Monitoring Air Quality in Homes and Workshops

Reader Contribution by Kayla Matthews
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Photo by Skitterphoto 

Having clean air to breathe is essential for our health. Maintaining good indoor air quality is difficult under normal circumstances, but when working with tools in your home workshop, it becomes even more challenging. Some of these tools, such as soldering irons, electric saws and sanders, send particles into the air that can have negative health impacts if you inhale them. Monitoring air quality in your home and workshop can help you prevent indoor air quality problems and the potential resulting health effects.

Factors Affecting Air Quality

Many different types of gases, solid particulates and liquid droplets can mix with the air and affect air quality. These pollutants can come from both natural and synthetic sources. Some common types of contaminants include:

Particulate matter refers to tiny particles and drops of liquid in the air, such as dirt, dust, smoke and exhaust. Particles that are under 10 micrometers in diameter are the biggest threats because they can easily enter your lungs and bloodstream.

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are chemicals that substances emit as gases into the air. They can come from paint, cleaning products, motor fuel and other products.

Biological pollutants include mold, bacteria, viruses, pollen, pet dander and mites.

Some of these factors, such as pollen, may come indoors from the outside environment. Others, such as mold, may grow inside. Others may come from using certain products in the home. These types of substances and goods may be especially likely to be used in a home workshop.

Glues, solvents, paints and other products may emit harsh chemicals into the air. Some solder includes lead, which is especially dangerous to children. Lead-free solder, however, also releases particulates into the air. Using powered woodworking tools such as sanders and saws releases significant amounts of sawdust into the air.

Health Impacts of Poor Air Quality

Poor indoor air quality can have substantial negative health impacts, especially with prolonged exposure. Breathing in particulates, chemicals and other contaminants can cause acute symptoms such as headaches and throat and eye irritation. Regular exposure over long periods can cause heart and lung problems such as occupational asthma, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks and cancer.

It doesn’t take long to start developing health problems from inhaling contaminated air if it occurs regularly. Thirty minutes per day for just 14 days is enough to notice issues arising.

People who work in industries where they get exposed to poor air quality are especially likely to contract health problems related to breathing in contaminated air. While contamination is usually not as concentrated, you may be exposed to it for longer, since Americans spend close to 90 percent of their time indoors.

If you have children or older adults living with you, you will have to be especially careful about air quality. If using potentially dangerous substances in a workshop, make sure to seal your shop off from the rest of the house and have a good source of ventilation to the outside.

How to Monitor Indoor Air Quality

Sometimes, it is obvious when there are air quality issues in the home. You can smell or see many common pollutants. Others, though, you wouldn’t notice on your own. That’s where air quality monitors come in.

These devices measure the quality of your air and alert you if levels of certain substances get too high. Some include integrated air purifiers, while others only monitor the air and require you to purchase a purifier separately.

Some of the top-rated indoor air quality monitors include:

Foobot measures VOCs, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, temperature and humidity. It displays a red light if your air quality gets bad. It has a companion app that lets you analyze your air quality information, and it can connect with a range of smart home devices. It sells for $199.

Dyson Pure Cool senses contaminants in your air, captures them and then releases purified air into your home. You can monitor your air quality with the LCD or the companion app. Depending on the model and size, it goes for between $299.99 and $599.99.

Awair keeps track of VOC, CO2 and dust levels in your air as well as temperature and humidity. It gives you an air quality score out of 100, as well as personalized recommendations on how to improve your score. IT also has a companion app where you can access detailed air quality data and has several smart integrations built in. The flagship model sells for $189.

If you get one of these devices and find your air quality is worse than you like, you can use the information they give you to improve your air quality.

By using these devices, you’ll get an idea of what’s reducing the quality of your air. You can then decide whether to stop using certain substances indoors, purchase an air purifier or take other steps.

Kayla Matthews is a journalist and blogger with a passion for living healthily and happily. You can read all of her latest posts by following her on Google+ and Twitter. Read all her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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