In Home Air Quality Testing to Determine How Clean Your Air Is
You’re probably well-aware of the health problems caused by air pollution in our cities. However, the air pollution inside your own home can be a much bigger threat to your health. Scientific studies have found that indoor air pollution can be 10 times worse than outdoor air pollution.
Let’s explain what causes indoor air pollution and how to do an air quality test in your home.
- What is indoor air pollution?: Poor indoor air quality is a serious health risk for you and your family. Not only can it cause allergy symptoms, but studies suggest it can also cause more severe health issues such as cancer, hypertension, and high blood pressure.
- What causes indoor air pollution?: Your air quality can be polluted by many different contaminants. Poor ventilation is the main culprit, but your air can also be polluted by household items, malfunctioning HVAC systems, and exposure to natural gasses leaking from the earth.
- How do you know your air is polluted?: You can do an air quality test at home to gauge your indoor air quality. You can do this on your own by using a test kit, or you can hire a professional to test your air. Both of the methods have their advantages and disadvantages.
How is Air Quality Measured?
Air quality is measured by the Air Quality Index (AQI). AQI measures common pollutants like airborne particles, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. AQI uses a scale that ranges from 0 to 500:
- 0 – 50 (Green): Good Air Quality
- 51 – 100 (Yellow): Moderate Air Quality
- 101 – 150 (Orange): Unhealthy Air Quality for Sensitive Groups
- 151 – 200 (Bright Red): Unhealthy Air Quality
- 201 – 300 (Purple): Very Unhealthy Air Quality
- 301 – 500 (Dark Red): Hazardous Air Quality
AQI is most often used to measure outdoor air quality, using a combination of ground assessments and satellite technology. However, it can also be used to test the air quality inside your home.
What is Poor Indoor Air Quality?
The Air Quality Index measures how much pollutants are in the air, a measurement called particulate count. The more particles are in the air, the unhealthier it is for you to breathe. Remember that many unhealthy particles are tiny and practically invisible to the naked eye.
Your indoor air quality is unhealthy if the AQI is over 100. However, your air quality can fluctuate throughout the day or week. For instance, indoor air tends to be worse right after you’ve cooked a meal in your kitchen.
What is the Long-Term Impact of Poor Home Air Quality?
Scientists know more about outdoor air quality than indoor air quality, and there’s still plenty of research being done to evaluate the health effects of indoor air pollution.
It’s unlikely that poor air quality will cause significant health effects in the short-term. Most likely, you could suffer from allergies and other respiratory symptoms, like asthma and sinus infections.
Long-term exposure to unhealthy indoor air may cause severe health problems such as heart disease, respiratory diseases, and even cancer, depending on what the pollutants are. Children may suffer the worst health complications; for children the risk of developing pneumonia is nearly double when exposed to indoor air pollution.
The World Health Organization estimates that indoor air pollution causes about 3.2 million deaths per year. That’s why air pollution is known as the “invisible killer.”
What Causes Poor Indoor Air Quality?
Poor indoor air quality is mostly caused by:
- Poor Ventilation: In homes that are poorly ventilated, polluted air will be trapped indoors and reduce the air quality. The best way to ventilate your home is to open doors and windows so fresh air can come in and polluted air can be swept out.
- Cooking: Your indoor air will become much more polluted after you cool a meal, especially if you’re using a gas-powered stove or oven.
- Household Chemicals: Cleaning products, air fresheners, and furniture give off a variety of harmful chemicals.
- Radon: Radon is a toxic gas that’s found in the earth’s crust, and it may leak from underground and seep into your home through the foundations.
- Unhealthy Heating Systems: Gas and oil-powered stoves and furnaces emit air pollutants such as sulfur, and they can also put your home at risk of carbon monoxide emissions. Wood-burning fireplaces also emit harmful pathogens.
- Temperature and Humidity: Poor air quality doesn’t always involve airborne pollutants. You could suffer a variety of health problems when your living space is too hot or too cold, including poor sleep, higher stress, and greater risk of dehydration and heat stroke in the summer months. Having a well-functioning HVAC system is crucial for your comfort and health.
Types of Indoor Air Contaminants
There are too many types of air contaminants to list, but most of them can be sorted into three categories. Most of these pollutants can be detected by air quality test kits and by professional testing.
