We all know that pollen in the air can trigger our seasonal allergies, but what about indoor allergies? Many allergy sufferers experience flare-ups from indoor airborne allergens such as mould or dust mites. New Zealand’s history of damp, poorly ventilated houses also contributes to the high rates of asthma and allergies experienced by Kiwis, according to BRANZ.
Given we spend over 90% of our time indoors, the importance of our indoor air quality cannot be overlooked. So if you’re sick of wheezing, coughing, and itching your red eyes, it might be time to monitor the air quality inside your home.
In this article, we’ll ‘clear the air’ on all things allergens and air quality. Keep reading to learn about the common allergy triggers, and what can be done to create a healthier, more comfortable living environment for allergy sufferers.
First things first, what is poor indoor air quality?
According to BRANZ, poor indoor air can contain high levels of pollutants. They also note that moisture is a precursor to high levels of certain indoor pollutants.
Humid, moist and stagnant air creates a breeding ground for bacteria and allergens. And, we know that with moisture comes dampness, mould and mildew – all enemies of someone with allergies or asthma! BRANZ also notes that both hayfever and eczema are associated with dampness and mould – as well as common factors found indoors, such as dust mites, pets and fungi.
Thankfully, there are some relatively easy ways to control the air quality in your home. A great start is to have a look at New Zealand’s Sensitive Choice Programme, an initiative which highlights products and services that are allergy-aware and community-conscious. In 2009, the World Health Organization also published its guidelines for indoor air quality. These clearly state that:
“Management of moisture requires proper control of temperatures and ventilation to avoid excess humidity, condensation on surfaces and excess moisture in materials. Ventilation should be distributed effectively throughout spaces, and stagnant air zones should be avoided.”
Let’s dig into this a bit deeper, shall we? Here are three air quality factors to watch out for, that could be exacerbating your allergy or asthma symptoms:
1. Damn that damp air
The link between poor respiratory health and dampness is well established across a number of different bodies of research. Humidity and dampness go hand in hand, and in New Zealand homes, bedrooms often reach relative humidity levels over 90% at night, creating ideal conditions for mould growth.
The everyday activities we carry out in our home can add to the moisture content of our indoor air. We increase the relative humidity indoors simply through breathing, cooking, taking showers and washing our clothes.
Indoor dampness can also trigger the release of other pollutants from building materials, including formaldehyde and phthalates. Formaldehyde is an incredibly common pollutant that is released from some plywood, fibreboard (MDF), furniture, and glues.
Plus, damp air takes more energy to heat, making your indoor air temperature difficult to regulate, particularly in the winter months.
Unfortunately, many homes in New Zealand are cold, damp and mouldy as a result. According to Head of Education and Research at the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ, Teresa Demetriou, “to help reduce this impact during the colder winter months, it is essential to create a warm, dry and pollution-free environment.”
This is echoed by the World Health Organisation, who also recommends that room temperatures be a minimum of 18 degrees, to aid in reducing these allergy triggers.
A whole home ventilation system can help to reduce the moisture levels in your home and provide a constant supply of filtered, quality air. Positive pressure ventilation systems draw in new air from your roof space, which is then pushed into your home through a series of ducts. Stale, damp air is pushed out, reducing condensation and moisture before it has time to do any damage.
HRV home ventilation systems, approved by the Sensitive Choice programme, feature nanofibre filtration technology, which helps to improve your home’s indoor air quality by filtering most of the common airborne asthma and allergies triggers from the incoming vented air.
Another way to control the moisture levels in your home is to up your insulation game. The priority for insulating your home should be ceiling and underfloor, followed by the walls. An insulated house will reduce the opportunities for mould to take hold, which is good news for air quality!
When heating your home, avoid using unflued gas heaters as these release a lot of moisture and pollutants into the air. Using methods such as heat pumps or wood burners are much better choices.
2. Detrimental dust
Dust mites are pesky little creatures that like to take up residence in places like bedding, curtains and fabrics. And you guessed it – the build up of tiny dust particles can lower indoor air quality. Dust mites are particularly fond of warm, humid environments, and thrive in temperatures of around 20 to 25 degrees, where the relative humidity is around 70 to 80%.
Dust mites convert skin scales and other microscopic cells into tiny particles of dust, which is the airborne allergen that causes a reaction.
Our damp, poorly ventilated homes have resulted in New Zealand reaching some of the highest levels of dust mites in the world. So, how can you kick these annoying little critters to the curb?
A surefire way to beat dust mites is to prevent the conditions that cause them to multiply. This means reducing dampness and humidity with proper ventilation (using a nifty whole ventilation system we mentioned earlier) or cleaning the areas they like to live.
Getting a handle on your housework can definitely help. Keep surfaces in the home clean and uncluttered. If possible, put zippered allergen impermeable or plastic covers on all pillows, mattresses and quilts. Wash your bedding in water hotter than 55 degrees, as this will kill mites and wash away the allergens they produce.
Vacuum at least two times a week. Keep in mind, though, that this vacuuming can also increase the dust in the air. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter or special double filter bags, and wear a dust mask while doing your chores.
3. Problematic plantlife
If you have a pollen allergy, it might be time to take a hard look at the greenery you keep indoors.
Some house plants produce more pollen than others. Flowers like daisies and chamomile are aesthetically pleasing, but they’re not so delightful when they trigger a sneezing fit! Another surprising culprit? Bonsai trees. If you love to snip and shape a Bonsai, you’ll have to find another hobby.
Generally, plants with big leaves and no flowers are less likely to trigger allergies. And here’s a bonus tip – both lady palm and bamboo palm are known to be effective air cleaners, and they’ll even work to remove particulates from your air instead of adding pollen to it – handy!
And remember – damp soil can contribute to mould growth. To keep mould from growing in your indoor plant soil, you can do a few things. Don’t over water your plants. Use sterile soil, make sure to clean around the plant regularly, and finally, keep them in a well-ventilated area where there is lots of natural light.
Sensitive choice approved
If you’re interested in a permanent and long-term solution to address the air quality in your home, a home ventilation system is worth considering.
We’re proud to be approved by the Sensitive Choice Programme. This programme approves products that are committed to reducing common asthma and allergy triggers. To earn the Sensitive Choice stamp of approval, our ventilation products have gone through a detailed and comprehensive assessment.
We’re proud of our efforts to help make Kiwi homes more comfortable for those who suffer from asthma, allergies and other respiratory illnesses.
Chat to an HRV expert about your ventilation needs
Are you interested in learning more about what an HRV home ventilation can do for your home and family? Book a free home assessment today and our knowledgeable professionals will be able to walk you through your options.