Healthy Indoor Air in Winter - Sutton — Canadian Real Estate Listings & Agents |

Healthy Indoor Air in Winter

03 January 2018

Healthy Indoor Air in Winter

Benzene, chloroform, acrolein, acetaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons … these compounds sound like they belong in a laboratory, but in fact, you likely inhale them everyday inside your home!

During the long winter nights, we spend more time indoors, enjoying a good game, book or movie. The windows are sealed tight to keep out the cold and as a result there can be a build-up of unhealthy particulates and vapours from carpeting, paint, wallpaper, cooking, hobbies, wood and candle burning; odours from pets, people and food, as well as excess moisture that can lead to the growth of mould and mildew.

Opening the windows for prolonged periods is not an option in cold weather, so it is important to foster healthy air with smart approaches to daily activities.


In 2013, researchers at the Berkeley Lab released data from a study that found hazardous levels of nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide in a “surprisingly large portion” of California home kitchens. The main culprits were gas burners. The other culprit was the cooking process itself. Heating up any element—gas or electric—will volatize dust creating ultrafine particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs. As well, high-temperature frying and grilling produce polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are known carcinogens. Researchers recommend using the range hood fan every time you cook and ensure that the fan is vented to the outdoors. Skip the fry pan occasionally and try steaming and boiling.


Scientific American reports that there are 3,100 chemicals used to create fragrances, but manufacturers are typically not required to list anything on labels other than “fragrance”. From hairspray to laundry detergent, our homes teem with fragrance chemicals. Some people and pets have no reaction, while others can develop rashes, headaches and breathing problems. Choose biodegradable, unscented shampoos, detergent and soap and avoid air fresheners. You can create effective homemade cleaners from lemon juice, baking soda, vinegar and dish soap.

Other chemicals: Turn on an exhaust fan or step outdoors when using use nail polish, polish remover, silver cleaner, hobby paints and any product that produces noticeable fumes.


If your home has an attached garage, each time you open the door, air flows between the spaces. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from stored paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, lawnmower gas and oil all reduce air quality in the garage. Repairs and hobby work that involve sanding, soldering and welding release tiny, lung-irritating particles. Tailpipe exhaust from standard internal combustion cars contains nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide, among other things. Homeowners can do three things to reduce fumes: ensure that there are tight seals on cans of paint, solvents and oil products; minimize car idling time, and avoid leaving the door open between the house and garage.


Dust is a harmless sounding term for something that actually consists of pollen, dust mite feces, dead skin cells from humans and pets, tiny bits of carpet fibre, cold and flu viruses and more. To reduce dust, choose a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which can remove 99.7% of these small particles. An air filter can further reduce exposure. Look for devices with a HEPA filter as well as a UV light to kill bacteria and viruses.


Most municipalities add chlorine to drinking water to kill waterborne bacteria and other microbes that can cause disease. This practice began in the late 1800s in England following outbreaks of cholera and typhoid fever. Chlorine is clearly beneficial, but it does have drawbacks, including a slight risk of cancer. In addition to drinking chlorine, gases such as bromoform (a known carcinogen) and chloroform (a solvent and anaesthetic) can be inhaled as they evaporate off the water’s surface. Hot and boiling water increase the release of gases, so you can limit your exposure by using cold water to wash laundry and installing a water filtration system in your home. Chloroform is also a by-product of cigarette smoking.

Home office

Printer inks, correction fluids, permanent markers, glues, carbonless copy paper, off-gassing office furniture … it is no wonder home offices can contain up to ten times the level of VOCs compared to the outdoors. Reduce your exposure by quickly resealing markers, correction fluids and glue. When buying furniture, choose metal or solid wood rather than items made from particle board and plywood, which contain adhesives.


Too much humidity can cause mould and mildew growth, while too little humidity can crack wood floors and furniture and make us more susceptible to catching colds. Ideally, use exhaust fans in bathrooms and run a humidifier in drier parts of the home, as needed.

Invisible and largely odourless, we rarely give much thought to our indoor air, yet we rely on it with our every breath. These simple steps can improve air quality and help you stay healthy. 

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