Is the air in your home safe? Poor air quality impacts your health and your family’s safety. Respiratory conditions, allergies, and other ailments often come from contaminants in the home. After all, studies show that the air in your home is far more polluted than the air outside. Families with small children must be especially careful to protect infants’ and toddlers’ delicate lungs from common irritants and contaminants. We’ll cover ten of the top contributors to poor indoor air quality, from minor problems to major hazards.
Many of these hazards are invisible to the naked eye, and only tests can reveal the hidden dangers lurking in your house. Some tests are simple, but some require a professional, or specialized equipment. Learn more about potential contaminants in your home, and how to address them, below.
Indoor Air Quality Checklist
1. Do You Have Pets?
Photo by Wesley Tingey
Furry friends make life wonderful, but they can also pollute the air in your home with dander, hair, and odor. Even if you aren’t allergic to your four-legged friend, they will make your home dustier, and their hair will inevitably create some minor respiratory issues. Odor, unfortunately, is one of the unpleasant side effects of keeping a pet.
Regular vacuuming and dusting help, but there will be many particles you stir up rather than collect. The best solution is an air purifier. Purifiers with both HEPA and charcoal filters can stop dander and odor in their tracks. Keeping a single room model near litter boxes or your pet’s sleeping area is a great way to minimize your pet’s impact on your health.
2. Are there Signs of Mold or Mildew?
Mildew is easy to spot on shower curtains and tile, but it can hide in any damp place. It’s often easier to find by smell than by sight. Of course, it’s so easy to find by smell because it leaves a noticeable odor, which makes your air not only unpleasant, but potentially harmful. Mildew is a generic term for several kinds of small fungi, and it pollutes your air with spores. These can trigger allergies and other respiratory conditions, such as asthma. It’s easy to see and smell, though you may need a flashlight to check under your sink and in dark basements or crawlspaces.
While the best way to get rid of mildew is to wipe down affected surfaces with a bleach and water solution, circulating spores may land and grow in the same area once the bleach is gone. Spores may also land and grow in entirely new areas. To remove spores, try using an air purifier in rooms where you detect mildew smells and stains. Air purifiers catch spores that may launch a new growth cycle. A dehumidifier can prevent new outbreaks as well by drying out the moisture mildew needs to grow.
3. Does Anyone in Your Household Smoke?
Smoking is an addictive habit, and many people struggle to quit, even if it harms not only their health, but the health of those around them. Tobacco smoke has demonstrable long term and short term effects on your home and body. These range from asthma to cancer. Second hand smoke can be just as bad. If you or someone you live with smokes, then it’s easy to figure out where the tell-tale stains and smells come from. On the other hand, if you live in an apartment complex or move into a recently owned home, it may be harder to trace the source.
An air purifier is your best bet for fighting tobacco smoke. A multi-filter product with both carbon and HEPA filters can lock away smells and the harmful toxins lingering in the air. A warm vinegar and water solution helps clean walls and other hard surfaces with smoke stains and residue build-up.
4. Do You Live near a Farming Community?
Photo by Meriç Tuna
The country can be beautiful, but it can also create some serious air quality concerns. In addition to the mass of pollen fields of vegetables generate, you must deal with the nitrogen, pesticides, and other sprays farmers use to treat their land and crops. In the spring, you must contend with the stink of fertilizer, and in the fall the world becomes a dusty mess as the tractors tear through the crops. Besides coping with a bad odor, you may find you are allergic to one or more of the products used. At the very least, you will have to deal with some very unpleasant smells during the spring every year.
Smell is carried on tiny particles we breathe in. In order to prevent these smells from circulating through and staying in your home, you must filter them from the air. Air purifiers can keep rooms smelling fresh as they clean potential allergens from your air. Not only will you be able to breathe, but you’ll be able to enjoy it.
5. Does Your Home Have Leaks or Standing Water?
Water outside of your pipes is always a problem. A tub that’s slow to drain invites mildew and, worse, mold. Standing water or regular leaks create prime mold and fungus territory. Both are detrimental to your home’s air quality and are hard to eliminate. Ideally, you should call in a plumber to routinely check your plumbing, but it’s possible to detect a leak on your own. Standing water is an obvious clue, but you must check areas like the basement, crawlspace, and attic to be thorough. A leak may show through low water pressure, damp smells, dripping sounds, or stained walls, ceilings, or floors.
