Indoor air pollutants in your home could be triggering allergies and asthma in your family. When buying a new home, it’s important to have either the home inspection or other inspections check the air quality of your home and that everything is up to code.
Hidden air pollution sources could be making your family sick. Here are 10 places to check when you’re looking to purchase a new home.
One of the most well-known indoor air pollutants, radon exposure, can result in lung cancer. Radon gas builds up in a home from the release of radiation from uranium in the soil. Even elevated dwellings can have dangerous levels of radon. Don’t think that your home is safe if you don’t have a basement, either.
All homes need radon testing to verify if the radon in your home is problematic. If it is too high, hire a contractor to mitigate the levels.
Your stove, fireplace or any gas appliance can be a source of carbon monoxide. This substance is odorless, tasteless, colorless and deadly. Install CO detectors where you also install smoke detectors — the two are not interchangeable. A small gas leak or burning inside without adequate ventilation leads to a build-up of CO in the home. Too much can cause trouble breathing, dizziness, nausea and confusion.
If your CO detector goes off, get out into fresh air at once. Carbon monoxide can be fatal.
3. Cleaning Supplies
Those cleaning supplies you think are getting rid of pollutants may be causing an even worse problem. Many cleaning supplies and disinfectants release volatile organic compounds, VOCs. These compounds can result in immediate irritation in both the lungs and eyes. Trouble concentrating, headaches, dizziness and visual problems also may occur with exposure to cleaning supplies and pesticides. Read the instructions carefully, and only use VOC-containing cleaning products in a well-ventilated area.
4. Air Fresheners
Air fresheners have one purpose — to release VOCs into your home. Some people know they are sensitive to air fresheners without knowing why, so the aerosol container sends VOCs into your home. There’s no safe way to use air fresheners, especially in a house with people who are sensitive to air pollutants. In fact, the American Lung Association recommends never using air fresheners in your home.
As innocent as candles seem, they send particulate matter into the air. Like other forms of burning, candles create lung-irritating smoke, which is at its worst when you blow out the candle. Try extinguishing the candle near a window or outside, if you must use one. Incense is not a safer alternative, either, since the smoke released from burning is the irritating factor. Avoid using these in your home if possible.
6. HVAC System
HVAC systems allow people to spend more time indoors. But even though people are spending more time away from outdoor air pollution, asthma is rising in developed countries. Air pollutants inside are partially to blame. Not filtering them from the air is also a problem.
High-efficiency particulate air, HEPA, filters are the best defense against air pollutants. To qualify as a HEPA filter, these must remove 99.97 percent of particles larger than 0.3 microns from the air. While these get rid of dust and animal dander, they won’t help with bacteria. UV light can help your HVAC system deliver fresh air to your home. Without these filters, you’re just recirculating pollutant-filled air.
Carpeting acts like a pollutant sponge. Not only does it trap pet dander, mildew and dust mites, it also can hold VOCs. New carpet can even be an irritant to asthmatics and children. The exact cause is currently unknown.
If you buy new carpeting, ask the installers to use low VOC adhesives. Do the same for the installation of any flooring. Ventilate the room for 72 hours after installation to allow the pollutants to escape. Keep your carpet regularly vacuumed and get a vacuum with a HEPA filter to keep it from sending dust into the air during use.
8. Hobby Materials
Paints, glues and other hobby materials could expose your family to even more VOCs. If you feel that you must use these products for your model building or crafting, consider building a crafting shed outside. You’ll keep the dangerous odors out of your home, and you also won’t have to worry about your pets, children or other family members from accidentally damaging your projects.
9. Pressed Wood
Modern pressed wood such as particleboard and fiberboard could emit formaldehyde. This carcinogen also can cause fatigue, skin rash, coughing and throat irritation. Older homes that don’t use urea-formaldehyde foam insulation, UFFI, have formaldehyde levels less than 0.1 ppm. But modern homes with pressed wood furniture, UFFI or wood paneling could have three times that level.
Avoid choosing cheaper pressed wood for your home. If there is any in the home you want to purchase, consider replacing it or finding a different home. Should the pressed wood need to remain, you can lessen the effects of any emitted formaldehyde. Maintain low humidity levels and a constant temperature in the home to discourage moisture and keep the area well-ventilated.
Though lead paint is illegal now, many older homes still have this substance on the walls. It becomes dangerous when it ages, flakes and children consume the chips that get in their food or on their toys. Old lead water supply pipes can contaminate drinking water with lead. But in most of the country, PVC has replaced lead pipes.
Exposure to lead can be fatal in elevated levels. Even at non-lethal doses, lead exposure can damage the blood, the kidneys, mental development and the nervous system.
Do not remove the lead-based paint if it is intact and not flaking off — doing so sends more lead dust into the air. Instead, consult with a professional about safely removing the old paint and repainting if the paint is flaking. There are also some paints that are supposed to be designed to cover lead paint and prevent it from polluting your home.
Indoor Air Quality and Your Family
It’s time to take indoor air quality seriously — just cleaning is not enough. In fact, you could be contributing to your home’s indoor air pollution through your daily chores. Become more aware of these potential dangers in a home you’re interested in purchasing and take steps to remove them. Your family’s health is at stake.
Emily Folk is a sustainability journalist and the editor of Conservation Folks.