Home inspectors

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Home Air Quality


The air in your home may be more polluted than outdoor air in even the largest and most heavily industrialized cities.

Research has revealed that Americans spend about 90 percent of their time indoors. So, for most people, the air pollutants most likely to affect them are the ones that they will encounter in their own homes and places of business. While levels of pollution from individual sources at home may not pose a significant risk by themselves, most homes have more than one source of pollutants. The cumulative effects of these sources can be dangerous. Fortunately, there are steps you can take both to reduce the risk and to prevent new problems from arising.

What pollutes the air in a home?

Indoor pollution sources fall into several general categories. How many of these do you have in your home?

What effect does ventilation have?

Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels by not bringing in sufficient outside air to dilute emissions from indoor sources. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase the concentration of some pollutants.

The rate at which outside air replaces indoor air is called the air exchange rate. Your home exchanges air with the outdoors in three ways:

When the combination of infiltration, natural ventilation, and mechanical ventilation doesn't produce a vigorous air exchange rate, pollutants inside the home can build up.

How can you recognize bad indoor air?

What about radon?

Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that occurs naturally and is found everywhere at very low levels. Exposure to radon becomes a concern when radon gets trapped indoors so that concentrations build up in indoor air.

Lung cancer is associated with exposure to elevated levels of radon. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that between 5,000 and 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year may be attributed to radon.

The federal government recommends that you measure the level of radon in your home. Inexpensive devices for measuring radon are widely available. For pollutants other than radon, testing can be expensive. Consult your local health department or an air quality professional before monitoring for these other pollutants.


How can you improve your air at home?

Here are three basic strategies for improving indoor air quality.

Source Control
Eliminate individual sources of pollution or reduce their emissions. Some sources, like insulation containing asbestos, can be sealed or enclosed; others, like gas stoves, can be adjusted to decrease emissions. Source control can be the most cost-efficient approach to improving air quality, because it is more energy-efficient than increasing ventilation.

Ventilation Improvement
Opening windows and doors, when the weather permits, increases the natural ventilation rate and can result in immediate air quality improvement. Turning on bathroom or kitchen exhaust fans, if they are vented to the outdoors, can lower pollution levels by removing contaminants from the room where the fan is located. Where radon may be a problem, a window should be opened while exhaust fans are in use.

It is particularly important to increase ventilation when you are engaged in activities such as painting or paint stripping, heating with kerosene heaters, cooking with un-vented gas stoves, or participating in hobby or maintenance activities such as welding, soldering, or sanding. You can increase the mechanical ventilation rate by installing heat recovery ventilators (also known as air-to-air heat exchangers). These devices draw outside air into a home and conserve energy by recovering the heat from air that is exhausted to the outdoors. Heat recovery ventilators can be installed in central air systems in new homes or during major remodeling; window units can be installed in existing homes.

Air Cleaners
There are many types and sizes on the market, ranging from tabletop models to whole-house systems. Some are more efficient than others. Air cleaners are generally not designed to remove gaseous pollutants. Air cleaners can be judged on how well they collect pollutants and by how much air they draw through the cleaning or filtering element (expressed in cubic feet per minute). The long-term performance of any air cleaner depends on maintaining it according to the manufacturer's instructions.

At present, the EPA doesn't recommend using air cleaners to reduce levels of radon or its decay products.