Your home is a huge investment. It’s the place where your kids will grow up, and where you’ll always be happy to return to after a long day at work. From choosing the best tile to the right furniture, homeowners consider many things when it comes to their living space.
While most homeowners take structure and function into account in their home, indoor air quality is a key element of homes that is often overlooked. If you are wondering how to improve your home’s indoor air quality or are interested in home air quality testing to evaluate your current situation, you’ve come to the right place. Explore our guide to indoor air quality and learn to recognize red flags in your space.
Introduction to Indoor Air Quality
As the name suggests, indoor air quality refers to the condition of the air in your home. From naturally occurring allergens such as pollen and mold to household cleaning chemicals, tobacco smoke, and more, a wide variety of factors contribute to the indoor air quality of your home.
When your air quality is poor, it can cause a wide variety of negative health consequences to you and your family. Common contributors to poor indoor air quality include, but are not limited to:
Pollen, mold, and other allergens
Allergic reactions are your body’s way of protecting itself from foreign compounds. When your system identifies these substances (often pollen, mold, and dust), your body defends itself by producing antibodies that also cause allergy symptoms. Common allergens in the Pacific Northwest include pollen from ash, birch, cottonwood, oak, and sycamore trees and a wide variety of other plants and weeds.
Mold is another common contributor to poor indoor air quality. Mold is a fungi that grows in wet and humid areas. Common places you’ll find mold in your home include basements, attics, bathrooms, kitchens, and anywhere with high water exposure. This fungi can release spores into the air that can cause allergic reactions and a number of health effects for your family.
It’s no surprise that gas pollution in your home detracts from your home’s air quality. Several kinds of gases can enter your home and affect your health, and because some gases are odorless and colorless, the only way to know if they are present is to test for them. Gasses to be aware of in your home include:
Radon is a natural byproduct of radioactive element decay of common compounds such as uranium. Basically, when some elements in soil break down over time, they form radon, which can then make its way into your home from the soil. Being exposed to this colorless, odorless gas frequently can lead to serious health effects. The American Cancer Society names radon as the second leading cause of lung cancer, behind smoking cigarettes.
Carbon monoxide is another common and dangerous contributor to poor indoor air quality. Exposure to this gas often leads to dizziness, lightheadedness, and nausea, and more serious health effects in those who have compromised immune systems. Common sources of carbon monoxide in homes and other indoor spaces include:
- Leaky furnaces, chimneys, and other heating systems
- Gas stoves and space heaters
- Car exhaust from garages or nearby highways and parking lots
- Tobacco smoke
- Tools and equipment powered by gasoline
If you are worried about toxic gases in your home, learn more about our gas detection services.
Cigarette Smoke and Tobacco
Everyone knows that smoking cigarettes has negative impacts on the person who is smoking them. Fewer people are aware, however, that exposure to secondhand smoke causes over 3,000 deaths from lung cancer per year for people who are nonsmokers. The EPA also classifies secondhand smoke as a Group A (known human) carcinogen.
Cigarette smoke is toxic. It takes a serious toll on indoor air quality and causes a myriad of cancers and other illnesses for smokers and those around them.
Toxic Building Materials
Not all building materials are made equal. Many older buildings, in particular, were built with materials found to be toxic and hazardous after long-term exposure. Lead and asbestos are two common building materials that lead to negative health effects and poor indoor air quality.
Lead is poisonous to humans, and especially poisonous to children. When people are exposed to high amounts of lead in short periods of time, they can develop headaches, stomach aches, anemia, and more. Some easy ways to prevent lead exposure in your home include:
- Getting your home tested for lead presence
- Testing soil and water for lead presence
- Calling a professional if lead paint in your home needs to be removed
- Frequently cleaning window sills, doors, and flat surfaces throughout your home to reduce risk of lead presence
Asbestos is another common hazardous building material, especially in older structures. Asbestos is a generic name given to a number of naturally occurring hydrated mineral silicates that possess a unique crystalline structure, are incombustible in air, and are separable into fibers.
This material is highly toxic, so it is crucial to perform testing to ensure your spaces are asbestos-free.
Air Quality Health Concerns for You and Your Family
Over time, exposure to pollutants can take a toll on your household, and poor indoor air quality can lead to a number of illnesses. Some effects are immediate and others take some time to manifest themselves. Common immediate health effects of poor indoor air quality include:
- Coughing and sneezing
- Sore throat
- Runny nose and other allergy-like symptoms
These short-term health effects are usually mild and easy to treat, but they are still unpleasant for those affected. People with preexisting conditions such as asthma, a lowered immune system, or a viral disease can be particularly sensitive to indoor air pollutants.
While short-term health effects are typically easy to treat, repeated exposure to air pollutants over time can have more significant side effects. These can include:
- Respiratory disease
- Heart disease
Identifying Indoor Air Quality Issues in Your Home
Now that you know the potential risks pertaining to air quality in your home, how do you know if you and your family are at risk? Knowing how to identify a number of signs and red flags to identify before the problem gets worse is crucial. A few indicators to be aware of include:
- Stuffy air
- Allergy symptoms after a remodel, refinishing, using new cleaning products, or using pesticides
- Dirty climate control systems in your home
- Mold and dust build up
If this sounds like your home, it may be time to call a professional. Conducting air quality testing and analysis is the best way to assess your home’s indoor air quality and identify any potential concerns.
How to Improve Air Quality in Your Home
Indoor air quality is a big issue for households everywhere. Luckily, you have many easy options to improve it and keep you and your loved ones out of harm’s way. While none of these methods are 100 percent foolproof, some preventative measures include:
Cut Sources of Air Pollution
Reducing your home’s exposure to external pollutants is a great way to improve indoor air quality. Whether you’re hoping to reduce exposure to allergens, let fewer external pollutants in, or all of the above, a few easy ways to improve air quality in your home include:
- Avoid using harsh chemicals to clean your house.
- Don’t smoke indoors.
- Pay attention to exhaust from cars and appliances within your home and reduce or redirect them as much as possible.
- Frequently vacuum, sweep, and dust, especially if you have pets in your home.
- Use allergy covers and washable bedding and frequently wash pillow covers, sheets, and other home fixtures.
Another way to improve your home’s indoor air quality is to increase ventilation within your house or apartment. Having increased air circulation in your home can push pollutants out of your home and reduce your risk of mold growth, which will further reduce the amount of allergens and pollutants in your home. Some ways to increase airflow within your home include:
- Use fans when cooking and showering.
- Open windows and doors when weather permits (although be mindful of pollen and other allergens that may find their way in when doors are open!).
- Improve your home’s air filters.
What Do I Do if I’m Worried About My Home’s Air Quality?
Home Air Quality Testing Near Me
If you’re concerned about your home’s indoor air quality, schedule a testing to evaluate your situation. Our team at Hawk Environmental can perform several types of assessments to evaluate your home’s air quality, including assessment of heating and ventilation, environmental data for each room in your home, mold spore testing, and more.