Indoor Air Quality for the home worker

1. Reducing indoor air particles

  • People often think of dust or indoor air particles as only of concern to people with allergies, but this isn’t true. Dust and fungus particles still irritate the eyes, nose and throat of healthy people, increase their susceptibility to infections, and - depending on the size and origins of dust particles - some are small enough to buy themselves into the lungs and cause cardiovascular problems when exposed to over a long period of time. 

  • In the case of mould spores, the health effects of a mycotoxin producing mold can be can be anything from neurological issues to death.

  • Sobering stuff. 

  • In addition, long term exposure to high levels of any indoor air particle can sensitise a person into becoming allergic. And if you ignore that at the low end of the symptom spectrum - as yours truly did to ‘not be a nuisance’ in her old office space- the reactions get worse and more serious to smaller amounts of allergens over time. 

  • Trust me, that’s a pain-in-the-ass health complication worth nipping in the bud by having an awkward conversation about ‘dog friendly’ offices with your manager,  or spending a few minutes at the end of the day making sure doesn’t become a big issue in your home workplace.

  • You can reduce the amount of particles in the air by:

A. keeping the area clean

  1. Vacuum regularly with a hepa filter  - use a roomba clone if motivation/time is an issue. They aren’t “perfect’, but they definitely make a difference just by being run a few times a week. I also use a non brand cordless vacuum for quick spot cleaning because 
  1.  I have a parrot
  1. I like to snack at my desk, like an animal. 
  1. Change your bedsheets regularly. Once a week is best. Use a mattress protector, and wash that once a month. 
  1. Mop after vacuuming. I like to use a steam mop, to reduce VOCs, and because it’s a lot less effort than carrying a bucket and mop, rinsing out a mop and making sure the floor isn’t “too wet” afterwards.
  1. If you live near a major road, near a construction site, or have respiratory issues of allergies - consider an air purifier. This filters out particles within a certain dimension from the air. Ones with a HEPA filter will filter out smaller particles, like from smoke. While high end air purifiers will remove particles as fine as PM 2.5 - the most dangerous particles resulting from road traffic, be aware that most air purifiers will only work on dust, pollen, mould spores and similar sized particles. If you get one with an activated carbon filter, it will remove smells (cooking or a smoking neighbour) and help reduce indoor ozone, too. Do not use an ozone making function, if it exists on your model. It weakens the lungs and reacts badly with other indoor air pollutants. 
  1. Clean up after pets (litter tray, bunny hutch, dog bed, even small aquarium filters harbour mould spores). Once a week isn’t the objective; it’s the absolute minimum. 

Disclosure: Because I’m very allergic, I actually do have a housekeeper in addition to using the products I mention above. But if circumstances allow, definitely get some outside help for domestic stuff. Even if it’s only fortnightly. 

B. Prevent fungus and damp from forming.  

  • a. Get a humidity reader. The are extremely affordable. If you live in a high humidity area (above 55% RHF) , get a dehumidifier and keep your environment to around 50% or just a touch less, if possible. This prevents fungus and damp from forming. 

  • It’s also a good idea to use fungal resistant paint in high humidity accommodation to stop the formation of damp. You can’t just scrape off damp and repaint to cover the stains, unfortunately.  

  • If you’re renting, it makes sense to not invest in all of this DIY and just look for a remote friendly cafe or coworking space, but be aware that you’re still potentially inhaling fungus for 8 hours a night, so hex your landlord appropriately. 

  1. Install a carbon monoxide alarm if you have a gas heating source or open fire in your home. 
  1. Use an extractor fan when cooking, and add a reminder in your task manager to:
  1. order replacement filters (I do this via amazon every 6 months, ordering a pack of 2 filters)
  1. Replace the filters (every 3 months)

  • If you don’t cook much, you can replace them less frequently.

  • If you do like to cook at home often, consider a pressure cooker, slow cooker, smart pot, steamer, air fryer or some other closed system that doesn’t send flying oil or smoke into the air. 

  • I will say a slow cooker is an amazing tool for setting at the beginning or the middle of the day for a home worker. The smell alone is another environmental que to wrap up at the end of the day.

  • Ovens tend to release fumes from nonstick coating, and from heated and burnt on oil, so use them with the window open, extractor fan on, and close the kitchen door.  And Clean that oven regularly to remove and prevent the burnt oil fumes. 

2. Ventilation

3. Maintain healthy humidity levels

4. Reducing VOCs