You will need a qualified plumber to diagnose the source of a leak, and you will need one to fix it, too. Unfortunately, without training, there is little the average homeowner can do. By hiring a professional, however, you can ensure the damage stops. Be sure to check out water mitigation services, too. These services ensure any standing water or damp materials are removed.
6. Do You Use Odor-Masking Sprays and Candles?
While a scented spray or a sweet-smelling candle may be nice for a moment, excessive use will build up fumes in your home. These artificial scents break down over time, and using more than one scent creates competing fragrances that can cause a stink. Masking odors rarely works anyway, and you’ll never truly get rid of a bad smell by lighting a dozen candles. The byproducts of smoke and aerosol sprays can be more harmful to your health than the odor you are trying to mask. They may trigger asthma, allergies, and even irritate your upper respiratory system.
An air purifier can remove any odor from the air, even if it was designed to be a fragrant spray. This is the surest method to restore clean air in your home. If you need a cheaper alternative, however, try opening windows and setting up a series of fans to circulate new air in as you push the old air out. In order for this to work, however, you must stop burning so many candles and using so many sprays. Remember, if there’s an odor to hide, then there’s a problem you’re ignoring.
7. How Much Pollen is in Your Region?
Photo by Alex Jones
Different areas have different pollen. Both varieties and concentration. The amount of pollen in your region depends on climate and local flora. In some places, pollen is only a problem during a few months of the year, and in others it’s normal to find your car dusted in yellow every morning. Pollen is one of the most common allergies in the world. It can make your life incredibly difficult and leave you feeling like you live with a constant cold.
Seasonal pollen bursts are easy to combat with an air purifier. The filter catches the vast majority of irritants and circulates clean air. Those who deal with pollen more frequently may need a whole house air purification system.
8. Are Your Fuel Burning Appliances Properly Vented?
We’ve all set off the smoke alarm from time to time when the popcorn burns or the toast transforms into charcoal. A regular smoky smell in the kitchen, however, is evidence of poorly vented appliances. This is particularly dangerous for fuel burning appliances, such as gas stoves. Carbon monoxide is incredibly dangerous. And, smoke kills more people in fires than the flames themselves, and having constant smoke in your home will harm your entire family. Walk through several rooms before and after cooking. Even if your smoke alarm doesn’t go off, you may be able to see or smell smoke in and around the kitchen if you’re having venting issues.
The best way to vent fuel burning appliances is to use a hood and fan. These systems suck up the smoke and pull it out of your kitchen. They circulate the air, too, which helps you avoid lingering cooking smells from garlic and other pungent foods.
9. Has Your Home Been Tested for Radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas. It is colorless and odorless, which makes it impossible to find without a professional. Since it’s radioactive, this gas increases your likelihood of developing cancer with every lungful of air you breathe. Although it’s naturally occurring, science still has a lot to learn about why is appears in some areas but not others. Radon is definitely a silent, dangerous, and long term indoor air quality hazard.
If you are buying a new home, you can request a radon test to check your potential home’s air quality. A professional will then check the home and record radon levels for you to review. While a small amount of radon is present in many homes, it becomes more dangerous at higher volumes. The same test is available to regular homeowners. If your home has high radon levels, and you have already purchased it, you can fight the gas several ways. One of the most popular is Active Soil Depressurization. This system uses pipes, fans, and negative pressure to force the gas down and out.
10. Does Local Industry Create Hazardous Emissions or Byproducts?
Industry creates jobs and draws families to live near factories, mills, and other places of production. However, many of these industries create hazardous byproducts that can wreak havoc on indoor air quality. Industrialized history is rife with examples of local families discovering side effects of production byproducts. Since every industry handles and produces different chemicals, results can range from flu like symptoms to cancer and other life threatening conditions. Even if you live in the suburbs, the exhaust from commuters’ cars and the effects of the wind can bring harmful pollutants indoors.
The best way to keep airborne pollution out of your home is to use an air purifier. You may use individual appliances in separate rooms, and you may benefit from adding extra filters to your home’s ventilation system. Check filters regularly and be sure you use products that can collect even microscopic particles.
Final Thoughts on Indoor Air Quality
Maintaining air quality involves removing not only hazards, but also troublesome allergens and odors that lower your quality of life. It’s important to keep your home safe and clean, but no matter how well you maintain your home, you probably don’t know how to clean the air. Hopefully this checklist will help you start working your way to cleaner, healthier air.