Biological pollutants include:
- Mold spores
- Dust mites
These continents can cause respiratory problems and asthma attacks, while mold can present more severe health complications if left untreated. Thankfully, most of these contaminants can be filtered out by whole house purifiers.
Combustion pollutants can pose the most severe health risks. The most common ones are:
- Secondhand Smoke: Smoke that’s emitted from tobacco, marijuana, and other burning products can cause lung cancer after continuous exposure over a long period.
- Carbon Monoxide: Carbon monoxide is a dangerous pollutant that’s released in small quantities by gas stoves, gas space heaters, and unvented kerosene. High levels of carbon monoxide pollution can cause flu or food poisoning symptoms, or even death. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas, so it’s important to have carbon monoxide detectors installed in your home to alert you when levels are dangerously high.
Chemical pollutants consist of:
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): VOCs are vapors and gasses found in many household items, including furniture, paint, building materials, wood preservatives, cleaning supplies, office equipment, and more. VOC pollution can be avoided by increasing ventilation in your home and by using air purifiers.
- Lead: Older homes often have materials made from lead, typically in lead-based pipes and paint. These materials may emit airborne lead when they start to chip or peel away. Air purifiers can remove lead from your air, but it’s also advisable to remove and replace lead-based materials with safer, modern products.
- Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is found in a variety of household products, but it’s especially prevalent in the manufacturing glue used in furniture.
- Radon: Radon is an element that’s present in the ground. In some places, it can leak from the earth and get into your home through entrances in the foundation. This is one of the only chemical pollutants that air purifiers cannot filter out. For radon, there are typically short-term and long-term air quality test kits available online, and your city may also provide them for free.
Common Examples of Indoor Air Pollution
The list of things that can contribute to indoor air pollution is long with some of the most common culprits behind indoor airborne particulates listed below:
- Secondhand smoke from tobacco products
- Fossil fuel heating sources, like gas or oil-burning heaters, fireplaces, and stoves
- Wood-burning stoves and fireplaces
- Aerosols (air fresheners, spray adhesives, hairspray, etc.)
- Candles and incense
- Off-gassing by paint, flooring, and furniture
- Home cleaning supplies
- Pest control products
How to Test Air Quality in Your Home
You can do an air quality test in your home to figure out whether or not you have poor air quality.
Here’s how to test your indoor air quality:
- Test your air quality using air quality monitors
- Monitor specifically for carbon monoxide
- Monitor specifically for radon
- Test for mold
- Get a professional to monitor your air quality
- Educate yourself about the signs and symptoms of poor indoor air quality
Test Air Quality Using Air Quality Monitors
You can test your indoor air quality by using air quality monitors. Air quality monitors have electrochemical sensors that estimate particulate matter and detect toxins. They come in a wide range of styles and prices. Some monitors are handheld while others can be mounted on a wall in your home.
Air quality tests cannot detect every single type of pollutant, but the ideal model should be able to measure:
- Air Quality Index (AQI)
- Particulate levels
- Temperature and humidity
- Volatile organic compounds
If there’s one pollutant you’re particularly concerned about, you should get an air quality monitor that can detect that specific pollutant.
Monitor for Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide is one of the most dangerous gasses that can pollute your air. It’s known as the “silent killer” because it’s colorless, odorless, and builds up to dangerous levels in areas where there’s poor ventilation or when there’s a gas leak.
Carbon monoxide alarms should be installed in every home. They’re similar to smoke detectors, and are placed in the same areas (i.e. outside of bedrooms). The alarm will sound when there’s dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in your home. These alarms only cost between $10-$15 at your local home goods store. Some are battery-powered, while others simply need to be plugged in.
You can reduce smaller emissions of carbon monoxide by replacing gas-burning stoves, fireplaces, and heaters with electric ones.
Monitor for Radon
As we mentioned earlier, radon gas is released when uranium in the soil breaks down. The gas can seep upward through the soil and enter your home through openings in the foundation. To figure out whether radon is polluting your home, you have to use an air quality test kit that is specifically designed for detecting radon. You’ll place the radon monitor in the highest-risk areas of your home, which are usually the rooms closest to the ground or below the ground.
There are short-term tests and long-term tests available. During a short-term test, you’ll let the monitor sit for 2 to 7 days, depending on the model. For a long-term test, you’ll let the monitor sit for as long as 90 days or even a full year. No matter which option you choose, you’ll have to mail the monitor to a lab to have the results analyzed.
