People tend to think that outdoor air is polluted, especially in the city. Smog and emissions from cars and factories lead many consumers to believe it’s better to stay indoors.
In reality, indoor air quality is often worse than outdoor air, even in the city. It’s estimated that pollutant and contaminant levels inside may be two to five times higher than they are outside.
According to Health Canada, Canadians are already spending an average of 90 percent of their waking hours indoors. A majority of Canadians spend even more time indoors during the winter.
The amount of time that we spend inside in winter isn’t the only factor that may be contributing to poor health. During the months of November to March, we may be inhaling higher concentrations of pollutants and contaminants than during the rest of the year. This is because we keep our windows closed and seal up drafts.
This may keep the heating bill lower, but it also means that air circulation is hampered and reduced. This causes pollutants and contaminants to settle inside and accumulate faster than they can be pushed out.
Poor indoor air quality (at any time of the year, but especially in winter) can cause or exacerbate a number of different kinds of problems, including:
1) Respiratory illnesses: Viruses are an ever-present threat, but wintertime is particularly bad. Many types of viruses, including the common cold and the seasonal flu, thrive in cooler temperatures. Left unchecked, they can settle indoors and be blown throughout a home.
2) Dust: People sometimes think of dust as a summer or dry-weather problem. Actually, dust is a year-round issue, and can actually be worse in the winter months. Decreased air exchange/circulation (due to closed and sealed windows and cracks) causes dust to accumulate more rapidly.
Dust is more than just a mere cleaning problem. Dust can irritate existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma. It also contains allergens that can trigger reactions and lower immune functions.
3) Mould: This is another potentially serious problem in residential homes, and it’s typically worse in winter due to wetter weather. Poor air circulation and exchange encourages the formation of mould, and once it starts, it’s virtually impossible (and very expensive) to get rid of.
4) Asthma: Pollutants, allergens, dust and mould are all potential triggers for an asthma attack. Poor indoor air quality can lead to more frequent asthma attacks as well as more severe ones.
Home owners can greatly reduce the potential for these kinds of problems in several ways. First, have your heating system/furnace inspected and cleaned annually. The best time to do this is just prior to the cold season (before you need to use your furnace).
A professional service will clean your system of contaminants and pollutants and identify potential problems. Plus, your furnace’s air filter will be replaced, allowing for better trapping of those harmful airborne particles during the upcoming cold season.
You should also have your home’s ducts cleaned each year. Pollutants can settle and become trapped in air ducts, and once you turn your furnace on they’ll be blown throughout your home. A professional cleaning will remove many of these particles, along with trapped dust and dirt.