To step outside and breathe in a deep breath of fresh, clean air should be something we all take for granted, however poor air quality is now a global issue with polluted air being the number one environmental cause of premature mortality.
But what about indoor air quality? Do you assume that air quality inside your home is better than outdoors because you’re safe inside? Unfortunately indoor air can actually have 5-7 times more pollution indicators than the air outside and as we now spend up to 90% of our time inside our homes and workplaces the importance of good air quality within buildings can’t be underestimated.
There are many contributors to poor indoor air quality, including external pollutants like fumes from traffic and industry and pollens and mold spores from natural sources. Along with these the activities we carry out in our homes can also contribute to poor quality air such as cooking fumes, cleaning products, personal care products (i.e. aerosols) and VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) from building materials, insulation, furniture, adhesives, paint and other coatings. All these elements can combine to produce an extremely unhealthy concoction of elements for us to inhale every day.
“Pollutants generated indoors can lead to a variety of symptoms and health conditions. Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), combustion byproducts and airborne particulate matter are known to trigger nausea, headaches, asthma, respiratory irritation and allergies. While ambient outdoor air is often better quality, natural ventilation methods, operable doors and windows, and general building envelope infiltration can diminish indoor air quality if external air quality parameters are poor.” (Well Building Standard)
The WELL Building Standard largely relates its concepts to commercial buildings, however at Liquid Interiors we adapt its principals to inform our design work in home settings. In relation to air quality “The WELL Building Standard establishes requirements in buildings that promote clean air and reduce or minimize the sources of indoor air pollution”, it also advocates parameters for certain contaminants; for example maintaining levels of formaldehyde at less than 27 ppb, VOC’s less than 500 ug/m3, carbon monoxide less than 9 ppm and pm 2.5 less than 15 ug/m3.
In countries with high pollution levels, high temperatures and high humidity (such as here in Hong Kong) balancing all the components of indoor air quality can be quite difficult. Maintaining air that is clean and cool with perfect humidity can be complicated especially as a retrofit, however there are lots of helpful new technologies that can give our homes an air quality make over!
If you suffer from asthma, allergies or poor sleep you may find that implementing some of the ideas below and improving the air quality within your home will improve your symptoms markedly.
The first thing we advise is to get a handle on the air quality within your home so that you can start to improve on it, this can be done using an air quality monitor such as the Awair Air Quality Monitor pictured below. This will track chemicals, dust, CO2, humidity and temperature and will connect with your iphone or android to provide data, including an air quality score, along with insights and tips. This equipment may still not be as accurate as lab testing equipment, however it does give you a great plug-and-play real time air quality report status, which then enables you to make immediate adjustments if necessary.
There are several things you can do to prevent pollutants from entering your building in the first place. The first is to ensure that smoking is banned inside or near entrances and on decks, rooftops and balconies so that dangerous secondhand smoke can’t infiltrate the building through doors, windows and air intakes; 7.5m is currently seen as the minimum distance smokers should be allowed to smoke near the building.
Make sure that any building and construction materials used within your home have low or zero VOC levels. This involves checking the VOC content in paints, coatings, adhesives and sealants, flooring and insulation. Furniture and furnishings are also a source of VOC’s and formaldehyde free wood should be sourced for any built in furniture and fixtures. Likewise don’t purchase any off-gassing materials for your home (those that give off chemicals in the form of a gas) such as wall-to-wall carpets (use rugs instead if needed) or PVC in shower curtains and covers.
In addition it is a good idea to trap dirt, bacteria and other toxins at the doorway by using an entryway walk-off mat to capture and minimize the introduction of pollution from footwear. In addition choose non-toxic green household cleaning products to keep your home clean. Tumble dryer sheets, heavily scented air fresheners and personal products such as aerosol deodorants can also be a huge source of VOC’s so make sure you check the labels and try to avoid bringing these products into your home.
Open The Windows
Yes, this may sound counterintuitive when it’s clear that sometimes the air outdoors can be very polluted, however when the air quality outside is at acceptable levels opening the windows can ventilate the space and rejuvenate the indoor air, reducing levels of carbon dioxide and VOC’s. If a separate fresh air system is not provided in your fit-out then your air quality will be better if you regularly open a window and by lowering CO2 levels you may feel less tired while working and have better sleep quality. In addition, by lowering VOC’s you can expect less headaches and nausea if there are off-gassing materials in the room.
Split Air Conditioning Systems are extremely common in Asia but although they deal with the problem of air temperature they don’t improve the air quality, instead they just recycle the existing air over and over with no fresh air being drawn in or old air being removed, compounding the problem of poor air quality.
An alternative to split air systems is to install air conditioning that uses ducts that bring in the air from outside through a window or access area and have integrated high-efficiency carbon filtration systems that remove contaminants from the air, purifying it as it passes through into your home. Fresh air intake conditioning systems ventilate the space as well as cooling it and the filters will also help keep the inner workings of your AC equipment clean and efficient. These systems are especially effective in areas of high pollution and low outdoor air quality.
The example above is the Perfect 16 whole-house air purifier from IQAir that can be seamlessly retrofitted into your home’s existing heat and/or air conditioning (HVAC) system – Source IQAir
If central HVAC (Heat, Venthilation and Air Conditioning) is not available then it is also possible to draw in fresh air and duct through the home without being air-conditioned.
