With stay at home orders in place across the country to curb the spread of Covid-19 in early 2020, an unforeseen benefit has emerged. Substantially fewer cars on the road has led to huge drops in air pollution, as much as 30% to 40%, according to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Energy and Protection. Black carbon and carbon dioxide have also both dropped in double-digit percentages.
However, because Americans are currently spending more time inside their homes than ever before, it’s important to ensure good air quality inside as well as outside. As summer months offer a glimpse into life’s “new normal,” homeowners can make changes that impact both the air you breathe and the greater environment beyond your front door. In many cases, these eco-friendly upgrades may not only improve your health, but can lower your homeowners insurance premium as well.
In this article, we explore what causes indoor air pollution, what you can do to fix it, and how it affects saving on your insurance policy.
The Impact on Your Health
The onset of the pandemic has increased awareness of public health issues and how Covid-19 is transmitted to individuals. Maintaining an appropriate distance from others while out in public has become the norm, as has wearing face masks to avoid contamination.
Because Covid-19 is primarily a respiratory illness, air quality is an increasing priority. In fact, the air in your home may actually be dirtier than the air you breathe outside. With common indications including cough and shortness of breath, poor air quality in your home could potentially exacerbate or mimic symptoms of Covid-19. Here are some other potential impacts of indoor air pollution, aside from pandemic concerns.
Short Term and Long Term Health Impact
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air pollution can have immediate effects on your health. Both single and repeated exposure to indoor air pollution can result in symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and fatigue. You may also experience ear, nose and throat irritation. Asthma-like symptoms may also occur because of indoor pollutants.
Long term consequences can result from prolonged exposure to indoor pollutants. Depending on an individual’s age and preexisting conditions, the EPA reports that issues as serious as respiratory disease, heart disease and cancer are possible.
Impact on Children vs. Adults
While the above effects of indoor air pollution can impact anyone, children are much more susceptible to long-term damage compared to adults. One reason, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is that their lungs are still in development. Plus, children breathe in more air than adults relative to their body weight, and don’t metabolize toxins as effectively.
Children’s cognitive development is also at higher risk due to indoor air pollution because of the brain’s developmental stage. If you have kids, it is critically important to monitor and address the quality of the air in your home, regardless of whether there is danger of a global virus.
Indoor Air Pollution
Both indoor and outdoor air pollution are important issues to address. On a macro level, outdoor air pollution is caused by pollutants from everyday human activities like driving vehicles and solid fuel burning. And while environmentalists are prioritizing ways to remedy large-scale issues like the Greenhouse Effect and ozone depletion, many experts worry that indoor air pollution is actually the greater hazard to people’s health. One reason is because of the amount of time spent indoors. Compound that with even more time isolating at home because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the cause for concern becomes even clearer.
What Causes Poor Air Quality?
Poor air quality inside the home isn’t usually a result of a single issue. There are several everyday occurrences that may contribute to lower air quality.
Many home cleaning products contain harmful chemicals, fragrances and irritants that can cause harm to your health. This seems counterintuitive, especially as people everywhere have been taking extra measures to sanitize their home due to Covid-19 concerns. Check out the EPA’s “Safer Choice” list to find multiple types of cleaners that contain less toxic ingredients.
It’s well known that second hand smoke from tobacco products is harmful, especially indoors. But other common burning home-features such as wood stoves, fireplaces, scented candles and incense can also impact your indoor air quality. Frequent use can cause symptoms such as aggravated asthma, allergies and irritation in the respiratory system.
In any location, toxic fumes have the ability to impact your indoor air quality. A common culprit is radon, a naturally occurring gas that can cause lung cancer with long-term exposure. Carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide—both byproducts from things like unventilated gas or leaking chimneys—can cause serious health issues at any level of concentration. Some forms of toxic fumes cannot be smelled, posing an even greater risk if undetected.
The quality of building materials used in your home may also affect the quality of the air indoors. Older homes often have asbestos, while even newer construction may contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in paints or formaldehyde used in particle boards.
Other indoor irritants that can cause respiratory issues include mold, dust mites, pollen and even pet dander. If left untreated, these can cause sickness, disease and even death in some cases.
How To Test The Air Quality
Because there is such a wide range of potential culprits impacting your home’s air quality, testing is important. Luckily, new technology has become more accessible—and affordable—for homeowners.
“This hardware can measure everything from particulate, VOCs, relative humidity and CO2,” explains Vinny Lobdell, global president of HealthWay Family of Brands. You can even glean real-time data to help determine the cause of air pollution in your house.
Changes You Can Make
There are plenty of changes you can make in and around your home to improve your indoor air quality. We’ve also included some home upgrades that can have a positive impact on the broader environment as well.
Improving Air Quality
|Air Purifier||What it does: Captures and eliminates ultrafine particles.
The Benefits: Reduces exposure to irritants that can penetrate the lungs.
|Upgrade HVAC system||What it does: Ventilates air outdoors to remove pollutants.
The Benefits: Lowers concentration of pollutants within your home.
|Insulate walls and roof||What it does: Prevents humid air from entering your home.
