If you’ve never thought about indoor environmental quality, you’ve probably been living on a remote desert island somewhere for the past couple of years. According to the EPA, Americans spend nearly 90 percent of their time indoors,1 so it makes sense that indoor air or environmental quality should be a top priority. Shining an extra spotlight on this, October is also National Indoor Air Quality Awareness Month. Whether you’re headed back to work, school or just the gym, feeling safe indoors now means wearing a mask, getting immunized and maintaining proper social distancing. But it also reminds businesses to take responsible steps toward ensuring the right systems are in place to provide a clean and safe indoor environment. No matter what type of space you work or live in, here are a dozen ideas that can help improve indoor environmental quality:
1. Change the air filter in your HVAC system on a quarterly basis. Pollen, mold, dust and pet hair all get collected over time and accumulate on your system’s air filter. Regular system maintenance ensures that your system functions as it should.
2. Clean/replace exhaust fan filters in kitchens and bathrooms. Kitchens are areas where grease and food particles can, over time, collect in exhaust fan filters. Cleaning vents and replacing filters at regular intervals ensures that they remove smoke and odors when in use. Bathroom exhaust fans are used to remove humid air, so it is important to ensure that air can flow freely through these vents to prevent mold growth. 3. Invest in an air purifier. The emission of odors, smoke and chemicals from normal indoor activities can contaminate the air. An air purifier can impact the particles that are missed by HVAC filters. For homes and businesses, the HVAC system provides regular air exchanges, but most filters are ineffective against biological and chemical contaminants in the air. Pairing your HVAC system with a quality air purifier can improve the quality of your indoor air. 4. Empty vacuum cleaner filters before each use. Like exhaust fan filters, vacuum cleaners rely on maximum airflow to work properly to remove dust and debris from carpets and floors. Clogged or full filters can impact the performance of the vacuum. 5. Conduct regular pest control throughout your space. Insects, mice and other pests leave behind bacteria and waste. The best defense is a good offense against these critters. Keep them out to maintain a clean space. 6. Open doors and windows when practical. Fresh, outside air is recommended by the CDC to lower indoor air pollutants and contaminants. Obviously, that doesn’t work in extreme temperatures, but it is a good practice when possible. 7. Keep carpets furniture and rugs clean. Food, dust, hair, and other small particles can quickly accumulate in every corner of a room. Carpeting and furniture can also off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Regular cleaning, vacuuming and sweeping will keep that to a minimum. 8. Check under sinks for pipe leaks/drips and clean up water spills. Mold loves damp and wet spaces, and it is a leading cause of respiratory problems in indoor spaces. Out of sight is out of mind, so it’s good to check these often-overlooked areas for problems. 9. Check return air vents. Over time, vents can become clogged with dust and debris, reducing airflow between rooms. Be sure to dust each one a couple of times a year. Or, depending on the level of contamination (i.e. dust, debris, etc.), it might be necessary to dust more frequently. 10. Clean out dryer vents both indoors and on the building exterior. Seeing a theme here? Dust and debris are trapped in filters (that’s what they’re for), but it is important to clean out or replace filters on a regular basis. 11. Maintain a steady level of humidity indoors. Ideal indoor humidity is usually 30-45 percent. Higher humidities can lead to dust mites, mold, and mildew growth, reducing air quality and making it difficult to breathe. On the other hand, humidity levels below 30 percent cause the air to be too dry. Adding a humidifier or de-humidifier can help maintain humidity at comfortable levels in a home or business. 12. Dust under appliances like refrigerators and stoves. These fixtures often don’t get moved for years, so there’s a good chance, you’ll find a layer of dust, the odd spatula, or a lost toy when you do. Pull them away from the wall at least once a year to see what treasures you can find.
Keep it Going
Maintaining indoor environmental quality is a long-term commitment and one that requires vigilance. Keeping microbes, dust, mold, insects, and VOCs at bay is a constant battle. Sometimes it is easy to overlook things. Create a quarterly plan for spot checks and maintenance throughout your building. That allows you to focus attention on areas that you don’t necessarily look at on a daily basis. References: 1 US Environmental Protection Agency 1989. Report to Congress on indoor air quality Volume 2. EPA/400/1-89/001 C. Washington, DC.