Each day when you walk in the door, you notice something funny: your nose starts to run, your throat feels a little scratchy, and it's a bit hard to breathe. Maybe you blame it on allergies, but the truth could be much more concerning.
Your strange symptoms could be the result of poor indoor air quality. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends about 90% of his or her time indoors. While it may seem like indoor air quality is better than outdoor air quality, the concentration of certain pollutants indoors can be 2 to 5 times higher indoors than it is outdoors.
When indoor air quality is bad, older adults, young children, and people with respiratory or cardiovascular disease are at risk of suffering allergies and other health concerns. The only way to understand your air quality, though, is to have it tested. This allows you to pinpoint allergens and problem areas and nip them in the bud before they start making you and your loved ones sick.
Here's everything you need to know about the process of air quality testing, what it entails, and why it's so important.
Why Indoor Air Quality Matters
Indoor air quality is the quality of the air inside of any given building, including schools, offices, and homes. Indoor air quality is essential because it impacts the health of the people in a given structure. When air quality is good, the air is pure and clean to breathe. When it's not, it can be irritating and problematic. In fact, poor indoor air quality can irritate the nose, throat, and eyes, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, and a variety of respiratory diseases and cancers.
While many people assume air quality has improved thanks to modern building tactics, the concentration of certain indoor air pollutants has increased in recent years, thanks to the popularity of energy-efficient building materials that don't "breathe" as well as their predecessors. Personal care products, pesticides, furnishings, and household cleaners can also have detrimental impacts on indoor air quality.
Some of the most common pollutants include the following:
- Combustion byproducts like carbon monoxide and tobacco smoke
- Molds and other biological agents
- Pesticides, asbestos, and lead
- Pet dander and hair
- Volatile organic compounds
- Cleaning supplies and paints
How to Test Your Indoor Air Quality
The single best way to test indoor air quality is to have it checked by a team of professionals. Because methods of testing change depending on the pollutant or substance that's causing concern, professional assistance is essential and is the only way to get accurate air quality results.
Today, the three most common indoor air quality concerns include mold, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and radon.
Radon is a radioactive gas present in many older homes. It matters because it is a known carcinogen, and because it is so difficult to detect. It does not have a smell or taste. Radon comes from the decomposition of radioactive deposits and can seep into homes via basements, crawl spaces, and cracks in a foundation.
If you'd like to test your home's radon levels yourself, you can purchase a radon test kit from a variety of services. A team of air quality professionals can also check your radon levels using digital radon detectors, which allow you to observe the radon level trends in your home and make a plan to address the issue as you move forward.
Mold is another common air pollutant in indoor settings. Mold is a problem because it is so prevalent - mold lives in drywall, textiles, and damp places like attics or basements. Both living and dead mold spores can decrease indoor air quality, and mold sensitivities tend to grow with ongoing exposure.
While mold is most common in areas that have experienced water damage, it can happen anywhere, and is commonly discovered during a home inspection. Today, there is no Federal or state standard guiding safe levels of mold concentration.
Because of this, it's wise to have the air quality tested by professionals if you suspect mold in the area. These professionals will collect indoor and outdoor air samples to compare mold levels and identify spores. From there, you can decide on mold abatement action.
Volatile Organic Compounds
Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, refer to a broad umbrella of compounds and chemicals. VOCs are found in many of the products we use every day, including cleaners, degreasers, and solvents. The largest source of VOCs today, though, is fuels. Gasoline, kerosene, heating oil, and diesel can all impact indoor air quality. Even if you don't have these items in or around your home, underground storage tanks and delivery lines can leak, causing VOCs to seep into your home's environment.
The process of testing for VOCs is very similar to testing for mold. Professional air quality experts will take samples of both indoor and outdoor air to determine the source of the intrusion and how best to stop it.
How to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality
Having your indoor air quality tested will allow you to identify pollutants. It won't, however, do the work of improving your indoor air quality. If you want to do that, here's your guide:
Stop the Sources of Pollution
First things first, control the sources of identified pollution. Increasing ventilation is generally the best way to do this. Ensuring more ventilation could be as simple as opening windows and using kitchen fans to exhaust fumes. You'll also want to double-check the ventilation system on any new appliances you install in the house. While minimizing pollution sources can be difficult, air quality experts will generally be able to offer some guidance on how to go about it in your home.
Change Your Air Filters
The air filters on your home's HVAC system are your first line of defense against indoor air pollutants. With this in mind, change the filters regularly. Follow all manufacturer instructions and be sure to replace filters according to manufacturer guidelines. If you're not sure how to change your air filters, hire an HVAC professional to evaluate, clean, and replace the filters throughout your home. This is a simple fix that can make a massive difference.
Track Indoor Humidity
Humidity is one of the most significant factors in pollutants like mold. If you want to stop these things from impacting your home, start by improving your indoor humidity. According to the EPA, humidity inside the house should be between 30 and 50%. Track these levels with the help of a moisture or humidity gauge, both of which are available at your standard hardware and home goods stores. If the humidity is too high, use a dehumidifier to pull moisture out of the air. If it's too low, use a humidifier to put moisture back into the air.
Keep in mind that humidity fluctuates throughout the year. Your home may be more humid during the damp winter months, for example, and less humid in the summer. With this in mind, it's smart to monitor humidity throughout the year, adjusting your humidifying or dehumidifying practices accordingly.
Better Indoor Air Quality Made Simple
Your home is your haven, and you want it to be a happy, healthy place. When your indoor air quality is lacking, though, that's tough to ensure. While pollutants abound, and there's little you can do to prevent that entirely, you can take charge of your indoor air quality by testing it regularly and taking action to control pollutants.
Hiring a team of professional indoor air quality testers will help you understand the pollutants currently in your home. From there, you can get to work on improving your home's air quality. By refusing to let people smoke inside, changing and cleaning air filters regularly, controlling your home's humidity, and venting products that release pollutants into the air, you can make your home a healthier place for both residents and visitors.
If anyone in your home has been suffering from air quality-related symptoms, see a doctor. A medical professional will be able to help you make a plan to deal with these symptoms and decrease them in the future.
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