The air we breathe every day, in our homes, schools, workplaces, on our way to work and as we exercise, affects our health. This is especially true for those of us with respiratory conditions.

In New Zealand, we like to think that we are breathing clean air as we go about our daily lives, but that’s not always the case.

Traffic Pollution Adobe Stock 199807134

Outdoor air

By international standards, New Zealand’s outdoor air quality is good. However, recent local research has found that air pollution from vehicles and wood-burning fires are causing increasing health issues in communities across New Zealand. Estimates from the HAPINZ 3.0 Study published in 2022, found that air pollution caused approximately 13,000 cases of childhood asthma in one year and 845 hospitalisations for children with asthma.

This research also found that 81% of New Zealanders live in areas where the average pollution (PM2.5 level) exceeded WHO guidelines. Pacific peoples, Māori and those on low incomes are much more likely to live in areas with poor air quality.

Outdoor air quality is affected by the transport we use, the fuel we use to heat our homes and by industrial processes and practices. To improve our air quality, we need to keep looking for smarter, more sustainable and cost-effective ways to travel, run businesses, and heat our homes. The Foundation supports actions that reduce emissions and improve the quality of the air we breathe.

Indoor Air Quality Adobe Stock

Indoor air

It’s estimated that people spend up to 90% of their lives indoors. The air we breathe inside our homes, workplaces and schools has a significant effect on our health, particularly on the very young, the very old and those with respiratory conditions. Indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air, as without proper ventilation, pollutants can get trapped inside.

Indoor air quality is affected by a number of factors:

  • Indoor pollutants like mould, or particles ( for eg. volatile organic compounds) that are released by some cleaning products, furniture and building materials
  • Damp environments which create breeding grounds for mould
  • Air temperature – cold air can trigger respiratory symptoms
  • Type of heating used – unflued gas heaters, gas cooktops, and open fires can produce dangerously high levels of pollutants
  • Poor ventilation which traps pollutants and can cause them to increase to high levels
  • Outdoor pollutants like traffic fumes and smoke which can make their way inside and become trapped if there is not adequate ventilation
  • The number of people in the space – people can share viruses and bacteria (in a typical shared indoor space 1-5% of the air you breathe has been recently exhaled by someone else)

While there are some actions we can take to improve indoor air quality, we also need good laws in place to ensure all New Zealanders live in homes where they can breathe easily. Our homes need to be warm, dry, and well-ventilated. The Foundation supports legislation and initiatives that will improve indoor air quality in homes, workplaces, schools and public indoor spaces.

We want to see:

The introduction of standards for indoor air quality, along with ongoing measurement and monitoring of air quality in public spaces.

Continuing measures to reduce transport, fuel and industrial emissions.

Open The Window

Some simple tips to improve air quality in your home:

  • Don’t smoke or vape inside.
  • Replace any unflued gas heaters or open fires with less polluting types of heating.
  • If you can, open all your windows every day – ideally twice a day, morning and evening - for 10 to 15 minutes. This will both remove and dilute pollutants in the air. If you have a room full of people, remember to crack your windows to help reduce the spread of any viruses.
  • If you can’t open windows easily (or if your local outdoor environment is polluted), there are technical solutions available to help improve air quality in the home. These range in cost from simple air purifiers to more complex home ventilation systems. Be sure to get advice on what size devices might be suitable for your home and where to place them.
  • Use extraction fans in your kitchen while cooking and in your bathroom while showering to stop the buildup of air pollutants or steam.
  • Where you can, choose furnishings, cleaning products and building materials with low levels of volatile organic compounds.
  • Some people with respiratory conditions find that strong smelling chemicals or products can trigger symptoms. These people should avoid incense, scented candles and strongly-scented cleaning products.
  • Make sure you always follow instructions when using any product that produces strong fumes, for example oven cleaners. If it recommends using the product in a in a well-ventilated area or wearing a mask while using the product, then follow that advice.

For more information on how to ventilate your home and reduce damp, go here.

For more information on indoor air quality visit the Indoor Air Quality Research Centre NZ.