, as well as fatigue. However, long-term exposure to poor IAQ can cause heart disease, respiratory diseases, and cancer, according to the EPA.
What can you do about poor IAQ?
First, have your home indoor air quality tested by an independent company like RTK. They will be able to identify or rule out the root causes of the VOCs or poor indoor air quality. This will give you the framework to plan your remediation. The EPA says that it’s most effective to find the sources of pollutants to improve IAQ. This may include sources that contain asbestos, mold, lead dust, or gas stoves that can be adjusted to reduce the level of emissions released in your house.
You also should consider bringing fresh air into your house by opening doors and windows. Even a small amount of fresh air can make a difference.
You may want to install air purifiers as well, as many filter out microscopic pollutants and particles from the air. HEPA and carbon filters are the best, but be aware that the HEPA filters particulate matter only, whereas carbon filters get rid of VOCs and odors. It’s best to have an air purifier with both types of filters.
If you are going to continue to work from home or if you are concerned about the quality of your indoor air in general, have your indoor air quality checked. If you would like to schedule an indoor air quality test, call (800) 392.6468 or click here. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have. Live well!