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How to Improve your Indoor Air Quality

Earlier this month, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and the Sustainability Department held an Indoor Air Quality Summit, bringing together city officials, academic researchers, building managers, and interested organizations to discuss the current status of indoor air quality, as well as possible initiatives and solutions that could be taken to help create a healthier environment both inside and out.

Speakers included Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall; Daniel Mendoza, Research Assistant Professor at the University of Utah; and Nicholas Rice, the Corporate Industrial Hygiene Manager at Intermountain Health, with SLCgreen’s own Peter Nelson hosting. 

While outdoor air pollution is a recurring topic in Salt Lake City discussions, indoor air pollution has become more significant as the correlation between outdoor and indoor air quality are researched. In her opening remarks, Mayor Mendenhall explains, “We know that buildings and homes are a critical space for indoor and outdoor air quality because our buildings produce a significant portion of the air we breathe outside.” 

Research from Daniel Mendoza showed that outdoor pollutants like PM2.5 formed during the winter, as well as summertime ozone are less concerning indoors due to the nature of the molecules. Wintertime PM2.5 is a secondary pollutant formed through chemical reactions from precursor emissions when the weather is colder, and the atmospheric conditions are right.  Those chemical bonds forming the PM2.5 break down upon entering a warm home, meaning that inversion days are not as harmful to our lungs if we’re staying inside (of course, people who have underlying conditions or are otherwise vulnerable may still struggle during wintertime poor air quality episodes and should take precautions).   

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for particulate matter coming from wildfire smoke or smoke from fireworks. The PM2.5 is formed directly through combustion, rather than chemical reactions, and so does not break down in warmer temperatures. Indeed, Dr. Mendoza’s research showed that particulate matter from wildfires and fireworks does not dissipate as much when entering buildings as wintertime PM2.5, meaning that having adequate filtration is more important to reducing pollution indoors during “smoke” season.  

So how can we protect our lungs in our homes? 

  • Consult with an HVAC specialist to see what types of filters will work with your AC or furnace system, ideally a MERV 13 or higher, and replace them at least every three months, or more often during high pollution events (wildfires, inversions, dust storms, etc.) However, please note that it’s important to make sure that your HVAC system can operate with a higher-rated filter, as they are more taxing on these systems. 
  • Run your HVAC fan continuously during periods of high wildfire pollution. 
  • Similarly, if you do not have central air, focus on creating at least one “clean air room” in your home where you run an air purifier. This is most effective in your bedroom since you spend the majority of your time in the home sleeping.
  • Always use your exhaust fan when cooking! Cooking is a major source of indoor air pollution, particularly if you have a gas stove. You can mitigate this by running an exhaust fan. However, if you don’t have one, open the nearest window to help ventilate the room (especially if you’re cooking smoky food). Long-term, you may want to consider an electric or induction range. (We’ll talk more about other ways to protect indoor air quality from cooking and other in-home activities in another post!) 

Watch the full video for the Indoor Air Quality Summit below:

And check out this short recap video from KSL here:

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