Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Or does it? According to the EPA, the levels of indoor air pollutants are often two to five times higher than outdoor levels. What is even harder to grasp is the fact that we spend an average of approximately 90% of our time indoors. Indoor air pollutants have increased in recent decades due to energy-efficient building construction and increased use of synthetic building materials, furnishings, personal care products, pesticides, and household cleaners.
Interior designers can help customers by carrying an air quality tester and testing the air in the home during the initial consultation and prior to installation. This tester should track the five critical factors of air quality: HCHO (Formaldehyde), TVOC (Total Volatile Organic Compound), CO2 (Carbon Dioxide), PM2.5 & PM10 (Particulate Matter).
Formaldehyde is a colorless, poisonous, highly water-soluble gas with an odor that smells like a new car. Formaldehyde can be found in adhesives, carpeting, decorative paneling, foam insulation, drapery, fiber and particle board, and permanent- press fabrics. New furniture typically smells of formaldehyde. It is a good idea to air out the furniture before bringing it into the client’s home.
Total Volatile Organic Compounds are the primary pollutants found in home decor and consist of chemicals such as benzene, toluene, and alkanes. Benzene is used to make plastics, resins, synthetic fibers, rubber lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides, and it is among the 20 most widely used chemicals in the U.S. Per the Department of Health & Human Services Benzene is a known carcinogen (can cause cancer). Toluene is present in paint thinners and glues. High levels of toluene can cause sleepiness, stumbling, irregular heartbeat, and depression.
Carbon Dioxide is a greenhouse gas that is added to the atmosphere by humans. It is natural and harmless in small quantities, but exposure to higher concentrations can cause headaches, vertigo, and double vision, the inability to concentrate, tinnitus, and seizures.
Particulate Matter is the sum of all solid and liquid particles suspended in air, many of which are hazardous. This complex mixture includes both organic and inorganic particles, such as dust, pollen, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. Epidemiological studies suggest that asthma symptoms can be worsened by increases in the levels of particulate matter.
Once you test your client’s air quality, it is essential to discuss these levels with your client before and after their installation since air quality impacts a family’s overall respiratory health, sleep, focus, mood, and immunity. It is equally important to understand the health of all of the occupants of the home to determine furnishings that make sense and asking manufacturers about the chemicals that are present in their products.
When designing interiors for a healthy home, larger custom wool area rugs and wool bedding are an ideal choice. Although people sometimes assume they are allergic to wool, wool is in fact, hypoallergenic. This protein is relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction but may feel prickly and, on rare occasions, can cause skin irritation. Wool makes perfect sense for use in homes where asthma is present. Wool captures dirt and dust from the air, common asthma triggers. Wool contributes to a healthier living environment by effectively managing moisture. It absorbs and releases moisture against 65% relative humidity. Because wool is keratin, it will not support the growth of mold, another trigger of asthma. The amino acids in wool bond with harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide on a molecular level, and thereby render these chemicals.
Effective home accessories that should be placed throughout the home are plants. More than biophilia, plants naturally clean the air and can filter out ammonia, benzene, toluene, xylene, and formaldehyde, depending on the plant type. Several excellent options include English Ivy, Bamboo Palm, Chinese Evergreen, Dragon Trees, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, Pot Mum, Peace Lily, Spider Plants, Mass Cane, Rubber Tree, Lemon Button Fern, Pothos, Philodendron, Parlor Palm, Aloe Vera, Broad Lady Palm, Fittonia, Ficus, and Flamingo Lily, to name a few.
Breathing is easy, but what you don’t see can hurt you.