Indoor air quality: Be healthy at home
How to test for and improve indoor air quality
Fri, Jun 11 2010 at 10:57 AM
Mold in the home affects indoor air quality. A dehumidifier or an air conditioner can help. (Photo: Ju-Lee/iStock)
Indoor air quality is something more and more people are concerned about, and with good reason.
The enemies of air quality are legion inside of just about any home. And exposure to indoor pollutants is no small problem when you consider that Americans spend 80 percent to 90 percent of their time indoors.
Anyone who lives with pets or smokers needs to think about indoor air quality. And that’s on top of issues such as radon, which causes lung cancer and can be found in any home. Humidity and leaky faucets can also contribute to a home’s poor air quality.
Preventing indoor air pollution
There are ways to prevent certain pollutants from damaging your home’s air quality.
First and foremost, do not smoke cigarettes indoors. Smoke is one of the main pollutants indoors. If you smoke, smoke outside and ask guests to do the same.
Have your home tested for radon. It’s a common issue when people are purchasing a new home. And it’s easy to arrange for a test, and if the radon reading is high, it’s also easy to fix.
Home owners and apartment dwellers should aim to keep the humidity level indoors below 50 percent. High humidity can cause mold to grow. A dehumidifier or an air conditioner can help. But be sure to clean their filters or else they can also contribute to indoor air pollution. Household leaks should also be taken care of. That’s because standing water may encourage the growth of mold.
Kitchens and bathrooms should be equipped with exhaust fans. The kitchen exhaust fan should vent to the outside. And don’t use a stove that’s not equipped with a vent.
Air quality testing
Now that you know some of the causes, there are ways to determine if the indoor air quality of your home is good or bad. First and foremost, do you feel ill or exhibit certain symptoms at home but feel better when you’re out? That could be a sign of poor indoor air quality.
There are other ways to determine if something’s wrong. Can you see or smell mold or mildew? If you can, that’s affecting your air quality right now. Is there moisture condensation on windows or walls? Is the air smelly or stuffy? These are all possible indications of poor ventilation, which directly affects indoor air quality.
There may also be a problem if your garage is attached to your home. That’s because any fuel from cars, lawnmowers or motorcycles parked there can seep through the walls and affect the air in your home. Chemicals and paints stored in the garage can also pose a problem.
Anyone who’s remodeled his or her home, or bought new furniture or carpet needs to be on alert as well. Chemicals used by the manufacturer can linger and affect indoor air quality.
Improving indoor air quality
You’ve identified the problem. Now what do you do?
In addition to banning smoking from indoors, and properly venting kitchen appliances, you can take other steps to improve indoor air quality. A quick tour around your home will help you identify possible sources of leaks and contamination.
And even when you’re not sure if something may be affecting your indoor air quality, there are steps you can take to gain peace of mind.
Install a carbon monoxide detector in or near bedrooms. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that’s produced when natural gas, oil or wood is burned. Breathing in excessive amounts of carbon monoxide can hamper the ability of a person’s blood to carry oxygen.
Make sure to schedule a yearly inspection of your home’s fuel burning appliances to certify they are in proper working order and not leaking carbon monoxide. Fuel burning appliances include gas stoves, coal furnaces, charcoal grills and gas-powered lawn mowers.
If you have an attached garage and you park vehicles there, do not let the engine idle either while inside the garage.
Be sure to cover kitchen or food garbage.
Special note for apartment dwellers and office workers:
People who live in apartments will face many of the same indoor air quality problems. In some cases, they can follow the same steps as homeowners, including banning smoking, installing exhaust fans and opening windows.
Some problems, however, will be beyond their reach. In that case, apartment dwellers should talk to the building’s superintendent or owner.
Indoor air quality is also a problem in many office buildings. In fact, there are a number of diseases associated with office buildings, including Legionnaire’s disease, asthma and hypersensitivity pneumonitis. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, these ailments are called building-related illnesses.
Office workers who are seriously concerned about the quality of the air at work can contact the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to obtain a health hazard evaluation at 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at 1-800-321-6742.
For more information on indoor air quality, visit the American Lung Association's healthy air webpage.