Improving indoor air quality is a significant public health issue. The World Health Organization cites poor air quality as one of the most critical environmental health threats today.
Research continues to prove that air pollution is not solely an outdoor air quality issue, nor focused within major metropolises or industrial areas as once assumed.
Instead, the data continues to show how air pollution—both indoors and out—is a significant health risk for all.
Exposure to poor indoor air quality is attributable to more than 5 million premature deaths globally, every single year.
There are many ways to ensure that the air you breathe in your home is safe and contaminant-free.
From installing the right kind of air purifier, mechanical ventilation system, or filtering system to controlling humidity levels and eliminating potential sources of contamination, many actions can be taken to improve indoor air quality.
Minimize indoor air pollution and improve indoor air quality
Air pollution is the presence of one or more contaminants in the surrounding air in such quantity or duration that it can be harmful to humans, animals or the environment.
The industry-recognized definition of acceptable indoor air quality is air in which there are no known contaminants at harmful concentrations. All in all, indoor air pollution is the presence of harmful and unhealthy contaminants in the surrounding air.
It’s the quantity-duration aspect that matters.
Potential adverse health effects, comfortable and enjoyable indoor spaces, and the quality of those spaces depend not solely on whether indoor air pollutants are present—but on how much and for how long one is exposed.
Air pollutants are less harmful if you can reduce the exposure time or the concentration of pollutants, or both! This is why indoor air pollution control methods matter.
4 Whole-home solutions to improve indoor air quality
1. Add a whole-home air purifier
An air purifier’s effectiveness depends on how much air it can treat and how well it collects or removes pollutants.
- Types: HEPA filters (remove particles), activated carbon (for odors/gases), UV light (kills germs), and negative ion generators.
Whole-home purification systems are installed into the central HVAC system and purify the air throughout the home. Most whole-home purification devices are also active air-cleaning solutions.
This means that rather than waiting for air to pass through to capture pollutants, this type of purification solution also actively seeks out pollutants.
An example is bipolar ionization which provides positive and negative ions encouraging air pollutants to clump together (easier to clean and filter out!).
Pros: Can noticeably improve air quality, range of sizes to fit specific needs, and some target specific pollutants.
Cons: Ongoing cost of filter replacements, not all are equal in effectiveness, can be noisy.
- Purification is also a pollutant removal method. Whether an active or passive purification solution, air purifiers greatly reduce the number of indoor air pollutants in your space.
- As an add-on air cleaning solution, having an air purifier helps foster a cleaner, healthier and safer indoor space.
Keep in Mind
- Trusted devices and manufacturers will offer testing information, air cleaning data, certifications, or third-party verification. Read all about the importance of air purifier data here.
- Some purifiers rely on ozone production as a purification technique. Avoid these products. Choose purifiers that emit little to no ozone to ensure your and your family’s safety. This is another reason third-party data verification matters.
- Consider room size, pollutants you want to address, noise-level tolerance, additional features like smart compatibility.
2. Install mechanical ventilation
At its core, ventilation is the exchange of outdoor and indoor air. Increasing ventilation results in a more significant influx of fresh outdoor air, which dilutes indoor air pollution and forces stale, polluted indoor air out of the space.
Types: Whole-house fans, heat recovery ventilators (HRV), energy recovery ventilators (ERV).
As an IAQ control strategy, improved ventilation means increasing the amount of ventilation and improving the quality of ventilation. This is possible through mechanical ventilation.
Rather than relying on natural ventilation like open windows, mechanical ventilation is a whole-home or whole-building solution.
Mechanical ventilation improves indoor air by bringing in fresh, filtered air using ductwork already in the structure or with additional ductwork.
Compared to natural ventilation, a mechanical fresh air system is not dependent on weather conditions, outdoor temperature or safety concerns. It’s also the superior fresh air solution because the system filters the incoming air, removing contaminants before circulating the air indoors.
Pros: Expel stale, contaminated air; bring in fresh air (some filter). HRVs/ERVs reduce energy waste by managing fresh air temps.
Cons: Can be expensive to install, HRVs/ERVs require additional maintenance, and effectiveness depends on climate.
- Fresh air dilution is the solution to pollution. Increased ventilation rates mean improved air exchange and air turnover rates … AKA air pollutants are forced out of the indoor space quicker.
- Ventilation should not depend on outdoor air quality or the feasibility of natural ventilation. A mechanical ventilation system is a reliable source of fresh and filtered air.
