To mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the Center for NYC Neighborhoods is sharing tips, tricks, and low-cost ways to help make your home healthier and more sustainable for your family and the environment. You might be holed up at home, but you can still help the environment right now by improving your indoor air quality. By taking some simple steps, you can lower your energy bills by as much as 20%, thereby helping to reduce energy use and greenhouse gases.
Simply put, indoor air quality is a measure of how breathable and healthy the air is inside your home. Poor air quality occurs when there are airborne pollutants present, like carbon monoxide, smoke, natural gas, mold, radon, and asbestos. Improving air quality is not just about controlling what is inside—it is about your home’s ability to filter incoming air and keep out any pollutants from the air around your home.
So why should you care about indoor air quality? Polluted air lowers our capacity for critical thinking, filtering blood, and supplying oxygen to vital organs and muscles. This is especially true for vulnerable populations like young children, senior citizens, and those living with chronic respiratory illnesses like asthma. New Yorkers living with diseases that suppress their body’s immune system are also at risk. People who suffer from diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and HIV/AIDS fall into this category.
To achieve the best possible air indoor quality, here are some simple tips, tricks, and resources:
Clean and tune your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment
The EPA recommends cleaning filters on all your HVAC equipment. Filters stop both pollutants and allergens from entering our homes. This includes air filters on furnaces, window air conditioning units, and duct systems. Follow the instructions of the operating guide of your unit. If you don’t have it on hand, most manuals can be found by searching online for the name and model of your machine and “owner’s manual.”
Prevent moisture build-up
Keeping a home dry and free of leaks is a constant battle. As moisture infiltrates a home, toxic mold that can become airborne can build up behind walls and other inaccessible areas, making it difficult to identify and clean up. Prevent moisture build-up by fixing any leaks and ensuring that all bathrooms are vented to the outside. If your bathroom does not have a vent, opening a window, or even placing a small plug-in fan in the bathroom can help circulate air and decrease the humidity levels. By fixing water leaks you could also be saving your family hundreds of dollars a year!
Air seal your home
Closing up all the cracks and gaps in your home can help minimize outside air from filtering in clean air and keeping indoor air from leaking out. This practice is commonly known as air sealing and is done to maintain comfortable temperatures and keep pollutants and allergens from entering. Air sealing is a great do-it-yourself project. Two easy air-sealing DIY projects for those stuck at home are caulking and weatherstripping. Air sealing can also be a great way to keep your home rodent and pest free, and can also help reduce your utility bills by up to 20%! For larger projects like insulation, we recommend hiring a professional once it is safe to allow them in your home. Ask them to perform a free home energy assessment to get a full report on how energy-efficient and healthy your home is.
If you don’t have the time to take on an air sealing project yourself, you can purchase an air purifying device, which can help immediately improve the indoor air quality of your home. However, they only treat the symptoms of poor indoor air quality, not the underlying causes, and only clean in localized areas that may not be where it’s needed the most, like the bathroom. In the long run, air sealing is best, as it improves your home value and does not add to your energy bill—but right now, do what you can!
Not sure where to go next? The Center, in partnership with the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA), also runs the Community Energy Engagement Program, which helps property owners finance their energy efficiency projects. If you have questions about CEEP or indoor air quality, our Community Energy Advisors are standing by to help with your home energy efficiency project. Contact us at 646-786-0888 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.