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What Are the Most Effective Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality?

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Emily Newton's picture
Editor-In-Chief, Revolutionized Magazine

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief at Revolutionized Magazine. She enjoys writing articles in the energy industry as well as other industrial sectors.

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Indoor air quality (IAQ) relates to the amount of particulate matter in the air within or surrounding a building and its occupants. People continually look for effective ways to improve indoor air quality, particularly since failing to do so can cause both nearly immediate and long-term health effects in exposed individuals. Here are some of the most beneficial ways to do it. 

Use Far-UVC Light

Scientists learned years ago that ultraviolet-C (UVC) light quickly kills microbes. This light has wavelengths of 4 to 400 nanometers. However, people cannot use conventional germicidal UVC lights directly in indoor spaces because they can harm the skin and eyes. 

Researchers from the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, along with scientists in the United Kingdom, investigated far-UVC light to improve indoor air quality. It has a comparably shorter wavelength than germicidal UVC light. Moreover, several previous studies suggested it does not have the same potential for adverse health effects. 

Their tests showed that far-UVC lights mounted in ceiling fixtures caused a 98% reduction in indoor airborne microbes in less than five minutes. The group ran experiments in a room-sized chamber that underwent about three air changes per hour. They also continually introduced bacteria into the space via an aerosolized mist, but the lights maintained low bacterial levels.

Moreover, this approach enabled 184 equivalent air exchanges per hour. Other methods typically only allow for 5 to 20 each hour. 

The researchers believe their experiments with far-UVC light could give people more options for fighting pandemics, flu outbreaks and similar public health threats. They’re also particularly hopeful because this method should achieve similarly good results even if new COVID-19 variants emerge. 

Reduce the Use of VOC-Containing Products When Possible

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are in various household and industrial products. Once inside, they get released into the air and can also interact with the ozone layer, causing further adverse effects. Fortunately, many suppliers of products such as paints and flooring offer low and no-VOC products, giving consumers more possibilities. 

Research from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the University of York found that VOCs from consumer aerosol products release more VOCs than all of the cars in the United Kingdom. The group recommended switching to non-aerosolized products when possible. That could mean making a relatively simple switch to improve indoor air quality, such as using a roll-on deodorant instead of a sprayed version. 

Elsewhere, an Indiana University team found that commercially available surface disinfectants could create secondary indoor pollutants during the gas and aerosol phases. They ran experiments inside a mechanically ventilated test facility where people wiped and mopped surfaces for 12-14 minutes to simulate real-world cleaning conditions. The results showed VOCs comparable to or exceeding those in an outdoor urban environment. 

The Indiana University group focused on a VOC category called monoterpenes, commonly found in citrus and pine-scented cleaning products. Lead author Colleen Rosales said people could inhale from 560 million to more than a billion associated particles per minute. That’s the equivalent of standing on a highway shoulder surrounded by automobile exhaust. 

However, people can improve indoor air quality by using a fan with a filter or installing a whole-house filtration system if appropriate. They can also wear a mask while using cleaning products, and look for offerings without monoterpenes. Those are usually unscented. 

Focus on Ventilation 

One of the most straightforward ways to enhance the quality of air indoors is to ensure the space is well-ventilated. Berkeley Lab researchers created various room configurations to simulate real-world settings, like indoor meetings. They then measured the effects of ventilation on the associated air quality. One of the findings was that poor ventilation increases the air pollution risk for some people by five to six times depending on factors like their seating arrangements. 

The worst-case scenario involved overhead vents supplying heated air to a room. They blocked the flow of clean air down to where people breathe, causing that substantially elevated risk compared to a room with well-mixed air. 

However, the researchers found a simple solution that used portable air cleaners that suck in air from the bottom and expel it from the top. Those products both mix and filter the air. Concerned consumers can also buy high-tech home products that combine a fan with purification measures. 

Elsewhere, researchers at Texas A&M University School of Public Health found that IAQ in people’s homes is often worse than in their offices. The team took measurements for three months in 2019 and three months in 2020, with the latter period occurring while people worked remotely. The outcomes showed higher VOC concentrations in homes compared to offices. 

However, coverage of the study suggested opening windows to improve ventilation if outdoor air quality allows. Another possibility is to provide portable air cleaners to remote employees to help them create healthier workspaces. 

Make Changes While Cooking 

Many people spend hours per day cooking in their kitchens. However, they may remain unaware of the need to improve indoor air quality associated with that activity. 

Understand How Various Factors Impact Cooking-Related Indoor Air Quality

Researchers from the University of Surrey examined cooking practices in 12 major global cities to see how they impacted indoor air pollution levels. The results showed that poor ventilation and fuel choices were the biggest contributors to bad air quality.

Dhaka, Bangladesh had the highest average levels of indoor air pollution. The researchers clarified that people there often cooked for long hours in small spaces and frequently fried their foods. Moreover, residents of some cities studied spent up to 40% of their overall cooking time frying. That was the cooking method responsible for the most emissions. However, boiling and stewing caused fewer emissions. 

Another finding was that cooking with liquefied petroleum gas caused a 30% reduction in air pollution compared to making food on charcoal. In some cities studied, combining a cooking fan and natural ventilation halved pollution levels. The researchers also recommended against using the kitchen as a place to congregate. Doing that reduces the number of people exposed to high levels of indoor pollution. 

Consider Switching to an Electric Stove

A Stanford University-led study shed light on the air quality dangers caused by methane leaks from natural gas stoves used in the United States. It showed the issue causes emissions equivalent to approximately half a million gas-powered cars. The research measured methane and nitrogen oxides released from natural gas stoves inside 53 Californian homes. The statistics came from both stoves in use and turned off. They also included 18 branches of gas cooktops in stoves ranging in age from 3 to 30 years.

The findings showed three-quarters of methane emissions happened outside of active use, suggesting problems with poorly fitting gas connections. Also, larger stoves emitted more nitric oxides, and the situation worsened when people kept their range hoods off or cooked in poorly ventilated areas. Researchers suggested people switch to electric stoves, which would help the planet and improve indoor air quality. 

Smart Changes Can Improve Indoor Air Quality

It takes time, effort and thoughtfulness to improve indoor air quality. However, these tips show that certain alterations are especially worthwhile. 

 

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