Four ways to breathe better indoors
These days, staying indoors seems like a great idea, especially when the temperature outside reaches 32°C and, as always, the air is polluted with greenhouse gas emissions from city traffic, buildings and the burning of waste. But, as you beat the heat in your living room or air-conditioned workplace, do you take solace in knowing that the air you breathe indoors is better?
There are many sources for poor IAQ – tobacco smoke, cookstoves, wood burning, pesticides, animal waste products, building materials – the list goes on. On top of all that, a poorly designed living space with little or no ventilation can not only trap harmful emissions, but also create ideal conditions for biological pollutants such as bacteria, viruses, dust mites, pollen, and more.
So, what steps can you take to improve internal quality (IAQ)?
Just as we need ventilation, so do the indoor spaces in which we live. Fortunately, air vents come in many shapes, sizes, and configurations. Image credit: Getty Images
A proper ventilation system constantly circulates fresh air through the space while eliminating heat and humidity. This helps ensure reliable oxygen supply to the room and prevents the buildup of IAQ contaminants.
One way is to have natural air supply openings that facilitate continuous exchange of air from outside. The other way is to install heat exchangers, which transfer heat from places with high temperatures to places with low temperatures. This is especially useful in the tropical country of Sri Lanka, where high humidity levels frequently allow mold to grow indoors.
Look at the past
Windows in old Sri Lankan homes give high priority to ventilation, a feature that most modern homes do not have. Image credit: Ministry of Villas
The transition from traditional colonial style architecture to modern design practices in Sri Lanka has greatly impacted indoor air quality and ventilation.
Older colonial buildings often feature thick walls, high ceilings, and large windows, which naturally facilitate cross-ventilation and allow for a more direct interaction between interior and exterior spaces. In contrast, contemporary architectural designs tend to prioritize aesthetic appeal alongside cost and space efficiency, resulting in smaller windows, enclosed spaces, and less emphasis on natural air flow.
However, modern design practices also provide opportunities for innovation, such as incorporating mechanical ventilation systems and air filtration technologies. While the shift towards modern architecture has brought about changes in ventilation patterns and air quality, there is potential for a balanced approach that combines functional design with strategies to ensure healthy and comfortable indoor environments.
Clean and dry interior spaces
Maintaining a clean and dry indoor space goes a long way toward maintaining a good quality of interior quality, especially areas that are damp and prone to mold and mildew growth, such as the bathroom and kitchen. It is also important to repair any pipe leaks or water damage to ensure your home is completely mold-resistant.
Low-emission building materials and furnishings
If you want to renovate a building, take the opportunity to use low-emission building materials and furniture such as latex paint, bamboo and wool carpets. They emit lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are known to cause irritation of the nose, throat and eyes.
Moving forward, we may soon see exciting new leaps in IAQ technology, including more precise and efficient IAQ monitoring, and nanotechnology capable of eliminating pollution at the molecular level. In fact, this technology has already been incorporated into modern air purifiers to help remove pollutants on a smaller scale.
Outdoor air quality in Sri Lanka is not going to improve any time soon. As we prepare to weather the remainder of the vernal equinox, these proactive measures will at least help us avoid the health risks of breathing in poor indoor air quality.