These days, staying indoors sounds like a great idea, particularly when it’s a dizzying 32°C outside and, as always, the air is polluted with the greenhouse gas emissions of city traffic, buildings, and burning waste. But, as you beat the heat in the comfort of your living room or your air-conditioned workspace, do you have the consolation of knowing the air you breathe indoors is any better?
Poor IAQ has many sources — tobacco smoke, cooking stoves, the burning of wood, pesticides, animal waste products, construction materials — the list goes on. On top of all that, a poorly designed living space with little to no ventilation can not only trap harmful emissions but also create ideal conditions for biological contaminants such as bacteria and viruses, dust mites, pollen and more.
So, what steps can you take to improve IAQ?
Just as we need to vent, so do the interior spaces we live in. Fortunately, air vents come in many shapes, sizes, and configurations. Image Credit: Getty Images
A proper ventilation system constantly circulates fresh air through a space whilst eliminating heat and humidity. This helps ensure a reliable supply of oxygen in the room and prevents the buildup of IAQ pollutants.
One way is to have natural air supply openings that facilitate the consistent exchange of air from the outside. Another is to install heat exchangers, which transfer heat from places with higher temperatures to places with lower temperatures. This is especially handy in a tropical country Sri Lanka, where high humidity levels allow mould to grow quite frequently within buildings.
Look to the past
The windows in older Sri Lankan houses highly prioritised ventilation, a luxury that most modern houses don’t seem to have. Image credit: Ministry of Villas
The transition from traditional colonial-style architecture to modern design practices in Sri Lanka has significantly influenced indoor air quality and ventilation.
Older colonial buildings often feature thick walls, high ceilings, and large windows, which naturally facilitate cross-ventilation and allow a more direct interaction between indoor and outdoor spaces. By contrast, contemporary architectural designs tend to prioritise aesthetic appeal along with cost and space efficiency, resulting in smaller windows, sealed spaces, and less emphasis on natural airflow.
However, modern design practices also offer opportunities for innovation, such as the integration of mechanical ventilation systems and air purification technologies. While the move 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 indoor spaces
Keeping a clean and dry indoor space goes a long way towards maintaining good IAQ, especially wet and humid areas that are prone to mould and mildew growth, such as the bathroom and kitchen. It is also important to repair any pipe leaks or water damage to ensure your dwelling is completely mould-proof.
Low-emitting building materials and furnishings
If you’re due for a building renovation, seize the opportunity to use low-emitting building materials and furniture such as latex paint, bamboo, and wool carpeting. They emit lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are known to cause irritation of the nose, throat, and eyes.
The Bottom Line
Going forward, we may soon witness exciting new leaps in IAQ technology, including more precise and efficient IAQ monitoring, and nanotechnology capable of eliminating pollution at a molecular level. In fact, this technology is already being integrated into modern air purifiers to help remove pollutants at a smaller scale.
Sri Lanka’s outdoor air quality won’t be getting better any time soon. As we prepare to ride out the rest of the vernal equinox, these proactive measures will at least help us avoid the health risks of breathing in poor IAQ.