Indoor Air Quality: How to Identify Pollutants in Your Home

 How is the indoor air quality in your home?

To be honest, clean air is relative, and there are many variables for you to consider. First are the health concerns of family members since people with severe allergies, breathing problems, and compromised immune systems can be extremely sensitive to airborne particles. Some health issues might be seasonal or short-term. Some health issues might require technology to remove airborne pollutants; we will discuss some options available for improving indoor air quality.

  • Minor problems that result from indoor air pollution might manifest with itchy eyes, runny nose, or a headache.
  • Moderate problems might trigger severe allergic reactions.
  • Stronger health problems might make breathing difficult, as pollutants irritate airways.

Another set of variables exists with individual homes.

  • New homes will have much more volatile organic compound (VOC) gases floating around; we associate these gases with a “new” smell. Newly manufactured building materials and furnishings contain fibers, adhesives, and finishes (paints and stains) that release organic chemicals. Over time, the amount of gas released decreases, but new items off-gas VOCs quickly.
  • Old homes might have more gaps and openings around doors, windows, walls, and ceilings. If you open the walls around windows and doors, you will notice the insulation has turned black since it is filtering particles out of the incoming air.
  • Homes located near dirt roads, major highways, industrial sites, or farmland may contain higher concentrations of airborne particles since the outdoor air also contains higher concentrations of these particles.

Each home will have individual characteristics that affect airborne pollutants and indoor air quality.

Common categories of airborne contaminants include:

  • Radon. An odorless, colorless, radioactive gas found in rocks, soils, and water. Radon migrates from the soil in a crawlspace or through cracks in basement foundations. Breathing radon in high concentrations over a period leads to lung cancer, so consider this a serious issue. The EPA also has guidelines to help homeowners test and mitigate problems with radon.1
  • Various Particles. Indoor air contains many particles, most of which are too small to see unaided. Organic particles from the outside include pollen, mold spores, bacteria, and viruses which tend to be seasonal. Organic particles that originate inside include dust (mostly human skin cells) and dander (pet skin cells)/pet hair. Inorganic particles include dirt disturbed by movement and various industrial/combustion gases. Different filters can remove various particles.
  • Various Gases. VOCs may originate inside or outside the house, resulting from household cleaners and cooking. Normal filters do not trap VOCs. Activated charcoal filters can trap them—the small spaces in the charcoal absorb and hold VOCs.

Care must be taken with natural gas-powered furnaces to ensure that the carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide that result from combustion are safely exhausted outdoors and do not enter the home. These gases are odorless, colorless, and hazardous to human health.

Each air pollutant has a technological solution.

  • Radon detectors monitor indoor air and alert homeowners of the problem. Professional mitigation will vent radon outdoors and establish increased monitoring for further protection.
  • If a family member has health issues that require very clean air, consult with an HVAC professional to determine the most efficient air filter for your system. Filters with extremely small openings may overly restrict the airflow and stress the blower motor.

Supportive technology is available to assist with regular filtration. Some filters use static electricity to remove more airborne particles. Ultraviolet lights can be installed inside the supply vents to neutralize organic particles, making them inert. An air filter can easily remove these harmless particles.

  • Regular filters will not remove gaseous contaminants. Activated charcoal filters are commonly found in air purifiers (both room and whole-house-size purifiers). However, activated charcoal is neither a solution for radon, due to its radioactivity nor combustion gas, due to its volume.

Vital maintenance issues that affect indoor air quality include:

  • Complete regular household cleaning to remove dust from surfaces.
  • Changing the air filter regularly, at least every three months.
  • Cleaning the vents regularly, about every 3 to 5 years.
  • Maintain the HVAC system annually.
  • Open windows or doors occasionally to dilute air pollutants, even during winter months.

Need Help Identifying Airborne Pollutants to Improve Indoor Air Quality?

Schedule your indoor air quality standards consultation by calling All Cool AC & Heating at 281-238-9292 or contact us via email and let our NATE-certified indoor air quality technicians put their experience to work for you.