Reduce health risks in your home by improving air quality.
Indoor air quality can be worse than that of outdoor air and makes the top-five list of environmental health problems in America. Effects range from minor annoyances to major health risks. Many homes are built or remodeled more tightly, without regard to the factors that assure fresh and healthy indoor air.
Problems can arise from moisture, insects, pets, appliances, radon, materials used in household products and furnishings, smoke, and other sources. Remedies include ventilation, cleaning, moisture control, inspections, and following manufacturers’ directions when using appliances and products.
Signs of indoor air quality problems
- Unusual and noticeable odors.
- Stale or stuffy air
- Noticeable lack of air movement.
- Dirty or faulty central heating or air conditioning equipment
- Damaged flue pipes or chimneys
- Excessive humidity
- Presence of molds and mildew
- Health reaction after remodeling, weatherizing, using new furniture, using household and hobby products, or moving into a new home
- Feeling noticeably healthier outside
Sources of air quality problems
- Old carpets (dust, mites, mold, allergens)
- New carpets can be a source of formaldehyde
- Humidity: not enough or too much
- Moisture and biological pollutants such as molds, mildew, dust mites, animal dander and cockroaches from high humidity levels, inadequate ventilation, and poorly maintained humidifiers and air conditioners.
- Mold and odors (caused by moisture from cooking, showering, or unsufficiently insulated walls, foundations, and roofs)
- Combustion products including carbon monoxide, from unvented fossil fuel space heaters, unvented gas stoves and ovens, and backdrafting from furnaces and water heaters.
- Pressed wood furniture
- Household products and furnishings such as cleansers, paints, solvents, air fresheners, hobby supplies, dry-cleaned clothing, aerosol sprays, adhesives, and fabric additives used in carpeting and furniture.
- Candles and incense can release lead and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including particulate matter
- Tobacco smoke contains toxic chemicals and gases that get trapped in the carpet, drapes, and furniture
- Car exhaust from the garage
- Improper storage of old paint cans, pesticides, or gasoline can release toxics and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
- Radon, a radioactive gas from soil and rock beneath and around the home’s foundation, groundwater wells and some building materials. Cracked foundations can lead to a build up of radon in some homes. It poses a lung cancer risk.
- Lead from lead-based paint dust created when removing paint by sanding, scraping or burning.
- Many animals leave allergens, such as dander, hair, feathers or skin, in the air.
- Pesticides and fertilizers
- Asbestos found in most homes more than 20 years old.
- Particulates from dust and pollen, fireplaces, wood stoves, kerosene heaters and unvented gas space heaters.
- Testing can be performed, if necessary, to pinpoint any residual contaminants that may be contributing to ongoing health problems
- Check for visible mold and fungus (moisture entering the house)
- If your carpet is water damaged and moldy it should be discarded. Beware of anti-mold treatments; they may be more dangerous to your health than the mould being removed. A low chemical emission carpet should be used.
- Keep carpets clean and dry, use only nontoxic carpet cleaners
- Install and use exhaust fans. Use a dehumidifier if necessary. Maintain good fresh air with natural and mechanical air circulation.
- Have the flue and chimney inspected annually. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Frequently changing filters in AC units
- Deep clean areas where pets are permitted. Clean pets regularly.
Moisture and contaminants.
Humidity caused by cooking and showering can lead to mold, while contaminants and allergens found throughout the house in building materials or household appliances can lead to significant health problems. Reactions can range from mildly uncomfortable to life threatening, as in a severe asthma attack. Straight-forward air-sealing and ventilation solutions go a long way toward fixing those problems.
Most air leaks occur in the basement, which tends to be a moisture rich breeding ground for mold. It is necessary to take an active role in determining how your house exchanges air with the outside.
Air sealing, then Ventilation
Homes should be sealed properly to prevent unwanted moisture from sneaking in through cracks and crevices.
Manually/mechanically ventilate your house. Harmful contaminants hang around every house, airtight or not, including chemicals from building materials (particle board, glues, etc) and emissions from gas-burning appliances like stoves and furnaces. These can be effectively minimized with proper sealing, venting, and adequate air circulation from a mechanical ventilation system. 1/3 of the air in your home should be replaced every hour; or 3 hours for a full air change. The key is to make sure that harmful air is being discharged outside, and that fresh air is being circulated throughout the entire home and not just in targeted areas.