The Benefits: Lowers the chance of mold growing inside while decreasing indoor humidity.
|Add Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors||What it does: Alerts you to poisonous gas in the home.
The Benefits: Prevents symptoms such as dizziness and nausea, or more serious issues like mental confusion or even death.
|Fix Any Water Leaks||What it does: Prevents mold build-up, especially in hard-to-see places, like under the kitchen or bathroom sink.
The Benefits: Removes toxins caused by mold and stops the spread of airborne spores.
|Clean Carpets||What it does: Removes airborne allergens that have settled on the carpet.
The Benefits: Traps allergens, especially if you vacuum over the entire area twice.
|Open Windows||What it does: Increases outdoor ventilation rate, especially during single events involving high pollutants, like painting.
The Benefits: Dilutes or removes air pollutants that originate indoors.
|Add Smart home Technology||What it does: Helps to reduce waste in heat, cooling, lighting, and water usage.
The Benefits: Can save you money on utility bills over the long term and support the efficient use of energy.
|Solar Panels||What it does: Provides electricity with a renewable source by converting light from the sun into energy.
The Benefits: Decreases greenhouse emissions as well as dependence on fossil fuels.
|Energy efficient appliances and lighting (Energy Star Home)||What it does: Uses less energy compared to traditional appliances and lighting.
The Benefits: Saves energy, lowers utility bills and reduces carbon emissions.
|Eco Friendly Cleaning Products and Fresheners||What it does: Reduces toxic chemicals in your home that can be harmful.
The Benefits: Improves indoor air quality to avoid side effects from chemical irritants.
|Rain Barrels||What it does: Captures excess stormwater from your rooftop for future use on your lawn or garden.
The Benefits: Prevents excess rainwater from contributing to stormwater runoff that could lead to more instances of flooding.
|Tankless Water Heater||What it does: Heats water on demand rather than storing a tank full of hot water to be ready when you need it.
The Benefits: Savings of up to 20% on energy bills.
Insurance Benefits and Discounts
Implementing environmentally-friendly upgrades throughout your home can directly contribute to better health and well-being. If protecting your health isn’t enough, consider the potential homeowners insurance benefits that can come with certain changes in your house.
Energy Star Appliances
Some providers offer a discount on homeowner’s insurance to policyholders with Energy Star appliances. This is motivated by a distinct correlation between having these appliances and a lower risk to file an insurance claim. The risk for fires with these appliances is also lowered with more energy-efficient models. You can typically expect a 5% discount on your annual premium when you install Energy Star appliances in your home.
Smoking increases the chance of starting an indoor fire. Non-smokers not only eliminate harmful second hand smoke, but can also take advantage of a discount on homeowners policies. In most cases, qualifying for this discount requires having not smoked for a certain period of time, usually around two years.
Adding flood insurance is always an option, but items such as rain barrels can aid in preventing stormwater flooding. This can potentially save homeowners from having to file claims later on, helping to keep their premiums from increasing due to a claim. In addition to savings on your homeowners insurance policy, you’ll also save on your water bill — especially in warm weather months when you’re frequently watering plants in the yard.
Smart home gadgets have the potential to make your home safer and more efficient, which insurance companies often reward with lower insurance rates. A smart thermostat learns your habits and routines in order to adjust temperature settings based on your schedule. This can save you a lot on your power bills, in addition to the potential discount from your insurance carrier.
Water Safety System
Water can quickly cause damage in a home, resulting in expensive claims to replace floorings, walls and potentially treat indoor mold. That’s why insurers may compensate you if you install a water safety system. These come in different models and can provide leak detection, shut off the water and set off an alarm so you can address the issue as soon as it happens.
Insurance companies appreciate it when you protect your home, as you then pose a lower financial risk. Upgrades like better-insulating windows, foam insulation and insulated roofs not only improve your air quality and reduce utility usage, but can also earn significant discounts with your insurer. Always contact your carrier when you make any of these changes and ask for a discount.
Solar Panel Grants
There are a number of grants available to help with the costs associated with installing solar panels. Many of them target low-income or rural areas to improve outdated systems with alternative energy sources.
Federal Investment Tax Credit
The Federal Investment Tax Credit, also known as the Solar Investment Tax Credit (SITC) helps taxpayers claim a credit on their federal filing when they incorporate solar energy into their homes. “The Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) covers 26%of the total cost to include labor and materials for systems installed in 2020. This incentive drops further to 22% in 2021 and then 10% starting in 2022,” says Jonathan Abramson, General Manager of Metro City Roofing in Denver, Colorado.
Local and State Resources
In addition to federal incentives, it’s also important to check your local and state governments for home improvement programs. For example, many locales offer weatherization services to check the quality of insulation in your home. You may even qualify for free improvements, depending on where you live and your current income.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world today and the outbreak of a global virus has raised awareness of how our behavior affects the quality of the air we breathe (and consequently, our health). Understanding the causes and solutions to indoor air pollution helps you control one aspect of your health and wellness during a challenging moment in history.