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;
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
Paneling, pressed-wood furniture, and cabinetry may release formaldehyde gas.
Remedy: Ask about formaldehyde content before buying furniture and cabinets. Some types of pressed-wood products, such as those with phenol resin, emit less formaldehyde. Also, products coated with polyurethane or laminates may reduce formaldehyde emissions. After installation, open windows. Maintain moderate temperature and humidity.
Biological pollutants can grow on water-damaged carpet. New carpet can release organic gases.
Remedy: Promptly clean and dry water-damaged carpet, or remove it altogether. If adhesives are needed, ask for low-emitting ones. During installation, open doors and windows, and use window fans or room air conditioners. Vacuum regularly. Consider area rugs instead of wall-to-wall carpet. Rugs are easier to remove and clean, and the floor underneath can also be cleaned.
Some floor tiles contain asbestos.
Remedy: Periodically inspect for damage or deterioration. Do not cut, rip, sand or remove any asbestos-containing materials. If you plan to make changes that might disturb the asbestos, or if materials are more than slightly damaged, contact a professional for repair or removal. Call your local or state health department or the Environmental Protection Agency.
Moisture encourages biological pollutants including allergens, such as mold, mildew, dust mites and cockroaches.
Remedy: If possible, eliminate moisture sources. Install and use exhaust fans. Use a dehumidifier, if necessary. Remove molds and mildew by cleaning with a solution of chlorine bleach (1 cup bleach to 1 gallon water). Maintain fresh air with natural and mechanical air circulation.
Your fireplace can be a source of carbon monoxide and combustion pollutants.
Remedy: Open the flue when using the fireplace. Have the flue and chimney inspected annually for exhaust back-drafting, flue obstructions, cracks, excess creosote, and other damage. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
An air conditioner can be a source of biological allergens.
Remedy: If there is a water tray, empty and clean it often. Follow all service and maintenance procedures, including changing the filter.
Gas and kerosene space heaters can release carbon monoxide and combustion pollutants.
Remedy: Never use unvented kerosene or gas space heaters. In the room where the heater is located, provide fresh air by opening a door to the rest of the house, turning on an exhaust fan, and slightly opening a window.
Tobacco smoke contains harmful combustion and particulate pollutants, including carbon monoxide and combustion byproducts.
Remedy: Do not smoke in your home or permit others to do so, especially near children. If smoking cannot be avoided indoors, open windows and use exhaust fans.
New draperies may be treated with a formaldehyde-based finish and emit odors for a short time.
Remedy: Before hanging, air draperies to ventilate odors. After hanging, ventilate the area. Maintain moderate temperature and humidity.
Paint manufactured before l978 may contain lead.