- The best balanced whole-home mechanical ventilation systems are also energy recovery systems. HRVs and ERVs both use a heat exchange/energy recovery process to pre-condition the incoming air. This energy savings is a helpful benefit and can actually lower utility bills.
Keep in Mind
- Mechanical ventilation systems will require occasional maintenance. Similar to other aspects of your home’s HVAC system, a contractor should check the system to ensure healthy IAQ and most importantly, to change the filter in the mechanical ventilation unit when needed.
- Assess current ventilation, home square footage, climate – professional consultation is recommended.
Find A Qualified Local Professional 👀
Finding a qualified and reputable Indoor Air Professional is not an easy task. Let us make it easier for you by compiling a list of local professionals available to do the work at your convenience.
Get started today with a FREE home inspection & consultation →
3. Upgrade your HVAC air filters
Perhaps the most well-known IAQ control solution, air filtration, is an HVAC system mainstay.
Air filters reduce indoor air pollution by capturing and eliminating indoor air pollutants, thus preventing contaminants from circulating throughout the space.
Basic HVAC filters do little to nothing to improve indoor air quality. Their sole purpose is to prevent the HVAC system from dust and debris buildup.
A high-efficiency pleated media air filter protects the HVAC system while improving your home’s indoor air quality.
Pros: Upgrade overall home filtration, some are washable for cost savings.
Cons: Higher MERV = greater airflow restriction (may strain your HVAC), must be changed/cleaned regularly.
- Filtration is a pollutant removal method. As pollutants travel through your home’s ductwork and pass through the filter, they are filtered out. This eliminates the possibility of contaminants further spreading throughout your home.
- The better the air filter (higher MERV rating, higher quality material), the more it improves the health of your home. Higher-efficiency air filters not only capture smaller-sized particles, but they also more efficiently capture larger particles.
Keep in Mind
- Filter maintenance is essential! How often you should check and/or change your home’s filter depends on a few factors. But the critical point is that effective air filtration requires routine filter maintenance.
- Check your HVAC system’s capacity before a high MERV filter, balance filtration needs with your budget.
4. Control the humidity levels in your home
Indoor humidity regulation is one of the more overlooked IAQ control strategies.
Humidity often invokes imagery of hot summer nights. Humidity control is simply adding or removing moisture from the indoor air. And it’s critical to a healthy indoor environment.
Indoor relative humidity levels and certain pollutants are directly related to biological pollutants.
Things like mold spores and dust mites thrive in high humidity. Their ability to grow and spread through the air depends on moisture. Germs and virus particles remain in the air longer, infecting more people, when indoor moisture levels are low.
Recent research shows that maintaining a healthy indoor humidity range helps reduce respiratory infections. Whole-home humidity control also means air pollution mitigation.
How It Works
As an indoor air pollution control strategy, whole-home humidity control involves either a humidifier or a dehumidifier.
The ideal indoor humidity range is 40–60%. Research shows this range is important for maintaining a healthy and comfortable living environment indoors.
Whole-home humidifiers and dehumidifiers work to maintain this humidity level automatically. Like ventilation and purification add-ons, these solutions are also installed directly into the HVAC system, ensuring improved air quality and moisture control for the entire space.
- Regulated indoor humidity levels prevent symptoms like worsening asthma, allergy and respiratory conditions, dry skin, chapped lips, frequent nose bleeds, and sore throats.
Manage the source of indoor air pollutants
The most effective way to control indoor air pollution and improve indoor air quality is to eliminate the source of pollution.
Source control or source management is often experts’ first step and top recommendation.
Why? When it comes to eliminating indoor air pollution, source control is one of the easiest, least expensive, and most effective strategies available.
How It Works
The goal of source control is to eliminate the source(s) of pollution. Source control is a multi-step process of identifying and then targeting said sources either by avoiding, adapting or removing the source entirely.
Examples of source control include burning candles with the windows open, taking shoes off before entering your living space or opting for nontoxic household cleaning products. They are simple yet conscious changes in your daily habits and indoor living practices. Selecting nontoxic, low-VOC/low-emitting, minimal-odor products makes a huge difference in the number of air pollutants entering your home in the first place. Routine cleaning, seasonal HVAC system maintenance and healthy home habits also help reduce pollution sources.
- The minimal price tag. Cleaning more frequently and simple habit shifts are inexpensive compared to system upgrades and add-ons.
