Open Windows for A Healthier Home

March 7, 2009

Granddad often said fresh air and sunshine kept him healthy. He lived to be 87, and he worked the family farm until he was eighty. He retired that spring “because the tractor wouldn’t start”.

Many of us think about green living and reducing our carbon footprints. But do we get enough fresh air into our homes? Energy efficient homes don’t get much ventilation, unless windows are opened regualrly. Airborne contaminants in homes can build up to many times the outdoor concentrations.

Until the 1970s, homes were not well insulated or sealed. With the current green consciousness, new homes are built to reduce energy consumption and many older homes are upgraded to modern standards. Ventilation is the part of the picture that is often missing. A modern, energy efficient home can have very unhealthy indoor air.

Radon gas, formaldehyde vapor, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and mold caused by excess moisture are indoor air contaminants that can be reduced by opening windows.

  • Radon is a radioactive gas that enters homes from the soil. It is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.
  • Formaldehyde is emitted by new wood products, adhesives, paints, wood finishes, and some consumer products. It causes eye and respiratory irritation as low as 0.1 ppm. Formaldehyde can trigger asthma symptoms, and it is a carcinogen.
  • Formaldehyde can be formed when pine or citrus-scented cleaning products react with ozone in the air. Ozone is more likely to be elevated in warm, sunny weather.
  • Volatile organic compounds are emitted by many construction materials and some consumer products. VOCs can cause a wide range of neurologic symptoms.
  • Mold grows on building materials when moisture is present. Some mold spores and fragments can cause allergy or asthma symptoms.

All of the problems listed above can be reduced by simply opening windows a few times a week. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have the luxury of comfortable temperatures year round, plus an afternoon sea breeze that delivers fresh air at the warmest time of day. What could be more green than allowing natural ventilation to improve the health of our homes?

Photo from Wiki Commons.

Related Articles:

New Home Makes Family Sick

Formaldehyde from Citrus Cleaning Products

Dream Kitchen or Health Hazard: Formaldehyde and Indoor Air Quality