We spend most of our time indoors, and, as a result, our indoor air quality (IAQ) can have a significant impact on our health. Poor IAQ can cause several adverse health effects, such as respiratory problems, headaches, and fatigue. That’s why it’s important to test your home’s IAQ regularly and take steps to improve the air quality if necessary.
If you have an “indoor air quality test” or “IAQ test,” chances are you’re looking for information on how to get home tested for harmful contaminants in your air system. This is a common request from people who have just moved into a new place or have kids at home with allergies or asthma. There’s also an increased awareness of air quality in the wake of environmental disasters, like the Flint water crisis.
So what’s involved in an IAQ test? And more importantly, what can you do to improve the air quality in your home if it’s not up to par? Here’s a guide to everything you need to know about indoor air quality testing.
What is Indoor Air Quality Testing?
Indoor air quality testing is done to determine the presence and concentration of pollutants in a building. Typically, tests are done as part of indoor environment inspections and can be ordered by various parties. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that “all buildings be monitored for acceptable IAQ.”
Why Test Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)?
While there is much information on how much outdoor air pollution there is, there isn’t much about the air we breathe inside our living rooms and kitchens.
Indoor air quality is important because we spend most of our time indoors. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average person spends about 90% of their time indoors, and that number is even higher for children and the elderly.
Poor indoor air quality can cause several adverse health effects, such as respiratory problems, headaches, and fatigue. In some cases, it can even lead to more serious conditions like asthma or cancer.
That’s why it’s important to test your home’s IAQ regularly and take steps to improve the air quality if necessary. By following the tips in this guide, you can help ensure that your family enjoys good health and lives in a safe and comfortable environment.
What’s more, IAQ testing may be needed for various purposes, including:
- To determine if current airborne contaminants exceed recommended levels or new airborne contaminants have been introduced into the building.
- To test for chemical and biological pollutants to determine whether an indoor environment might be causing health problems for workers or inhabitants of the building.
- To identify sources of pollution within buildings so that they can be eliminated or reduced through remediation efforts.
- The US Environmental Protection Agency conducts testing to measure compliance with certain laws and regulations such as Title VI (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) of the Clean Water Act and the Air Pollution Control Act.
What are the Risks Associated with Poor Indoor Air Quality?
Most people aren’t aware of the fact that indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air. In fact, according to the EPA, “Indoor air pollution may be up to five times more concentrated than outdoor air pollution.”
This is a significant health concern, as poor indoor air quality has been linked to many health problems. Some of the risks associated with poor indoor air quality include:
- Asthmatic Reactions: Studies have shown that children exposed to high levels of indoor allergens may display increased asthma symptoms, including reduced lung capacity and shortness of breath.
- Respiratory Problems: Certain viruses and chemicals can cause respiratory problems if inhaled in substantial amounts. People with allergies or asthma are particularly susceptible to respiratory problems from indoor air pollution.
- Headaches: According to the EPA, “People who have headaches, eyestrain, or fatigue may have an indoor air quality problem.” Chemical contaminants, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can cause these symptoms.
- Skin Problems: Exposure to mold and other allergens can lead to skin irritation and rashes.
- Damage to Furniture and Clothing: Cigarette smoke and other pollutants can damage furniture, carpets, and clothing.
- Reduced Productivity: Poor indoor air quality has been linked to reduced productivity in adults and children.
How to Test Indoor Air Quality
For most people, the air quality inside their homes is little concern. However, poor indoor air quality can be a major health concern for some people. IAQ testing is a good way to determine if the air quality in your home is healthy. If you have pets, cook often, or are concerned about odors, you may also want to test your indoor air quality. There are two ways to test indoor air quality: DIY testing and professional testing.
A: DIY Indoor Air Quality Testing:
If you want to reduce the risk of adverse health effects from exposure to mold spores and other contaminants, indoor air quality testing is needed. In many cases, especially where there has been a water intrusion or other catastrophe, it is very difficult for people to determine whether their home is safe without outside help.
For those who would prefer not to contract with a professional service, a do-it-yourself kit can provide useful information on the relative safety of the environment inside a building.
When people decide that they need to purchase a mold testing kit, they should be aware of the limitations of such kits. The fact is that these tests are quite useful for giving an approximate idea about the existence of indoor molds, not for telling whether specific individuals or groups might have had adverse reactions.
Additionally, buying an air quality test is not enough; one must also interpret the test results correctly to come up with meaningful information.
For example, even if no significant levels of fungi spores are found in a building after testing, it may still make sense to address other potential pollutants sources before bringing people back into space. In addition, simply having less mold in a home does not guarantee improved health outcomes when people already live there.
