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What are the Symptoms of Poor Air Quality in a House?

A study by the Royal College of Physicians, UK, titled 'Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution,' acknowledges that people spend approximately 90% of their time indoors. Given this, indoor air quality (IAQ) has a significant influence on our overall health and well-being. Despite being an area of increasing concern, awareness about indoor air pollution and its effects remains relatively low. This article aims to shine a light on the symptoms of poor air quality in a home, using UK-centric information where possible.

Physical Symptoms and Health Effects

Poor air quality indoors can lead to a range of health issues. The symptoms may be immediate, manifesting shortly after exposure, or long-term, appearing after prolonged or repeated periods of exposure.

Allergic Reactions

Poor IAQ is often linked to increased allergic reactions. UK's National Health Service (NHS) states that common allergens such as dust mites, mould, and pet dander can be present in significant amounts in households with poor air quality. Symptoms may include sneezing, a runny or blocked nose, itchy or watering eyes, wheezing, and coughing.

Respiratory Problems

One of the most telling signs of poor indoor air quality is a persistent cough, difficulty breathing, or other respiratory problems. High levels of pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), tobacco smoke, radon, and carbon monoxide can trigger these symptoms. According to Public Health England, exposure to such pollutants can lead to chronic respiratory diseases over time.

Headaches, Dizziness, and Fatigue

Indoor air pollution can lead to general malaise, characterised by persistent headaches, dizziness, and unexplained fatigue. If you find relief from these symptoms when you spend time outside the home, it could be an indicator of poor indoor air quality.

Skin Issues

Dry or itchy skin can be another symptom of poor air quality. The presence of excessive pollutants or low humidity levels can irritate the skin, leading to dryness, itching, or rashes.

Subtle Indicators of Poor Indoor Air Quality

Besides the overt health effects, there are more subtle signs that can hint at poor indoor air quality.

Frequent HVAC System Issues

If your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system requires frequent repairs or isn't controlling humidity levels efficiently, it might suggest poor indoor air quality. A well-functioning HVAC system plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy indoor environment by managing humidity levels and filtering out pollutants.

Bad Odours

Persistent unpleasant odours can be a sign of indoor air pollution. These odours can arise from sources such as mould and mildew growth, which thrive in poorly ventilated areas with high humidity.

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Mould and Mildew

Visible signs of mould or mildew on walls, ceilings, or other surfaces in your home can indicate high moisture levels and poor ventilation, contributing to poor air quality.

High Dust Levels

If you notice dust accumulating quickly after cleaning or dust on your air vents, it may suggest that your home's air is not being filtered properly, leading to poor IAQ.

Improving Indoor Air Quality

Understanding the symptoms of poor indoor air quality is the first step towards healthier living spaces. Once you've identified a potential problem, steps can be taken to improve your home's air quality. This could include actions like ensuring your home is well-ventilated, maintaining your HVAC system, controlling humidity levels, or using air purifiers.

A report from the UK's Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) emphasises that air pollution indoors is a significant contributor to respiratory problems among children. Therefore, it's crucial not only to recognise the signs of poor indoor air quality but also to address them promptly to safeguard our health and that of future generations.

The Role of MVHR in Improving Indoor Air Quality

Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) systems can play a significant role in enhancing indoor air quality and thus contribute to healthier living environments. MVHR is a controlled ventilation method that offers a systematic approach to maintaining optimal indoor air quality. It works by continually extracting stale, damp, and polluted air from inside the home and replacing it with fresh, filtered air from outside, while efficiently recovering the heat from the outgoing air to warm the incoming air.

Diagram of heat ventilation

Here's a more detailed look at how MVHR can improve indoor air quality:

Regulating Humidity Levels

By continuously extracting moist, stale air from rooms like kitchens and bathrooms, MVHR systems help to regulate humidity levels. This aids in preventing the growth of mould and mildew, organisms that thrive in damp conditions and can significantly impair indoor air quality.

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Eliminating Pollutants

MVHR systems filter the incoming air, thereby reducing the levels of pollutants such as dust, pollen, and external fumes. This is particularly beneficial for people with allergies or respiratory conditions, as it minimises their exposure to potential allergens.

Learn how to clean your filters in our article How Do You Clean MVHR Filters?

Reducing Condensation

By maintaining a balance between the air coming in and going out, MVHR systems reduce the likelihood of condensation, which can lead to dampness, mould growth, and ultimately, degradation in indoor air quality.

Learn more about condensation in our article What Causes Condensation?

Mitigating VOC Concentration

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a significant concern in many homes and can emanate from various sources, including cleaning products, paints, and furnishings. MVHR systems help dilute the concentration of these compounds by ensuring a constant flow of fresh air.

Promoting Energy Efficiency

While this may not directly relate to indoor air quality, it's worth noting that MVHR systems recover heat from the outgoing air to warm the incoming fresh air. This process conserves energy, contributing to a more sustainable home environment without compromising air quality.

In summary, MVHR systems can make a significant difference in the indoor air quality of homes by ensuring a constant supply of fresh, filtered air and effectively managing humidity levels. However, it's crucial that these systems are properly installed and maintained to function efficiently. Regular cleaning or replacement of filters and a thorough check of the system by a qualified technician can ensure your MVHR system continues to support a healthy indoor environment.

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