According to the EPA, Americans spend an average of 90% of their time indoors where some pollutants are often two to five times higher than typical outdoor concentrations. As many are spending more of their time at home these days, indoor air quality and its impact on our health has become a hot topic.
For fenestration professionals, it’s important that we all understand the impact quality windows can have on the air we breathe and how to guide consumers to make the right choices for their homes.
The effects of indoor pollutants.
Poor indoor air quality is linked to several illnesses and symptoms, including headaches, fatigue and eye irritation. It can also have a negative impact on respiratory health, especially for those with preexisting conditions, such as asthma. The very young and older adults are also more prone to respiratory complications associated with air quality.
Poor ventilation and fluctuating temperatures and humidity levels are common factors that impact our indoor air. When it comes to protecting homes, families, businesses and employees, finding the right indoor humidity levels can be problematic.
A review by Yale scientists reports that “seasonal moderation of relative humidity—the difference between outside humidity and temperatures and indoor humidity—could be an ally in slowing rates of viral transmission.”
In the winter, the air is dry and relative humidity can drop to about 20%, making it easier for viruses to spread through the air. During these months, many use humidifiers to increase moisture and sooth familiar problems, such as sinus issues, breathing issues and dry skin.
When humidity rises, either because of season changes or humidifiers, a new set of problems can occur. First, viruses will fall to surfaces with the weight of the moisture and can live there for extended periods, making it more essential to clean surfaces regularly. Second, as it relates to windows, moisture and differences in temperatures between indoor and outdoor environments, can cause condensation to build up on the glass—leading to stained frames, peeling paint and, most importantly, mold growth.
Studies cited by the CDC found sufficient evidence linking indoor exposure to mold to upper respiratory issues, such as coughing and wheezing, even in healthy people, and the development of asthma in some children.
Solving the humidity problem.
The bottom line is that humidity can be both helpful and harmful when it comes to indoor air quality, the spread of viruses and overall health. On one hand, droplets from human-to-human contact will not travel as far through more humid air and it can also be beneficial in soothing respiratory symptoms. On the other, increased humidity increases the need for regular surface cleaning and, at higher levels, can promote mold growth.
The CDC recommends keeping relative humidity in homes and buildings between 30% and 50% year-round. Proper ventilation, air conditioning and air purification systems can also help. They also recommend repairing leaks and any areas where moisture can stand as a means of preventing mold growth.
As it relates to our industry, we can help guide our customers toward windows that offer less heat transfer and condensation buildup. Windows with Super Spacer® can help reduce mold-causing moisture around the window edge, contributing to better air quality overall. This is something we’ve talked about for years, and we have Health Smart Windows® marketing tools to help you convey that message.
It takes a concerted effort with everyone doing their part to promote safety and well-being, from sanitation to respecting personal space. Indoor air quality is just one of the pieces of the puzzle when it comes to keeping our families and co-workers safe during the pandemic. But it is one we can help control—and one we can help our customers understand.