In addition to a duct system a free standing air purification system such as the IQAir HealthPro can be plugged into any room of your home and will filter out over 99% of particle pollutions such as allergens and fine dust, mould spores, bacteria, VOC’s and other gaseous contaminants.
IQAir System at Liquid Interiors WELL Office
Regulate The Microclimate
A great new smart home technology called the Ambi Climate can help to regulate the air temperature in your home. It remotely connects to your existing air conditioner and monitors and regulates the home climate, making sure it remains at the perfect levels. The technology allows for the analysis of temperature, humidity, weather and sunlight and by inputting your comfort levels the system uses Artificial Intelligence to adapt the air conditioning settings for the most comfortable levels, eliminating overheating or overcooling and at the same time saving 30% on air conditioning energy consumption. The device also connects to a phone app to provide you with useful data.
The Ambi Climate 2nd Edition recently launched on Kickstarter
Ventilate Your Cooking Area
Another area that requires extraction and ventilation is the kitchen because due to cooking high levels of pollutants such as carbon monoxide, PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide can be found. Pollutants generated from cooking need to be removed from the area through an exhaust system, such as a cooker hood with an exhaust duct and fan that expel to the outside or access area. In the project below an overhead extractor was not possible in this space so we used a downdraft extractor positioned neatly next to the cooker for practicality and an unobtrusive and clean design feel.
Climates with high humidity coupled with inadequate indoor ventilation can foster mould and spores in indoor environments and small spaces can decrease the capacity to disperse moisture from wet areas such as the bathrooms and kitchens. Higher humidity in buildings promotes an accumulation of bacterial dust mites and mold spores that can lead to triggering of asthma, headaches, allergies and other respiratory system disorders and also increases the giving off of gasses from furniture, paints and other materials.
You should aim for your ventilation system to maintain relative humidity between 30% and 50%, removing moisture from the atmosphere to limit the potential for bacteria and mold growth (however, low humidity should be avoided too as it can cause dryness and irritation of the skin, eyes and throat).
Stand-alone automatic dehumidifiers can be used in clothes-drying and damp areas prone to condensation. However another option is to use a system such as Drymaster Dehumidification. This dehumidification system not only helps to dramatically reduce the moisture levels in your home but also removes indoor air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, creating a healthier living environment. The Drymaster can be fitted in an access space and works by drawing air in from the outside, it then filters fresh clean air continuously into the home; this process pressurizes the home from inside out, diluting and displacing the stale, contaminated and moisture-laden air and replacing it with fresh clean air.
Mold growth can often also occur on the cooling coils of HVAC systems (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) due to moisture condensation and this mold can then be transmitted around the home in the air. This can be controlled by ensuring that the cooling coils are checked quarterly and cleaning if necessary.
Air Flush Out
At Liquid Interiors we always end our fit-out construction with a complete air flush, this process is designed to improve the air quality inside your home before you occupy it. Specifically the process forces fresh air through the building to remove VOC’s and pollutants that may have inadvertently entered the space during refurbishments.
Check Your Cleaning Products & Pest Control
Keeping your home really clean is a practical way to maintain a healthy indoor environment and improve your air quality, reducing dust mites and their excrement, mould spores and other allergens. However harmful cleaning products that emit VOC’s can undermine indoor air quality enormously, leading to eye, nose, throat and skin irritation. Non-toxic, hypoallergenic cleaning products will protect your home environment from these harmful effects. Having a good cleaning regime and ensuring that air conditioning systems are regularly cleaned out in a harmless way is important – we recommend our partners Johnsons Cleaning Group. Use of harmful pesticides and herbicides should also be limited.
Real Life Example – The Need For Regular Maintenance & Cleaning – Rowena’s Home
At Liquid we are particularly tuned into air quality (we monitor levels daily in our WELL office!) but earlier in the year when the seasons changed and the air conditioning became vital again, our Founder Rowena Gonzales found something in her home was greatly affecting her health, causing a severe eczema breakout, sneezing and the reemergence of old allergies. Rowena was suspicious that something in her home may be making her unwell so she enlisted the help of Johnson Group HK who provide green cleaning solutions for homes and offices especially tailored to those with allergies. A deep clean was carried out on the air conditioners, removing any mold caused by condensation inside the unit. Rowena ensured that all the furnishings including rugs, curtains, mattresses and sofas were thoroughly cleaned removing house dust mites, pollen and other particulates. This intervention along with air purification (such as the IQAir) made remarkable improvements to Rowena’s health almost immediately – she couldn’t believe difference! This is a reminder to ensure regular schedules for cleaning of equipment to maximize their efficiency and maintain the quality of the air.
At Liquid Interiors we use the concepts of The WELL Building Standard throughout our work to inform our recommendations to our clients and air quality is one area where we can make a huge impact on improved health and wellbeing very quickly. Of course it makes it more efficient to plan integrated air management systems into projects right near the beginning and we start thinking about the installation as soon as we start designing. Once our projects are complete we ensure that all air quality systems are running at their optimum and provide back up support to our clients to help them maintain the systems. We are proud to say that many of our clients have reported an improvement in their health since we put into practice our knowledge on their projects and we hope this blog has inspired you to improve the air quality in your home too!
Feel free to contact Liquid Interiors, your healthy and eco conscious interior design consultants.