- Easy to implement. Sometimes, depending on the source, source control is even immediate! Meaning you can start creating a healthier indoor environment today.
- Incredibly effective once you identify the source and have a clear means of removing the source. After all, source control addresses and eliminates the root causes of IAQ issues.
Keep in Mind
- Pollution control at the source is only possible once you identify the source. This is not a viable method until you determine the origins of air pollution in your space.
- It’s the easiest IAQ control method in theory. Still, this strategy requires commitment, especially in the beginning to research alternative cleaning products or store chemicals outside of the home.
- Specific sources are, of course, out of your control. If you live near a power plant, there is little you can do in the short term to reduce industrial emissions.
Boost awareness and monitor indoor air quality
Boosting awareness means learning and researching more about indoor air quality issues, health connections and how to intervene in your home.
On a larger scale, it also involves advocating for the best air quality decisions, policies and regulations.
Monitoring indoor air quality also builds greater air quality awareness. And greater awareness is the true root of action, like in many aspects. Taking the time to learn how polluted the average indoor space is and how much the air we breathe affects our health and comfort makes choosing action and intervening in your space all the easier.
Having a whole-home indoor air monitor makes this process effortless.
How It Works
Available IAQ monitors vary greatly in function, price and model style. There are beneficial countertop devices as well as central air monitor systems available. These in-duct solutions offer real-time data on indoor pollutant levels, temperature, humidity, airflow, etc. And it’s all sent directly to a smartphone or tablet, making monitoring your home’s air quality quite simple.
Central air quality monitors notify about spikes in pollutant levels, which makes it possible to analyze high-polluting events or actions over time, notice air quality trends and better control your home’s air pollution.
Take steps to improve indoor air quality
In the end, there is no one-control-strategy-fits-all answer.
Every indoor space, whether home, building, office, hospital, school or store, will have different priorities and indoor air sore spots.
And, more than likely, every indoor space would greatly benefit from a combination of all the IAQ control strategies.
- Switch to natural cleaners: Vinegar, baking soda, etc.
- Choose VOC-free paints, building materials, furnishings.
- Minimize combustion: Gas ranges vent to the outside, consider woodstove/fireplace use.
- Groom pets regularly, deep-clean where they spend time.
- Address moisture to prevent mold: Fix leaks, run exhaust fans while bathing, dehumidifier if needed.
Maintaining Good Air Quality
- Regular cleaning: Dusting, vacuuming (HEPA filter), and wash surfaces to remove settled contaminants.
- Avoid harsh chemicals: Opt for fragrance-free products; limit spray cleaners.
- Open windows when feasible: Even short bursts of fresh air exchange contaminants.
- Shoe-free household: Reduces tracking in dirt and outdoor pollutants.
The best path forward is to determine what needs to be addressed first in your home. Recognizing the most prevalent air quality concern makes it easier to determine which indoor air pollution control method would help the most.
Check out our product recommendations to learn more about the whole-home solutions associated with each control strategy.
Also, consider consulting an experienced home HVAC contractor with IAQ expertise to help determine the best solutions for your space. Contact us today, and we can help you find a local expert.
Indoor Air Quality Questions
The frequency with which you should change your air filters depends on the type of filter you have and the quality of your indoor air. However, a good rule of thumb is to change your air filters every 2-3 months. If you have pets or allergies, you may need to change them more often. Read more.
Humidifiers can add moisture to the air, which can help to improve respiratory problems and prevent dry skin. However, it’s important to use a humidifier correctly to avoid creating mold problems. Only use a humidifier if the humidity level in your home is below 40%. Read more.
Some signs that your indoor air quality may be poor include:
– Mold growth.
– Dust mites.
– Pet dander.
– Chemicals fumes.
– Respiratory problems, such as allergies and asthma.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
Offers a wealth of reliable, well-structured information on different pollutants, health effects, and strategies for controlling IAQ problems.
American Lung Association
A trusted source for health-focused information. Search “indoor air quality” to find resources that help reduce IAQ threats to people with asthma, allergies, and other respiratory sensitivities.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
While focusing on workplace safety, their IAQ research and publications are relevant to any setting, especially regarding chemical hazards and control measures.
American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
As experts in HVAC systems, ASHRAE resources can be very technical but offer deep knowledge about ventilation standards and design, useful for those undertaking more complex IAQ solutions.
Building Science Corporation
With focus on the interaction between indoor environments and construction, they offer insights into moisture control, building materials, and overall air quality impacts.