Everything You Need to Know About Indoor Air Quality

wordcloud of words related to indoor air quality

It can be difficult to manage all of the risks in everyday life. From crossing the street to biking to work, health and safety risks lurk in the background of our day to day. We wear helmets when biking, and look both ways when stepping onto the roadway, but how often are we concerned with avoiding the dangerous quality of our indoor air?

While some present risks to our health are impossible to surmount, indoor air quality is relatively simple to improve. A concerted effort toward perfecting the quality and circulation of indoor air will help in the battle against respiratory illnesses, heart conditions, and even some cancers.

Here are steps to identify and improve poor air quality inside of a home, apartment, or workspace.

Discovering poor indoor air quality:

Your body can be one of the best indicators of poor air quality. Especially after a move or remodel, take stock of skin and eye irritations, fatigue, coughs, or problems taking full breaths. If any or multiple of these issues are present, it may be worth visiting an allergist and taking more technical steps for determining the quality of your indoor air.

Take a look, and sniff, around your home. Is there exposed insulation? Does condensation form on any walls? Are there strange, stale smells in any rooms or throughout the entire house? Do you see mold? These findings, while no guarantee of poor indoor air quality, serve as good evidence that something problematic is afoot.

Testing your home for radon is another step worth taking in an effort to deduce the quality of indoor air. Since the cancer-causing, radioactive gas is impossible to sense with the nose or eye, a testing kit will be necessary. Luckily, these are affordable and available for sale all over the internet. In its 2016 Citizen’s Guide to Radon, the EPA recommends you “Fix your home if your longterm test result is 4pCi/L or more.” They also note that affordable radon reduction systems work well, and can even reduce a high radon content to a safe level.

As far as the testing of other harmful pollutants goes, it is often more costly to consult a specialist to test your air than it is to take measures toward improving it. Before seeking out an air inspection, consider the following simple home improvements, as they may be what an inspector recommends anyway.

Steps toward better air quality:

The EPA recommends 3 steps toward improving air quality: source control, ventilation improvements, and air cleaners.

Source control is simply the elimination or management of pollutant sources. Specific maintenance will depend on the source of poor air quality, whether it be mold, asbestos, or an old gas stove. Once a source is identified, consult an expert or credible online source for the best course of action.

Improving ventilation is the most obvious of all approaches. Weather permitting, leave windows open as much as possible. If window A/C units are employed in a dwelling or office, check for an outdoor ventilation mode to cycle fresh air into a room. Leaving bathroom fans on during and after bathroom use can also help in the quest for clean indoor air. Additionally, regular filter changes on indoor heating and cooling systems is a wise move.

For situations that call for more serious action than leaving the widows open, store-bought air cleaners can be employed for active filtration of indoor air. Prices range from relatively cheap to very expensive, so determine what your needs and budget are before buying. Here’s what the EPA says about the efficiency of air cleaners:

“The effectiveness of an air cleaner depends on how well it collects pollutants from indoor air (expressed as a percentage efficiency rate) and how much air it draws through the cleaning or filtering element (expressed in cubic feet per minute).”

Read the fine print about a prospective air cleaner before buying. An air cleaner that shuffles a lot of air through it but does not filter with a high efficiency rate will not do you much good. Conversely, an air filter with a high efficiency rate that collects few cubic feet of air per minute will filter very little air very effectively.

Poor indoor air quality is an often silent threat to human health, and should be taken seriously. That said, major health issues caused by bad indoor air generally take a long time to set in, so don’t panic. If you notice symptoms of bad air, take your time in determining the issue, and take swift action once the problem is found.