We spend an average of 90% of our time indoors, and 65% of that is inside our own homes. Living in a home with high indoor air pollution levels can be more dangerous than living in a highly polluted city! Indoor air pollutants may be significantly higher than outdoor levels according to many CSIRO reports. Children, the elderly, and those who are health sensitive are even more susceptible to air pollution than healthy adults. VOCs are the most common form of indoor air pollutants and include gases emitted from paints, sprays, cleaning products, building materials, printers and more. Most VOCs cause serious health problems and can’t be detected by smell.
Most of this offgassing occurs when products are new, or when walls are freshly painted for instance, after which it lessens. However, there are studies which show unhealthy levels of VOCs in indoor air up to 5 years after the application of products containing VOCs.
Indoor air pollution isn’t always immediately apparent. While there are tell-tale signs such as headaches, irritated eyes, nose and throat, dizziness and fatigue – as you might experience walking into a freshly painted room – more serious and permanent effects such as respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer take time to develop.
Odourless and otherwise, the pollutants inside our home can be up to ten times worse than the outside air. This is partly due to the focus on making our homes energy efficient and secure from outdoor leaks and drafts. It is difficult for our immune systems to keep up with the abundance of circulating particles, germs, and gases that are kept inside our tightly secured homes. This is evident in the increasing occurrence of allergies, asthma and other breathing disorders.
While some VOCs are unavoidable – for example, when it comes to certain specialised cleaning products – it is possible to drastically reduce your exposure simply by actions such as painting your walls with zero-VOC paint (painted walls typically cover around 80% of indoor surface areas!)
- Cheng, M., Gallbally, I., Molloy, S., Selleck, P., Keywood, M., Lawson, S., Powell, J., Gillett, R., Dunne, E., 2016, ‘Factors Controlling Volatile Organic Compounds in Dwellings in Melbourne, Australia’, Indoor Air, Vol. 26: 2, pp. 219 – 230.
- Department of Health and Ageing, 2003, ‘Healthy Homes: A guide to Indoor Air Quality in the Home for Buyers, Builders and Renovators’, Department of Health and Ageing, Australian Government.
- Gelder, J. & Onyon, L., 2001, ‘An Introduction to Chemical Risks in the Build Environment’, Environment Design Guide, PRO 4, Australian Institute of Architects, Melbourne.
- Total Environment Centre, 2001, ‘Safer Solutions: Keeping Your Home Healthy and Green’, Total Environment Centre, Sydney. http://www.safersolutions.org.au/