Indoor air pollution is a serious problem that plagues virtually all homes and other buildings. According to studies performed by the EPA, the concentration of many airborne pollutants is typically three to five times higher indoors than outside. This is obviously a major concern considering most people spend approximately 90% of their time inside.

One of the biggest issues is the presence of volatile organic compounds or VOCs, which are harmful gases that are naturally released by numerous things in the home. To best tackle the issue, it is necessary to take an in-depth look at VOCs, where they come from and why they’re such a serious problem, and we will also explore options you have for filtering them out of your home to improve indoor air quality.

Why VOCs Are Such a Serious Issue

There are a huge number of VOCs that are present in virtually every home and building, and this includes chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, toluene and ethylene glycol. The issue is that many VOCs are quite toxic and can cause numerous health issues. Short-term exposure to many different VOCs can lead to headaches, nausea, dizziness and a range of other problems. Long-term exposure is an even bigger problem as many VOCs have been proven to be carcinogenic. Constantly breathing in formaldehyde and various other VOCs has been repeatedly linked to an increased risk of some types of cancer. The fact that the concentration of many VOCs is so much higher indoors is obviously a serious concern especially since many of these chemicals are naturally released by your home’s building materials, furnishings, cleaning products and a wide variety of other household appliances and products.

Common Household Sources of VOCs

Your home’s building materials are one of the biggest sources of formaldehyde and other harmful VOCs. The issue is that many of the chemicals used to manufacture these products constantly “off-gas” or release gaseous particles into the air, and many materials will continue to off-gas for years or even decades. Paint, varnish, adhesives, carpets, laminate flooring and a wide range of other building materials all contain VOCs that they slowly release into the air.

New mattresses, couches and other furniture almost always contain a high concentration of formaldehyde. If you’ve noticed that your new mattress has a strong chemical odor, this is caused by the formaldehyde that is used in the manufacturing process. Wooden furniture also contains lots of formaldehyde both in the varnish and the resins as well as in the glues used to construct it.

Many chemical cleaning products also continuously release VOCs, and the same is true for various cosmetics. VOCs are also produced every single time you cook. Oils and fats always release some potentially harmful chemicals into the air when heated, and VOCs are also produced by burning food. Gas stoves and ovens are also major contributors to indoor air pollution as they produce some carbon monoxide as well as various other VOCs.

The chemicals used in dry cleaning are an especially big problem as they contain many VOCs that will continually off-gas from the clothing into the air for many months. If you have an item of clothing dry cleaned just once, the VOCs will often remain for months. The more often the item is dry cleaned, the higher the concentration of VOCs will be.

Washing your clothes at home is not much better, unfortunately. Laundry detergent and fabric softener both give off quite a few different VOCs, and many brands of dryer sheets have been shown to contain more than 130 different VOCs that they continually transfer to your clothing.

Many people are surprised to learn that electronic devices are also a major source of VOCs. Many chemicals are used to manufacture the various components and microchips found in your TV, computer and various other appliances. Whenever your TV or other device is on, some of the components heat up and send a wide variety of different VOCs into the air. One of the biggest sources is the flame-retardant coating used to coat the wiring inside many electronics. Copiers and laser printers can be especially bad as they have been shown to release more than 30 different VOCs.

How to Eliminate VOCs and Improve Indoor Air Quality

The fact that so many different products in the home release VOCs means that there is almost nothing you can do to eliminate them from the home. Buying VOC-free furniture and other products is a good start, but there is obviously not much you can do about all the VOCs present in the materials used to build your home.

While there is no way to stop your home, furnishings and electronics from off-gassing VOCs into the air, there are still steps you can take to remove many of the VOCs and improve your home’s indoor air quality. The best solution for removing most VOCs and other pollutants, contaminants and allergens from your home’s air is to have some type of whole-home air purification system installed.

The air filter in your HVAC system does work to remove some airborne particles, but it is mostly only effective on larger particles like dust, hair and pollen. Unfortunately, residential HVAC systems simply aren’t powerful enough to accommodate a high-efficiency filter that can filter out much smaller particles like VOCs. If you were to try to use a highly efficient filter, your blower would be able to draw almost no air through it. As a result, your HVAC system would experience much greater strain and produce almost no heating and cooling.

Whole-home air purification systems overcome this problem. Some units don’t use a physical filter, but instead use an electrostatic filter or an ionization process. An electrostatic filter works like a magnet and attracts and holds onto VOCs and other pollutants, while ionization purifiers release negatively charged ions that stick to airborne particles and make them large and heavy enough that they fall out of the air. This way, you don’t breathe them in constantly.

There are also purification systems that use a HEPA filter to simply trap 99% of all airborne particles including most VOCs. These types of systems are usually installed in a bypass duct and use an internal fan to draw air in. The air passes through the HEPA filter, which traps most all particles, and the clean air is then pumped back into the ductwork.

The type of filtration or purification system you choose really depends on what specific air quality issues your home has. For this reason, we would always recommend having an air quality test performed as this will tell you what issues your home has and will help in choosing which type of system is best.

At Express Plumbing Heating & Air, we install a wide range of indoor air quality equipment including UV lights and our team can help you choose the right unit for your home. We can also assist with repairing or maintaining your indoor air quality unit so that it continues to function effectively. To learn more about the options for improving your home’s air quality or if you need any other HVAC or plumbing service in the Boise, Nampa or Caldwell areas, contact us today.

Brad Jordan

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