Types of IAQ test you can do yourself include:
Radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States after smoking. It is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas emitted from certain rocks and soils. Radon can enter homes through cracks in the foundation, openings around pipes, or gaps in construction.
The only way to know if your home has high radon levels is to test for it. There are do-it-yourself radon testing kits available at most hardware stores. Test results should be interpreted by a professional.
Radon gas is measured in Picocuries per liter. If you test Indoor Air Quality and get 4 picocuries per liter of radon, the best action is to hire a professional tester to conduct the necessary mitigation. If the test kit doesn’t show the numbers but indicates you should fix it, call a radon mitigation specialist ASAP.
Bonus tip: Remember to ask your builder about the necessary radon-reducing features put in place in the new home during its construction.
2) Secondhand Smoke:
Secondhand smoke is tobacco smoke exhaled by smokers or arises from the burning of cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. It is also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Secondhand smoke is a known carcinogen and can cause serious respiratory problems in children and adults.
You can use several ways to test for the presence of secondhand smoke. One uses an air quality monitor, which can be purchased at most hardware stores. Another is to test for nicotine levels in hair or saliva.
Secondhand smoke can be dangerous, and that’s why you shouldn’t smoke or allow others to smoke inside the house or car.
3) Combustion Pollutants:
Combustion pollutants are gases and particles emitted from burning fuels, such as wood, coal, oil, natural gas, or kerosene. The major source of these combustion pollutants in homes is unvented or improperly vented fuel-burning applications such as woodstoves, gas stoves, space heaters, dryers, water heaters, fireplaces, and more.
These pollutants can cause several adverse health effects, including respiratory problems, heart disease, and cancer. The amount and type of pollutant produced depend on the appliance type, installation, maintenance, ventilation, and fuel type. The two common combustion pollutants include:
a) Carbon Monoxide (CO):
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can cause serious health problems, including death. It is produced when fuels such as wood, oil, coal, or kerosene are burned incompletely. It interferes with oxygen delivery throughout the body. The gas causes dizziness, headache, nausea, weakness, and DEATH.
The best way to test for Carbon Monoxide is to use a carbon monoxide detector. A CO detects works like a smoke detector. It keeps a constant lookout for harmful gas. You can install these devices throughout your home and make sure you test them regularly to be certain they are working properly. Every home must have a CO detector, and each level in your home should have at least one of these devices, from the basement up to the top-most floor.
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b) Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2):
Nitrogen dioxide is a reddish-brown gas that can cause throat, eye, nose irritation, and shortness of breath. It does also increase the risk of respiratory infection. It is produced when certain fuels are burned at high temperatures.
The best way to test for Nitrogen Monoxide is to use a NO2 detector. It works like a carbon monoxide detector. Like a CO monitor, it should be installed throughout your home and regularly tested to ensure they are working properly. If you use an appliance that releases NO2, you need a NO2 monitor at each level in your home, from the basement to the top-most floor.
Apart from installing these two devices, you must:
- Ventilate the rooms where you use the fuel-burning appliances.
- Use fuel-burning appliances venting outdoors whenever possible.
- Use properly installed, adjusted, and maintained fuel-burning appliances.
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4) Volatile Organic Compounds:
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a large group of chemicals found in many common household products, including paints, solvents, cleaning supplies, and cosmetics. VOCs can cause various adverse health effects, including respiratory problems, eye irritation, and headaches. The best way to test for VOCs is to use a gas detector. Gas detectors can be purchased at most hardware stores or online.
If you test Indoor Air Quality and discover VOCs in your home, the best action is to start by determining the products releasing the chemicals. Consult the labels of your air fresheners, candles, cleaning products, and other home chemicals.
You can also do simple ventilation of your rooms to reduce the VOCs concentrations in the indoor air. An air purifier can also help trap and remove some airborne pollutants.
General VOC Prevention Tips:
- When buying home chemicals, remember to buy only those that do not release VOCs in the future.
- Pick furniture made from wood and avoid those made using particle wood.
- Avoid unscented products.
- Avoid smelling PVC products.
- Read and follow warnings and directions on common household products.
- Avoid mixing products household chemicals such as cleaners unless directed by the manufacturer.
- Store all your household products containing chemicals as directed on their labels.
5) Asthma Triggers:
Many things can trigger an asthma attack, including dust m, pet dander, tobacco smoke, and cockroaches. The best way to test for asthma triggers is to use an allergen detector.
Allergen detectors can be purchased at most hardware stores or online. They can test for the presence of allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, and cockroach allergens.
You can prevent environmental asthma triggers by;
- Prohibiting smoking inside your home or car.
- Dusting and cleaning home surfaces regularly
- Fix water leaks and humidity levels in your home.
