Coronavirus: How Indoor Air Quality Can Affect Your Health
Indoor Air Quality and COVID-19
COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), as a result, this virus has led to many infections and deaths worldwide. Because there is no vaccine or medicine for COVID-19, prevention of infection is the only defense available to combat the virus and this is dependent on home isolation, hand washing, awareness, and individual immunity.
Although, home isolation has proven to be effective, improper ventilation and poor indoor air quality (IAQ) could lead to other health problems. Most people spend about 90% of their lives indoors, and pollutant levels can be as high as 100 times the levels encountered outside. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks indoor air pollution among the top four environmental hazards in America.
While most of our attention is focused on the spread of the Coronavirus, one way to be proactive and protect ourselves and our family from getting sick, is by being educated on indoor air quality.
Who's At Risk
Reality is, there is no age restriction, everyone's at risk. But there are four main groups who will benefit the most from increased indoor air quality:
- Infants to 16-years old
- Adults, ages 60+
- Immune-compromised individuals, including: pregnant mothers, people with chronic respiratory disorders, those recovering from surgical procedures or illness
- Pet owners
How Coronavirus Spreads
Scientists believe Coronavirus is spread by respiratory droplets, which can travel several feet from someone who is coughing or sneezing (that's why we wear face masks and maintain a recommended distance of six feet).
Okay, so you maybe asking yourself, how does this affect my indoor air quality and put me at risk indoors? Well, residual contaminants also travel through your HVAC system (where all the air in your home is circulated). Hence, the spread of an airborne virus.
The Truth About UV Lights
To set the record straight, an ultra-violet system (UV) will not keep your home mold-free or virus-free. If used and installed properly, uv lights can prove to be useful, but they're limited. Although, uv lights are used in hospitals to sterilize medical instruments, clean reclaimed water in treatment plants, saltwater aquariums, and used in food processing facilities, it will not keep your home "virus-free".
To explain, ultra-violet light exists in natural sunlight; thats why we wear sunscreen, and mold grows under a rock. Ultra-violet light has a limited "kill-zone" and is most effective in surface irradiation. We aren't saying it doesn't work, what we're saying is that it's limited. If you do choose to install a uv light, it will serve it's purpose: to help reduce airborne contaminants (including viruses) in a home or confined space. However, by itself, a portable air purifier or uv light, is not enough to protect people from COVID-19. But, it's definitely one of many steps you can take to improve your indoor air quality.
A Proactive Approach
So, if an air purifier or uv light isn't enough... what can you do to improve overall indoor air quality? In times like these, everyone is concerned about the unknown, but, based on the advice given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other health organizations, here's a proactive approach you can take to improve indoor air quality:
- Source Control (eliminate or reduce individual sources of pollution)
- Improved Ventilation (increase the amount of outdoor air coming indoors)
- Air Cleaners (uv lights, HEPA systems, ionizers, air purifiers, pleated filters)
FAQ Indoor Air Quality and COVID-19
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has provided a great resource with answers to frequently asked questions for both residential and commercial indoor air quality concerns. For answers to these, please see below:
"No, do not use ozone generators in occupied spaces. When used at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone applied to indoor air does not effectively remove viruses, bacteria, mold, or other biological pollutants. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website for best practices to protect yourself and your family."
- Is there HVAC guidance that building and maintenance professionals can follow to help protect from COVID?
"The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has developed proactive guidance to help address coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) concerns with respect to the operation and maintenance of heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems. Read ASHRAE guidance."
- Where can professionals who manage school, office, and commercial buildings get information on ventilation and filtration to respond to COVID-19?
"Professionals who operate school, office, and commercial buildings should consult the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) guidance for information on ventilation and filtration to help reduce risks from the virus that causes COVID-19. In general, increasing ventilation and filtration is usually appropriate; however, due to the complexity and diversity of buildings types, sizes, construction styles, HVAC system components, and other building features, a professional should interpret ASHRAE guidelines for their specific building and circumstances. Visit the ASHRAE website for additional information."
"When used properly, air purifiers can help reduce airborne contaminants including viruses in a home or confined space. However, by itself, a portable air cleaner is not enough to protect people from COVID-19. When used along with other best practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, operating an air cleaner can be part of a plan to protect yourself and your family."
Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website for more information about how to protect your family from COVID-19.
Read EPA’s “Guide to air cleaners in the home” for information on placing and operating a portable air cleaner.
"Ensuring proper ventilation with outside air is a standard best practice for improving indoor air quality. However, by itself, increasing ventilation is not enough to protect people from COVID-19. When used along with other best practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, increasing ventilation can be part of a plan to protect yourself and your family."
To increase ventilation in your home, you can:
- Open the windows, or screened doors, if possible
- Operate a window air conditioner that has an outdoor air intake or vent, with the vent open (some window air conditioners do not have outside air intakes)
- Open the outside air intake of the HVAC system, if yours has one (this is not common). Consult your HVAC manual or an HVAC professional for details.
- Operate a bathroom fan when the bathroom is in use and continuously, if possible
"Avoid these actions when outdoor air pollution is high or when it makes your home too cold, hot, or humid. For more information on increasing ventilation in homes, read residential guidance from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)."
"By itself, running your HVAC system is not enough to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19. However, when used along with other best practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, operating the HVAC system can be part of a plan to protect yourself and your family, since running your HVAC system filters the air as it is circulated."
If you have an HVAC system:
- Run the system fan for longer times, or continuously, as HVAC systems filter the air only when the fan is running. Many systems can be set to run the fan even when no heating or cooling is taking place.
- Check to be sure the filter is correctly in place and consider upgrading the filter to a higher efficiency filter or the highest-rated filter that your system fan and filter slot can accommodate (consult your HVAC manual or an HVAC professional for details).
- Open the outside air intake, if your system has one (this is not common for home systems). Consult your HVAC manual or an HVAC professional for details.