But how bad is the air indoors…? Winter is always ushered in by discussions on how to save energy (and money!) while keeping warm. But, as we seal up our homes and turn up the heat, what happens to the air quality inside? After all, people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors year-round—and even more than that in the winter—and evidence suggests that indoor air pollutant levels can be more than 100 times higher indoors than outdoors. Anything in our homes that releases gas or particles into the air contributes to indoor air pollution, and the inadequate ventilation that so often accompanies our winter heating methods increases pollutant levels. Most household items off-gas some pollutants: the products we clean with, the furnishings and other items that we purchase new and bring home, our dry cleaning, pesticides, etc.
As Timothy Buckley, PhD, MHS, an associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says, “You must be smart about indoor air pollution at the same time you’re being smart about energy conservation. Sealing up windows and doors saves money on the bill, it’s true, and there wouldn’t be a big downside to that if you’ve got no indoor sources of pollution. But who doesn’t cook, and burn candles, and bring home the dry-cleaning and household products, and buy new clothes? A low air-exchange rate means that whatever fumes are in there are going to stay there and that we’re going to have to inhale them.”