During the pandemic, many of us felt like we were trapped inside. But in actuality spending the vast majority of our time inside isn’t unusual: the average American spends about 90% of their time indoors. About two-thirds of our life is spent at home, with the rest of the time divided between places such as work, school, the gym, church and the grocery store. It also includes the time we spend getting to and from those places.

photo of living room with plants
Plants add texture and beauty to this living room

So this year was different not because of how much time we spent indoors, but where that balance shifted.

Instead of schools and office buildings, many people spent more time at home. A lot more. We also spent a lot more time thinking about the air we breathe and what might be in it.

While the focus over the last year has been on avoiding airborne infectious viruses, indoor air quality hazards fall into three general categories: airborne particles, microorganisms, and gases or chemicals. The effects of these hazards can be amplified by longer periods of exposure, higher temperatures and humidity. The effects are often worse when exposed to multiple hazards at the same time. 

Airborne particles can include ash from wood burning fires, including forest fires, asbestos fibers, or dust from lead-based paints. Microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, and mold spores can become airborne and cause allergies, asthma or other illnesses if they come into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth. Gases or chemicals can be present in the natural environment (think radon) or released from household items like furniture, carpets, and other consumer products. 

photo of plants on a windowsill
Plants on a window ledge make any room feel more vibrant.

It can be overwhelming to think about clearing your home from toxins.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, or require spending a bunch of money. Ventilation is key for controlling all three. Many homes are built or remodeled more tightly in an effort to improve energy efficiency with the unexpected consequence of reducing airflow. Talk with your architect or contractor about basic house ventilation systems. A simple duct for your heating systems with a damper to control intake, remove stale air, and maintain proper pressure can positively improve ventilation. 

While whole-home ventilation systems may not be as glamorous as a stylish kitchen or bathroom upgrade, it can go a lot further to ensure the long-term comfort and health of the home’s occupants. 

Indoor air quality can affect people’s comfort, health, and work performance. A broad range of health effects may result from indoor air pollutant exposure. Some pollutants increase the risk of cancers or other serious health effects. There is still considerable uncertainty about what concentrations or periods of exposure are necessary to produce specific health problems. People also react very differently to exposure to indoor air pollutants. If you think you or a loved one has symptoms that may be related to your home environment, discuss them with a medical professional to see if they could be caused by indoor air pollution.