Am I going to suffocate without opening my windows?
March 14, 2015 2:30 PM   Subscribe

This is silly and at this point I feel like I should know better: I'm a little lost when it comes to using air purifiers and keeping windows open/closed. It makes sense that the less pollutants get inside the better, except I've never had to keep all the windows closed for long and I keep thinking that no fresh air will be terrible. How do normal people do this?

We don't have a winter here, so I'm unfamiliar with the concept of sealing off the house for extended periods of time. Even in the summer with the A/C on during the day I'd always open the windows at night. Though maybe that's a mistake too?

One of the cats has been diagnosed with asthma recently and I have rather bad dust/pollen allergies myself, so I got a powerful HEPA purifier a few days ago and want to get the most out of it. There are smaller purifiers placed the bedroom/office room/etc. I closed all the windows when they started running and it got really stuffy after a day and then I opened them back up and sneezed and closed them again and glared at the whole setup.

Is it healthy to keep all the windows closed? For how long? Do I need more air movement to prevent the stuffiness?

What do I breathe if not fresh air coming in from outside this is so confusing help!
posted by erratic meatsack to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well, we've been sealed in this house, windows firmly shut, snow piled high against the outside walls, for over a month in this hellish snowpocalypse winter, and we haven't suffocated yet.

Most houses, particularly older houses, are not airtight. They have fireplaces where air is exchanged, the attic will often specifically have venting to let the house breathe, the walls are not completely tight, etc. etc. You go in and out to get places, and air comes in when you open the doors. The older the windows, the less likely to be completely airtight.

Newer construction actually is more airtight, to my understanding of things, which is why putting powerful range hoods into kitchens these days needs to be offset in some other air source. But you aren't sucking air out of the house, just keeping the windows shut a bit more than usual. It's nicer to have the fresh air, but you are probably not going to kill yourself from keeping the windows shut a bit more than usual.
posted by instead of three wishes at 2:38 PM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

> Do I need more air movement to prevent the stuffiness?

Yes. Even in our leaky-as-heck Edwardian, it's nice to open a window here and there because it gets stuffy (especially when it's warm). But you're not going to suffocate if you keep them closed most of the time; you may need to fiddle with the optimal placement of filters and fans to get the kind of air movement and exchange that keeps it from feeling stuffy.
posted by rtha at 2:46 PM on March 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

It doesn't make sense to run the purifier with windows open but it does make sense (at least to me) to run the purifier with the windows closed to get rid of indoor dust pollution from the furniture, rugs, scuffing around, cat hair etc and also from time to time to turn it off and let in nice fresh air from the outdoors.
posted by mono blanco at 3:05 PM on March 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hello! Your question is a very good one and not silly at all. I do not have a medical background, just personal experience - that said - I currently live in Atlantic Canada and if I do not open my apartment windows regularly I get that nasty scratchy feeling in my throat and itchy eyes from lack of fresh air. It's not as bad when I venture outside but coming back to a relatively dusty home exaggerates everything. And even though I clean everyday it is impossible to keep the dust at bay in an enclosed environment with poor air circulation. Maybe it just naturally accumulates from your skin sheddings and has nowhere to go but into your sensitive eyes.

Growing up, the homes in my area lacked screens and had openwork by the roof to allow fresh air (and giant bug-eating lizards) to circulate. I never had itchiness problems then, and being so used to the fresh air, I maintain the same habit in Canada. As long as the window is not sealed shut with ice, I open it up nice and wide for 30 minutes about once a week, and always when I want to dust/ sweep/ vacuum otherwise I will badly irritate my eyes, nose and throat. If it's been a while due to ice accumulation, I sometimes sneeze when I open the windows, which I believe is from the weeks of dust getting unsettled and then blown at me when the breeze suddenly wafts in. I do have the special circumstance of being near the ocean, so that does mean the air that comes in is wonderful smelling and invigorating. Obviously not everyone has that opportunity.

I suppose it could be psychological issue. I truly believe, though, that my health is better and my indoor plants are happier when there is some air moving around. It does depend on the age of your home and where you live (in a very polluted atmosphere or area where the plants you are allergic to blossom constantly I am sure it is better to keep the window closed). My personal opinion is that air filters are addressing the symptoms and not the cause. That said, for those with seasonal allergies or allergies associated with their chosen pets and plants they can be a great choice.

From your description, it sounds like a good plan to open your windows regularly and when they are sealed up run the purifier, but not at the same time.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 3:10 PM on March 14, 2015

From what I've read, indoor air is usually more polluted than outdoor air anyway because of the off-gassing of various substances in your home. So I wouldn't worry about letting outdoor air in.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:24 PM on March 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

Get a window filter. Have the air blow IN through the filter and OUT an unfiltered window (or you can filter both, but costs more).
posted by flimflam at 4:28 PM on March 14, 2015

Oh, and make sure your vacuum has a HEPA filter and vacuum regularly!
posted by flimflam at 4:29 PM on March 14, 2015

I've done a bit of research on this topic, and it actually is pretty complicated, especially if you live in a smaller apartment rather than a big house. As far as your specific question goes, no you aren't going to run out of oxygen, but you can actually make your air quality worse if you misuse the big hepa filters.

When you run the purifier on high, you can affect the air pressure in your space; as a result, you can end up pulling in additional pollutants from your neighbors or from the outdoors. The correct speed to run the purifier depends on the size of the space.

If you want to be sure you have an ideal set up, you might want a call a professional to come in for a consultation. In the meantime, don't assume that running the purifiers on high is necessarily the best thing.
posted by girl flaneur at 4:56 PM on March 14, 2015

Even if you live in the most smoggy part of California, your outside air quality is likely to be better than most of indoor air, especially at night. If you run hepa filters and open your windows a few times a week (and keep houseplants you don't overwater), your risks from indoor air are quite low. Exceptions: if you live in new construction that is still off-gassing, live in a basement or on grade in an area with polluted groundwater, or you've bought a bunch of new upholstered furniture or carpeting. In those cases I would open the windows more often. Mostly? If you live in the US, the Clean Air Act has made life much, much safer.
posted by ldthomps at 6:37 PM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

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