Indoor Air Quality and Heating/Cooling

We often think about air pollution as an outdoor air issue however most people are surprised to learn that indoor air quality (IAQ) is generally far worse.

Poor indoor air quality results in significant adverse impacts on our health and environments and according to the Australian Department of Environment and Energy (2020) Australians spend 90% or more of their time indoors.

So, as we head into winter and the weather becomes cooler we tend to spend even more time indoors, running mechanical heating systems to keep our homes warm. 

We don’t stop to consider the quality of the air we are breathing or whether it is supportive to our well-being by ensuring our environment is as healthy as possible. By simply opening our windows regularly to allow our houses to air out properly while allowing for the exchange of stale polluted indoor air for fresher outdoor air will go a long way towards achieving this. 

We end up breathing in the same air that has been circulating within our spaces when they have been sealed and often through ducted heating and/or split system air conditioning systems that unknowingly contain harmful pollutants that have been attributed to many adverse health effects.

This is where my Clean Fresh Group business addresses our clients indoor air quality via a thorough environmental assessment, informed through our building biology training alongside the associated services required to ensure a space is supportive of the health and wellbeing of the occupants.

At our Clean Fresh Group business, Vince and the team look at three key areas from our environmental standpoint. 

1. Dust Load and the Effectiveness of Cleaning

The first thing we do is to assess a spaces dust load as this may be contributing to an occupant’s poor health. 

The Department of Heath WA (2020) describe dust as ‘being made up of the natural erosion of soil, sand and rock, pollen, microscopic organisms, plant material and dander (dead skin cells shed by animals) that are all part of the environment. 

The type and size of a dust particle determines how toxic the dust is, however the possible harm the dust may cause to your health is mostly determined by the amount of dust present in the air and how long you have been exposed to it.

Dust particles small enough to be inhaled may cause:

  • irritation of the eyes
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • hay fever
  • asthma attacks.

For people with respiratory conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive airways disease (COAD) or emphysema even small increases in dust concentration can make their symptoms worse.   Currently there is no hard evidence that dust causes asthma, however breathing in high concentrations of dust over many years is thought to reduce lung function in the long term and contribute to disorders like chronic bronchitis and heart and lung disorders.’

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety (CCOHS) (2020), adverse Health Effects associated with exposure to poor indoor air quality in a ‘sick building’ can include one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Dryness and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hypersensitivity and allergies
  • Sinus congestion
  • Coughing and sneezing 
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

Here we tailor a detailed cleaning routine designed to remove as much of the dust load as possible to allow for occupants to breath cleaner air. 

These cleans may be a once off detailed deep clean to bring the home or office to a baseline that clients can then maintain or that we can maintain for them on a regular basis.

Our detailed deep cleans are akin to a day at a spa retreat for your home where my team showers homes and workplaces with TLC, making them sparkle again, reinvigorating a client’s space.

2. Identifying Toxins

The next area we assess with our clients are the levels of toxins in a home that contribute to poor health and poor indoor air quality via a walk through and chat about what the offending toxin is and what a healthier, safer alternative may be.  Here we help empower clients to make better choices that will support their health and well being.

We are exposed to toxins via the air we breathe (inhalation), through our skin (dermally) and eyes and through the food we eat and the water we drink (ingestion).

Toxins and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) expose us to chemicals in our indoor environment and range from the cleaning and personal care products we use including perfumes, laundry liquids and fabric softeners used to wash our clothes, synthetic fragrances and air fresheners, pesticides & insecticides, off gassing furniture and building materials to name a broad range.

 According to Health Canada (2020) they have all been linked to many adverse health effects in the short-term including skin and eye irritation, burns, poisoning and headaches.

The longer-term health effects from chemical exposure includes

  • organ damage
  • weakening of the immune system
  • development of allergies or asthma
  • reproductive problems and birth defects
  • effects on the mental, intellectual or physical development of children
  • cancer

3. Split System Air Conditioners

The third and most often overlooked area we evaluate are the split system air conditioners also known as HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Cooling) systems in a space.  These are also a significant contributor to poor indoor air quality as they aren’t maintained due to the majority of clients not realising that they need to be cleaned regularly.

According to a review undertaken by Yu et al. (2008) in the International Journal of Refrigeration, health problems related to poor IAQ appear more frequently and it is the indoor pollutants that lead to poor IAQ.  They concluded that there was an increase in prevalence of sick building syndrome (SBS) between 30% and 200% in the buildings with air-conditioning systems when compared with natural ventilation systems.  They went on to state that the wide use of air conditioning helps to improve thermal comfort, but health problems associated with poor IAQ appear more frequently because of their use.

When cleaned properly and not clogged up with dust and mould they work very effectively, however, if they aren’t cleaned and maintained regularly the dust that is captured by the filters builds withinand becomes a food source for mould. Additionally, high levels of moisture within the unit due to temperature variations then provides a perfect storm for mould proliferation.

As mould technicians our building biology training affords us the understanding of mould and how it functions in various environments, as well as the tools to understand how to identify and minimise it, while our training with refrigeration mechanics affords the team the knowledge to disassemble these units safely and to thoroughly wash out the mould and clean the units supporting a healthier indoor environment.

Once these Split System units are functioning optimally they act as dehumidifiers removing moisture from the internal space and expelling it to the outdoors which helps to support internal moisture control, keeping humidity at a level that doesn’t support mould growth as well.

Solutions

Our solutions are incorporated into a report for the client that details the findings of our assessment.  We work with our clients to change or eliminate what may be contributing to their poor indoor air quality which may include: –

  • A detailed deep clean of the space to lower the dust load
  • Looking at toxins in the environment and how to eliminate them; and
  • Assessing the Split System Air Conditioning unit for biological contaminants such as mould
  • Anything else that is required to minimise contaminants that contribute to illness.

While not everyone will have access to us or our services, some of the things people can do to help improve our indoor air quality immediately are to;

  • Open windows to allow for air flow as they act as the lungs of our houses and, just like our lungs, our homes need to be able to breathe too, expelling stale and polluted indoor air by diluting it and bringing in fresh air that reduces moisture levels, odours and other pollutants.  It’s one of the things that helps to keep our homes healthy so opening windows every day regardless of how cold or hot it is to just move stale air out of the house, allow fresh air to come in and for air movement is one of the easiest things we can do, even if it’s just for a short time.
  • Open the curtains and allow the sun to shine through.  The sun too is vitally important as it is a natural disinfectant that has been used forever by humans to maintain health.  The warmth of the sun also allows for saving on heating costs.
  • Minimise or preferably eliminate chemicals from your home and replace with safer non-toxic options.
  • Help your split system to function efficiently by ensuring your filters are cleaned every 4-6 weeks especially when you are using it for both heating and cooling and have our team clean it regularly to ensure the internal areas are cleaned every 6 – 12 months.

To learn more about our services including our Environmental Assessments and how to book one in, contact either Vince or I on 1300 613 114.

Xx Laudy


References

https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/iaq_intro.html

https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/F_I/Health-effects-of-dust

https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/health-effects-chemical-exposure.html

Yu, B.F. et al., 2008, Review of research on air conditioning systems and indoor air quality control for human health, Elsevier Journal, International Journal of Refrigeration 32 (2009) 3–20, Online, Available: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0e1d/b6f13b5a7b802ea24f5c9fe2e6345a235890.pdf

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