Healthy homes

Home is where the heart is, and we invest money and love into our homes to make them somewhere we want to live. But your living space could also be home to some unpleasant nasties that can impact your family's health and quality of life. Pollutants (including bacteria and spores) and allergens may be present in the air that circulates your homei; here we take a look at common home pollutants, the effects they have on our health, and how we can make our homes healthy.

Air pollutants can cause a series of symptoms, ranging from as nasal irritation to chronic respiratory diseases.

Air quality and pollutant inhalation

Pollutants can make their way into the body through ingestion (eating) and absorption through the skin, but most commonly do so through inhalationii. Common home pollutants that we are exposed to are compounds, particles, air-borne allergens and fungal spores.

It is important to know that some pollutants, like asbestos and lead, are found in homes and are generally not a health risk unless fibres, dust or particles are released into the air and inhalediii. Note that if you are doing renovations to your home, it is important that you do not do anything to parts of your building that may contain such materials - these must be dealt with by specialists.

Harmful pollutants include nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and chemicals such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs)iv, and these can enter your home via fuel (gas and solid fuel, such as wood) combustion, cars left with the engine running in the garagev and from cigarette smokevi. Among other sources, VOCs are released by paint, varnishes and cleaning agentsv.

House dust mites are microscopic creatures which feed on dust (which is mostly made up of shed skin) and, not surprisingly, the dust mites tend to be found in soft furnishings that used often such as bedding, carpets, and upholstered furniturevii. Dust mites' droppings and body parts breakdown, become airborne, and can induce allergic reaction in some people when inhaledvii.

Moulds and fungi can grow on damp materials or in dark, humid spaces around the homeviii. These growths reproduce by releasing spores that can become airborne and inhaled. Mould spores are commonly found in bathrooms, damp rooms, cellars, window sills, indoor plants, and poorly ventilated areas in generalix.

Pollens and pet dander can also be present in the home and affect quality of life for allergy sufferersx. Pollen can make their way into the home by having flowers or plants in the house or having it carried in by wind that has blown over fields. Pet dander simply comes about by having pets in the home.

Government of Australia, Your Home, 3.3 The Healthy Home, table on p.58
Pollutant Major Source(s) Health Effects
Nitrogen dioxide Gas combustion Chronic respiratory disease
Carbon monoxide Kerosene, gas and solid fuel combustion, cars idling in enclose garage, cigarette smoke Aggravation of cardiovascular disease, poor foetal development
Formaldehyde Pressed wood products, consumer products, hobby, crafts Eye, nose and throat irritation
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) New building products, cleaning products, office equipment, consumer products Eye, nose and throat irritation, headache, lethargy
Passive (tobacco) smoke Tobacco smoking Eye, nose and throat irritation, aggravation of asthma, chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer
House dust mite allergens Dust mites in bedding, carpets, furniture Aggravation of asthma, nasal inflammation, eczema
Mould spores Bathrooms, damp rooms, window sills, indoor plants, poorly ventilated areas Aggravation of asthma, nasal irritation and inflammation. Less common but also linked to infections and toxic position.
Lead in indoor dust Pre-1970s paint, hobbies and renovation Poor childhood intellectual development
Pet dander Furry pets Aggravation of asthma and hay fever

If you or a family member experience symptoms such as asthma, respiratory infections, itchy eyes, a runny nose, a headache or similar conditionsxi, these may be reactions to pollutants in your home and it is best to seek advice from a doctor.

Having a healthy home

Young children, elderly persons, those with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular disease are particularly vulnerable to pollutantsxii. If you or any of your family members fall into the high-risk group, you should look into minimising the presence of airborne pollutants in your home. Even if you do not experience health problems related to pollutants, you should also take precaution - their presence could indicate serious problems with your home's liveability and structure.

For example, the presence of mould spores can indicate that mould is present within the home. The more sinister aspect of this is that mould can damage what it is growing onxiii. Rising damp is ground moisture that rises thorough a brick or stone wall, and can cause structural weakness in that wallxiii. Mould looks like fuzz and commonly coloured black, green or whitexiii. If you spot mould in your home, disinfectants such as tea tree oil or 80% white fermented vinegar solution can be used to remove itxiv. Do not brush over the mould as this releases spores, and do not use bleach as it is ineffectivexiv. To avoid mould in the long run, you should check for leaky pipes and sinks, clean your bathroom regularly and reduce your home's overall dampness by improving ventilationxiv.

Damp corners provide perfect conditions for mould, which release spores and can be damaging to health.

Unlike pests such as termites, for the most part pollutants do only minor damage to your home's structure. But home is not home if it's neither comfortable nor healthy, so it is wise that you do everything possible to improve air quality in the home. One more thing to consider is your home's financial health; by taking out home insurance that includes building and contents insurance, you can protect the investment in your home. For a home insurance quote, contact Allianz online.

To find out more about common pollutants and their negative health effects, have a look at the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing's "Healthy Homes" brochure.


i Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging, Healthy Homes, http://www.nphp.gov.au/enhealth/council/pubs/pdf/healthyhomes.pdf, p.3

ii Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging, Healthy Homes, http://www.nphp.gov.au/enhealth/council/pubs/pdf/healthyhomes.pdf, p.8

iii Government of Australia, Your Home, 3.3 The Healthy Home, http://www.yourhome.gov.au/technical/pubs/fs33.pdf, p.58

iv Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging, Healthy Homes, http://www.nphp.gov.au/enhealth/council/pubs/pdf/healthyhomes.pdf, p.11

v Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging, Healthy Homes, http://www.nphp.gov.au/enhealth/council/pubs/pdf/healthyhomes.pdf, p.16

vi Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging, Healthy Homes, http://www.nphp.gov.au/enhealth/council/pubs/pdf/healthyhomes.pdf, p.12

vii Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging, Healthy Homes, http://www.nphp.gov.au/enhealth/council/pubs/pdf/healthyhomes.pdf, p.18

viii Government of Western Australia, Department of Health, Mould, http://www.public.health.wa.gov.au/3/1146/2/mould_.pm

ix Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging, Healthy Homes, http://www.nphp.gov.au/enhealth/council/pubs/pdf/healthyhomes.pdf, p.20

x Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging, Healthy Homes, http://www.nphp.gov.au/enhealth/council/pubs/pdf/healthyhomes.pdf, p.18-19

xi Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging, Healthy Homes, http://www.nphp.gov.au/enhealth/council/pubs/pdf/healthyhomes.pdf, p.7

xii Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging, Healthy Homes, http://www.nphp.gov.au/enhealth/council/pubs/pdf/healthyhomes.pdf, p.9

xiii Victorian Government Health Information, 2012, Environmental Health: Mould Growth and your Health, http://www.health.vic.gov.au/environment/home/mould.htm

xiv Government of Western Australia, Department of Health, Mould and Condensation in your Home, http://www.public.health.wa.gov.au/cproot/2887/2/Mould%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf, p.3

xv Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging, Healthy Homes, http://www.nphp.gov.au/enhealth/council/pubs/pdf/healthyhomes.pdf, p.19

xiv Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging, Healthy Homes, http://www.nphp.gov.au/enhealth/council/pubs/pdf/healthyhomes.pdf, p.28