There’s a lot of nasty stuff floating around in the air. You’ve probably seen smog before, hanging over a city or a factory pumping smoke into the air. The thing about it is, though, the air outside may not be much different than the air inside your home and office. In fact, the air inside your home could actually be worse than the air outside, depending on what materials were used in your home’s construction, mold growth and other factors.
The Environmental Protection Agency has established guidelines for air quality that specify the maximum exposure to six pollutants. Exposure to levels higher than EPA recommendations can lead to health problems. But you can take steps to make the air inside your home cleaner.
Factors that affect indoor air quality
There are a number of reasons the air in your home may be bad. If you have a moisture problem in your home, you’re looking at a lot of potentially funky molds and mildews growing in hidden places, releasing spores into the air. If you have an unvented gas oven, you’re inviting a lot of carbon monoxide and other combustion products into your air. Then take into consideration the paint, solvents, aerosol sprays, fabric additives in your carpets, potential for asbestos if your home is over 20 years old, lead from lead-based paints and tobacco smoke if you’re a smoker, and you’ve got a whole cocktail of pollutants floating around inside your walls.
What to look for when testing air
If you’re worried there may be some pollutants floating around in your air, there are several signs that can give you an early warning. Strange odors and stale air are a dead giveaway. If your home is particularly humid or you notice significant mold or mildew, it’s probably time to test your air. Testing kits may range from $20 to hundreds of dollars, and you can buy kits that test for one pollutant only (like radon).
Faulty heating and air conditioning units, as well as poorly maintained chimneys, can cause dangerous air quality problems, so make sure to have those features inspected by a professional every year.
Cleaning up your act
The EPA recommends three specific means for cleaning the air in your home: source control, improved ventilation and air cleaners. For source control, that means getting rid of the things that are causing the air quality issues. For mold and mildew problems, that means cleaning any existing mold and mildew and implementing changes to control it; you may need to add ventilation to your home to prevent moisture from accumulating.
Improving ventilation can be as simple as opening your windows and doors to allow fresh air inside. A fresh breeze can do wonders for moving the stale air around your home and improving air quality. If your home is newer, you may even have access to a system that will mechanically bring in fresh air from outside (note that most heaters and air conditions do not bring in air from outside).
Air cleaners can range from small, inexpensive models to whole-house systems with filters that can remove mold spores and other pollutants from the air. If you’re looking for a good air cleaner, look at its effectiveness. There will be a percentage efficiency rate that will tell you how well it collects the pollutants inside your home.
If you eliminate the sources of indoor air pollution and have adequate ventilation, the air you breathe will be cleaner.