- Wash the sheets and blankets in hot water once a week.
- Use an allergen-proof mattress and pillow covers.
- Keep the pets off your bedroom and the soft furniture.
- Control pests by closing up cracks and crevices and sealing leaks.
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Molds are fungi that can grow in moist areas, such as bathrooms and kitchens. They also grow in soil and outdoor air. Molds produce spores that can cause adverse health effects in sensitive people, including runny eyes, nasal congestion, asthma attacks, skin rashes, and fever.
You can do a DIY IAQ test for mold using a special kit. However, the results will require laboratory analysis. Sampling the indoor air for mold spores can help determine if there is a mold problem or not, even if there isn’t any mold colony visible.
If the test shows positive for mold, take the necessary steps to remove it. You can;
- Use home mold mitigation solutions such as diluted bleach or cleaning products made to remove mold.
- Use an air purifier ideal for mold. You can use an air purifier with a HEPA air filter as it effectively traps mold. Some models use UV-C light to destroy the mold by exposing the mold spores to DNA, destroying UV-C light and thus preventing them from becoming mold colonies.
- Dry water-damaged items and areas as soon as possible to prevent mold growth, 48 hours at most.
B. Professional Indoor Air Quality Testing:
Indoor air quality testing involves the collection of samples for further laboratory analysis. While it is possible to perform some types of testing using an air quality monitor or detector, professional indoor air quality testing usually involves the collection of air, dust, and surface samples for analysis.
It’s an option for anyone who isn’t comfortable performing the tests himself or someone that needs more comprehensive information about your home’s air quality; you can hire a professional to test the air for you.
Professionals have access to more sophisticated equipment and can provide a detailed report of their findings. They may also be able to make recommendations for improving the air quality in your home.
Professional testing is often more accurate than DIY testing because professional tests take into account factors like temperature, humidity, and ventilation rate — all of which can affect IAQ.
When choosing a professional indoor air quality tester, it’s important to do your research. Not all professionals are created equal, and some may be more qualified than others. Make sure to ask the tester about his or her experience and training in indoor air quality testing.
Even though you can get a professional generalizing on broad IAQ tests, it’d be best to find a specialist in the type of indoor air pollutant you want help with. The best part is, you can find a reputable IAQ specialist at organizations such as the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA), the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH), and the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA).
These websites have tabs labeled ‘Find Consultants’ or ‘Find a Pro.’ You may also ask your local real estate agents for recommendations; they can suggest inspectors they might have worked with earlier. Don’t forget to investigate their qualifications from American Council for Accredited Certification, formerly known as Indoor Air Quality Council.
The cost of professional testing will vary depending on the size of your home, the type of tests being performed, and the number of samples being collected. However, it’s generally a good investment, as it can help you identify and address any problems with your home’s air quality.
When to Call an IAQ Testing Professional:
- When you’re not comfortable performing any of the Indoor Air Quality tests
- You want more information about specific results you got after DIY IAQ tests.
- When you get alarming results after DIY Indoor Air Quality tests.
How to Improve Indoor Air Quality
If your home’s IAQ is poor, there are several steps you can take to improve it. Here are a few tips:
1) Reduce the number of chemicals in your home
Chemicals like VOCs can cause adverse health effects, so it’s important to reduce their levels as much as possible. One way to do this is by using natural cleaning products instead of chemical-based cleaners.
2) Increase ventilation
Increased ventilation can help improve air quality by replacing stale air with fresh air. You can increase ventilation by opening windows, using fans, or installing an air exchanger.
3) Address moisture problems
Excessive moisture can cause mold and mildew to grow, which can cause several respiratory problems. Addressing moisture problems is key to improving IAQ. You can do this by using a dehumidifier, drying clothes outside, or fixing leaky pipes.
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4) Reduce the amount of dust in your home
Dust mites are known to cause respiratory problems, so it’s important to reduce the amount of dust in your home’s air. One way to do this is by regularly cleaning surfaces with a damp cloth.
5) Invest in an air purifier
An air purifier can help improve air quality by removing indoor pollutants from the air. Air purifiers come in various sizes and types, so be sure to do your research before purchasing one.
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6) Change Air Filters Regularly
Regularly changing your air filter can help improve indoor air quality by removing dust, particles, pollutants, and allergens from the air. The best part is, changing or replacing air purifiers, dehumidifiers, and AC filters regularly can help improve its efficiency and indoor air quality by removing dust, particles, and other allergens from the air.
Can a dehumidifier help control air pollutants?
Yes. For starters, a dehumidifier will help control the amount of humidity in the air, thus preventing mold and mildew growth. If the dehumidifier comes with air filters, it can help trap air pollutants such as dust, allergens, and more.