Our lifestyles have changed a lot in recent years. Between working indoors, kids (and adults) spending time on iPads and smartphones instead of playing outside, exercising in gyms, and design and living trends that encourage nesting, we spend most of our time inside — currently 90% of our lives. Never before has our life been such an elaborate mix of commuting, indoor work and indoor activities, detaching us from the natural world that has been the driving force behind our evolution as a species.
The Indoor Generation refers to this growing number of people who spend the vast majority of their time indoors compared to previous generations. And who exactly are these growing number of people? Well, they are all of us. Besides the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle, spending the bulk of our time indoors comes with other health risks. For example, did you know that the air indoors can be up to five times more polluted than the air outdoors?
Everyday home life activities, such as cooking, cleaning, showering, lighting candles, drying clothes — even sleeping and breathing — all contribute to polluted indoor air. Pollutants from toxic materials, such as plastic toys, detergents and building materials can also worsen the indoor air quality. Over time, this combination of pollutants in our indoor air can increase the risk of developing asthma and allergies. In fact, living in damp and mouldy homes increases our chance of asthma by 40% — that’s why we need to act now.
“We are increasingly turning into a generation of indoor people where the only time we get daylight and fresh air mid-week is on the commute to work or school. Modern life can often involve an early start to the day, race to work where we spend eight to ten hours inside an office and then straight home, or sometimes making a stop off for groceries or for a quick workout inside a damp and sweaty fitness centre,” says my colleague Peter Foldjberg, Head of Daylight Energy and Indoor Climate at Velux. “
But when people are asked about air pollution, they tend to only think of living near big factories or busy urban areas with high levels of car emissions.”Fortunately, there are some smart ways to improve the indoor air quality in your home significantly and make it a healthier space for you and your family. Learn about these tips, tricks and ideas for a better home.
Start with a skylight.
We will continue to spend the vast majority of our lives inside buildings, so it makes sense to rethink how we design and build our homes, schools and offices where us and our children spend so much of our time. One great solution for your home is to install a skylight. Skylights can provide two times the amount of daylight as vertical windows, greatly reducing the need for artificial light and lowering electricity costs.
Wondering where to install a skylight? The bathroom, kitchen, top of stairs, living room, attic and home office could all benefit from one. However, children’s bedrooms are often the most polluted rooms in the house, so if your kids’ bedrooms are on the upper floor, start there.
Harness plant power.
A typical family of four emits around 1,800 litres of carbon dioxides into the atmosphere every single day, just by breathing. But incorporating some fresh greenery into your home can not only reduce the carbon dioxide in it, it can also introduce new oxygen and remove low levels of pollution. Under certain conditions, some live plants can even effectively remove benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.
According to research by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA), the plants that are most effective at removing pollutants like formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene and carbon monoxide from the air are bamboo palm, Chinese evergreen, English ivy, gerbera daisy, Janet Craig, marginata, mass cane/corn plant, mother-in-law’s tongue, pot mum and peace lily.
Let fresh air in.
An average adult breathes in around 15,000 litres of air every single day. But poor indoor air quality can lead to short-term symptoms such as irritation of the eyes, nose and throat; headaches; dizziness; and fatigue. Long-term effects can be more severe, including respiratory diseases, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease.
If you are doing a renovation project or building a new house, consider adding a programmable skylight. This type of unit does cost more than a fixed skylight, but the long-term health benefits should be considered. With a programmable skylight you are not only letting in more daylight, you are also improving the natural ventilation of your home.
That’s because although opening your wall windows allows fresh air to be drawn into your home, there is nothing pulling out the bad air that has risen. Adding a venting skylight at the highest point in your home or in an area that has access to multiple levels like a staircase will allow the toxins, hot air and gasses to escape through the roof, creating a healthier and fresher indoor environment. It is recommended that two to four skylight airings of your home per day help to achieve optimum indoor air quality. You can also reduce the need for air conditioning in the summer months, saving on electricity.
Reduce sources of pollutants.
Things like candles, cleaning products, pesticides, new carpeting, paint, and home improvement materials can release harmful substances into your home. To minimize the risk to your family, avoid burning candles, clean regularly and dry clothes outside.When work with chemicals, such as when refinishing old furniture, be sure to read the label and work in an area with lots of ventilation; outdoors if possible. Always wear safety glasses, gloves and a good-quality breathing mask. Store materials in a dry, cool place away from children’s reach, and dispose of them properly when finished.
Try not to store products inside your home that may release harmful fumes or catch fire, like paints, solvents, gasoline, fuels and varnishes. When doing bigger projects like renovations, choose no or low-formaldehyde formulations if available.Use these tips to create a brighter and healthier indoor environment in your home so that you can feel safer spending time inside living, working, relaxing and playing.