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Air Quality in the Home

June 10, 2018

Indoor air quality is generally worse than most people believe, but there are things you can do about it.


Some Quick Facts:

  • Indoor air quality can be worse than that of outdoor air.

  • Problems can arise from moisture, insects, pets, appliances, radon, materials used in household products and furnishings, smoke, and other sources.

  • Effects range from minor annoyances to major health risks.

  • Remedies include ventilation, cleaning, moisture control, inspections, and following manufacturers' directions when using appliances and products.

Research has shown that the quality of indoor air can be worse than that of outdoor air. Many homes are built or remodeled more tightly, without regard to the factors that assure fresh and healthy indoor air. Our homes today contain many furnishings, appliances and products that can affect indoor air quality.


Signs of indoor air quality problems include:


  • unusual and noticeable odors;

  • stale or stuffy air;

  • a noticeable lack of air movement;

  • dirty or faulty central heating or air-conditioning equipment;

  • damaged flue pipes and chimneys;

  • unvented combustion air sources for fossil-fuel appliances;

  • excessive humidity;

  • the presence of molds and mildew;

  • adverse health reaction after remodeling, weatherizing, bringing in new furniture, using household and hobby products, and moving into a new home; and 

  • feeling noticeably healthier outside.

Common Sources of Air Quality Problems


Poor indoor air quality can arise from many sources. At least some of the following contaminants can be found in almost any home:


  • moisture and biological pollutants, such as molds, mildew, dust mites, animal dander, and cockroaches;

  • high humidity levels, inadequate ventilation, and poorly maintained humidifiers and air conditioners;

  • combustion products, including carbon monoxide, from unvented fossil-fuel space heaters, unvented gas stoves and ovens, and back-drafting from furnaces and water heaters;

  • formaldehyde from durable-press draperies and other textiles, particleboard products, such as cabinets and furniture framing, and adhesives;

  • radon, which is a radioactive gas from the soil and rock beneath and around the home's foundation, groundwater wells, and some building materials;

  • household products and furnishings, such as paints, solvents, air fresheners, hobby supplies, dry-cleaned clothing, aerosol sprays, adhesives, and fabric additives used in carpeting and furniture, which can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs); 

  • asbestos, which is found in most homes more than 20 years old. Sources include deteriorating, damaged and disturbed pipe insulation, fire retardant, acoustical material (such as ceiling tiles) and floor tiles;

  • lead from lead-based paint dust, which is created when removing paint by sanding, scraping and burning;

  • particulates from dust and pollen, fireplaces, wood stoves, kerosene heaters and unvented gas space heaters; and

  • tobacco smoke, which produces particulates, combustion products and formaldehyde.

Remedies to Indoor Air Quality Problems


Living Areas


Paneling, pressed-wood furniture, and cabinetry may release formaldehyde gas.

Remedy: Ask about formaldehyde content before buying furniture and cabinets.