Is Your Building Sick?

Sick building syndrome or SBS refers to situations where “building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified,” according to the EPA’s Indoor Air Quality website. This can occur either in a specific room or area, or throughout the building.

Symptoms can include:

  • headache
  • eye, nose, or throat  irritation
  • dry cough
  • dry or itchy skin
  • dizziness and nausea
  • difficulty in concentrating
  • fatigue
  • sensitivity to odors

Although the cause of the symptoms is usually not known, sufferers usually report feeling better soon after they leave the building. Poor ventilation, as well as heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) not effectively distributing air throughout the building, seems to be a major contributing factor in SBS.

Indoor and outdoor pollution sources can also contribute to SBS. Indoor air pollution sources include:

  • adhesives
  • carpeting
  • upholstery
  • manufactured wood products
  • copy machines
  • pesticides
  • cleaning agents

These sources can emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde.  Tobacco smoke emits high levels of VOCs, as well as other toxic compounds, and breathable particulate matter. The products of combustion, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and breathable particles come from burning sources like unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, woodstoves, fireplaces and gas stoves.

Outdoor pollution sources such as motor vehicle exhausts, plumbing vents, and bathroom and kitchen exhausts can contribute to indoor air pollution. Also, biological contaminants including bacteria, molds, pollens, and viruses may breed in standing or stagnant water in various locations throughout a building.

Removing or modifying the pollutant source when it is known and controllable is perhaps the best way to resolve an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) problem. Also increasing ventilation and air distribution can help the problem.  Another method is to use air cleaners. Finally, using furnace or air filters, especially high performance filters that capture smaller, breathable particles is a great way to alleviate SBS.

Is Your Indoor Air Affecting Your Allergies?

Staying indoors during allergy season may seem like a good strategy when you have allergies, but indoor air can be just as irritating to allergies. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s website, “dust mites, animal dander and even cockroaches can cause problems indoors.”

Dust mites are a chief culprit for allergy sufferers, affecting up to 8 out of 10 Americans. The best way to control dust mites is to minimize their effect  by keeping all surfaces in the home clean, and by minimizing clutter. The AAFA recommends eliminating carpet altogether, or at a bare minimum to use only washable throw rugs or a low-piled carpet. The AAFA goes on to say that:

The single most important method is to put zippered allergen impermeable or plastic covers on all pillows, mattresses and box springs. Encasing mattresses works better than air cleaners to reduce allergy symptoms. Every week, wash bedding, uncovered pillows and stuffed toys in hot water (130 degree F.) to kill mites.

Animal dander is another culprit, impacting up to 6 out 10 people in the U.S. Doctors recommend not having pets if you are allergic to pet dander. If you must have a pet, first take a break from the animal, either by vacation, or keeping the pet out of the house for at least two months, since pet dander can linger in homes that long. The AAFA recommends slowly introducing the pet back into the home, and seeing if symptoms are attributable to the pet. If so, they advise carefully considering if the pet is worth the discomfort. They also recommend keeping the pet out of your bedroom, and perhaps choosing a pet without fur or feathers.

By vacuuming once or twice a week using a HEPA filter or double-bagged vacuum, some allergens can be controlled. Also cleaning dust with a damp cloth is another good method for keeping irritating particles at a minimum in the home.

Keeping moisture out of the home wherever possible can help control mold, which is another offending allergen. Also keeping only a few house plants and using a dehumidifier will help as well.

Cockroach debris is another culprit that reduces indoor air quality. Following recommended methods for controlling cockroaches can limit the effects of their debris.

Finally, running air conditioning in warm weather, recycling the indoor air, goes a long way to control outside allergens from entering the home. Window unit filters should be changed often. Also, air purifiers and cleaners can help to keep allergens at a minimum.

Indoor Air Quality

The primary cause of home indoor air quality problems, according to the EPA’s Indoor Air Quality website,  are indoor pollution sources that release harmful gases or particles into the air. Other factors that can contribute to poor indoor air quality are inadequate ventilation, and high temperature and humidity. Sources of indoor air pollution include combustion sources, building materials and furnishings, cabinetry or furniture made of pressed wood products, household cleaning and maintenance products, as well as personal care products, and central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices. Outdoor air pollution sources including radon and pesticides can also contribute to poor indoor air quality.

When there is too little outdoor air entering a home, health and comfort problems can arise from pollutants accumulating. Many houses are designed to prevent air from entering the house, which can cause pollutant levels to rise. This can cause immediate effects such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Other immediate effects include symptoms of diseases such as asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and humidifier fever. There are also long term health effects that may occur years after exposure or after long or repeated periods of exposure.  These include respiratory disease, heart disease, and cancer.

One solution to this problem is to install mechanical ventilation devices, such as outdoor-vented fans and also air handling systems. Air handling systems use fans and duct work to remove indoor air and bring in filtered and conditioned outdoor air into the house.  Filters Fast offers an extensive line of air filters to keep the air in your house clean and pure. We also carry many quality air purifiers that circulate and purify indoor air.