Remember: air purifiers are not effective at reducing radon levels in your home. If your home is suffering from radon contamination, you’ll have to seal gaps in the foundation to effectively keep the radon out.
Indoor Air Quality Testing for Mold
It’s obvious when mold is growing on your bread, in unwashed coffee mugs, or on surfaces in your attic or basement. However, your indoor air could be polluted by tiny mold spores that are drifting through your home. You can do a mold test to detect mold spores in your air, which can alert you to a mold infestation you might have overlooked. Mold tests are fairly cheap and can be found at your local home goods store.
Here are a few different types of mold tests:
- Swab Tests: Swab tests will have you take a sample from one of the surfaces in your home, like a table or countertop, or by ventilation areas. It’ll provide results in a few minutes, but they won’t tell you which kind of mold is growing.
- Tape Strips: Tape strip tests will provide more accurate and specific results, but you’ll have to mail them to a lab for analysis, and they can be easily contaminated by other particles in your air supply.
- Petri Dish Tests: Petri dish tests are also popular. These kits provide you with a substance to spur mold growth, which you place on a small petri dish and cover up. If mold grows in the petri dish, then you have mold. The downside to petri dish tests is that, like tape strip tests, they can easily be contaminated by other particles in your air.
- Air Pump Tests: Air pumps also the most accurate results and are less likely to be contaminated, but they usually cost more.
Removing a mold infestation can be hazardous without the right protective gear, so it’s best to have a professional handle it.
Get a Professional to Monitor Air Quality
If you’re serious about improving the air quality in your home, you should hire professionals to test your indoor air quality. Professionals will be able to detect all different types of air pollutants and can deliver faster turnaround times for test results.
Professionals can also make recommendations on how to remove the pollutants and prevent them from contaminating your air in the future.
Educate Yourself About Signs of Poor Indoor Air Quality
You might not need a monitor to realize you have poor indoor air quality. Polluted air can be easily recognized by the following signs.
Signs of Poor Air Quality Inside a Home
- Excessive dust around your home
- Musty air and other odors
- Mold buildup
- Health problems (allergies, asthma, and other respiratory issues)
- Deteriorating materials in an older home
- Steamy windows
- Cold air drafts
- Uneven temperatures in your home
- Ice dams on your roof
Tips to Improve Indoor Air Quality
Here are a few simple ways you can improve your indoor air quality:
- Improve Your Ventilation: One of the best and easiest ways to improve your indoor air quality is to open your windows for better ventilation. Opening your windows allows fresh air to come in and replace polluted air that’s been trapped inside. You can also improve your ventilation by having maintenance done on your HVAC system. Your AC provides your home with clean, cool, and dry air, but it may not work as efficiently if you neglect annual maintenance.
- Install an Air Purifier: A whole house air purifier is an excellent way to filter out pollutants in your indoor air. Your HVAC system also acts as an air purifier. You should also get in the habit of replacing your AC air filters once per month during the summer for best results.
- Use Exhaust Vents: Use exhaust vents in the kitchen and bathroom to ventilate your home and remove humidity and pollutants. Turn on your kitchen exhaust for about twenty minutes after you finish cooking, because gas stoves is a major source of indoor air pollution.
- Install Alarms: Every home should have a carbon monoxide alarm. Install one as soon as possible so you’ll always be alerted to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. It could save your life.
- Go Electric: Harmful carcinogens are produced by gas-powered fireplaces, stoves, and heaters (wood-burning fireplaces are also major pollutants). You’ll improve your indoor air quality when you replace these fossil-fuel heating sources with electric ones. Electric heating is also more energy-efficient and will save you money in the long-term.
Contact Hurricane AC if You Are Dealing with Poor Indoor Air Quality
Get in touch with us if you think you’re suffering from poor indoor air quality in your home. We provide a range of air quality services for residential and commercial properties in Southwest Florida, where the heat and humidity puts you more at risk of polluted indoor air.
Our licensed professionals can do air quality testing to determine:
- Your home’s Air Quality Index
- The amount of particulate matter in your air
- The levels of carbon monoxide in your home
- Whether there’s mold in your home, and where it’s coming from
We can also install a whole house air purifier, if you want to effectively remove particles from your air and make your air quality as healthy as possible.