How to Test Air Quality in Your Home
Indoor air quality testing is an invisible chore that we never think to do until we experience truly clean air. Maybe you visited a friend or a family member who performs air quality tests and you felt the difference between polluted air and clean air, and you want to learn more.
In this article, we will walk you through the most-common symptoms of indoor air pollution, and what you can do about it.
Symptoms of Indoor Air Pollution
Evidence shows that poorly maintained home air conditioning units may contribute to some health conditions and diseases. (1)
The health effects of poor air quality may take years to show up, and may range anywhere from a minor respiratory disease, to heart disease or even some types of cancer.
This is, of course, the worst-case scenario. Many of the shorter-term effects can be treated easily, and can include the following symptoms:
- Irritation of the eyes or nose
- Sore throat
- Frequent headaches
- Asthma, or worsening of pre-existing asthma
Depending on the pollutants present, these symptoms may be brought on in tandem with other underlying medical conditions. The severity of symptoms also depends on the sensitivity of the individual affected, with varying symptoms in the same family.
If symptoms disappear when you are away from home, then your home’s air may be the culprit of seasonal allergies. Indoor air quality testing is essential to identify potentially harmful substances in your home.
Severe symptoms of indoor air pollution are dizziness, rash, nausea, fatigue, vomiting or chills. These symptoms are sometimes mistaken as a common cold, or allergies.
Indoor air quality testing is a must if you develop any of these symptoms, or if pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma worsen while you are in your home. These symptoms may be caused by a larger problem with your home’s filtration or air-conditioning system and should be diagnosed as soon as possible.
Air Quality Tests You Can Do Yourself
Some forms of indoor air quality testing can be done on your own. But for more extensive testing, such as testing for carbon monoxide, mold, asbestos, lead and other harmful pollutants, you should schedule an appointment with your local professional air quality testing service.
Indoor air quality testing can be as simple as monitoring your home for harmful gases for a proactive approach, to more complex methods to uncover problems in the system, such as testing for radioactive substances or combustible particles.
While you may want to consider hiring a professional in certain circumstances, here are some tests you can do yourself to save some money:
- Test for Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that many home appliances produce. Home regulations require that these gases be dispersed outside the home through a ventilation system. When these ventilation systems break down, stop filtering pollutants or are otherwise damaged, it can cause a buildup of carbon monoxide within the home.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause several symptoms like the flu, and left to build up, it can kill humans and animals breathing it in.
“It turns out there is a gas leak. A significant one. The energy company representative arrives in 10 minutes and turns everything off. He encourages us to stay out of the house for a while so I wait in the car with the dog until the furnace company arrives.” - Jennifer Flaa, “A Carbon Monoxide Detector Saved Our Lives”
Purchasing a carbon monoxide alarm may save your life if there is a gas leak in the home. (2) In many states, these carbon monoxide alarms are required for tenants in apartment buildings and before a home is able to go on the market, but this doesn’t mean that they are always maintained.
Keep the batteries changed and test the alarm for accuracy. It will help keep your loved ones safe. Carbon monoxide alarms should be installed on every floor of the home so it can alert the family to gas ahead of time. Gas will fill a floor before expanding into other areas of the home, so it is best to catch it before it spreads.
- Test for Radon
Radon is a radioactive gas that breaks down in the soil outside and can seep into your home through cracks in the foundation and walls. This gas is a leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.
You can typically purchase an at-home test kit for radon from most home and DIY stores, but it does require you to leave the test kit in the home for a time before sending it into a lab to collect the results.
If you encounter a high level of radon in your home, you can typically seal cracks and caulk the foundation to reduce exposure to the gas. Once that is done, it is always recommended to perform another test to ensure that the levels have decreased. This will tell you whether all cracks have been sealed and the source of radon is blocked from enter the home.
- Test for Indoor Allergens and Irritants
Indoor allergens and other irritants are some of the most common reasons homeowners or apartment tenants want to change their air filters. While the symptoms are not nearly as life threatening as carbon monoxide or radon, they are annoying and pervasive.
There are test kits available at any hardware store that allow you to assess the level of pollutants in your home’s air, from animal dander, to mold spores, dust and other allergens.
High concentrations of allergens or irritants can typically be resolved by getting the air duct system cleaned, or by changing your AC unit’s filter. If you have pets in your home, it is typically recommended to change your air filter every two months. If you have allergies, you will want to consider changing your filter every month.
- Test for Mold
During the rainy season or after any plumbing leaks, it is important to look for any signs of mold on the walls. A musty or sweet odor may be present, and mold will appear as slight discolorations on the wall, later leading to dark or mis-colored splotches, typically near the ceiling or floor. If you come across part of the home that has signs of water damage or areas that feel unusually damp, that may be a precursor to mold, and should be sprayed if possible, to prevent mold.
Mold typically thrives in moist areas, such as basements, dirty ducts, exposed walls or near plumbing leaks.
If there are no visible signs, try cleaning the area. If this does not remove the smell, or if the smell returns in a few days, you will need to hire a professional to test for and remove mold.
Professional Indoor Air Quality Testing and Contaminants in the Air
If you are concerned about your indoor air quality and DIY test kits won’t cut it, or if these tests are proving inaccurate, you can save yourself time, money and stress by hiring a professional.
You should hire a professional if you experience health symptoms that may be related to poor indoor air quality. A professional can also test for more pollutants than an at-home test kit can, so if you have received negative results on other tests and are still experiencing symptoms, it is time to call the pros.
A professional air quality testing service can test for indoor mold, lead, dust particles, animal dander, smoke particles, household cleaner chemical residue, several types of gasses, and many other concerns.
These tests can typically be done on-site much faster than an at-home test kit can collect the data, leading you to the source of the pollutant faster than you will find it with DIY testing.
This is one area where professional service shines. Professional services are recommended whenever severe symptoms develop suddenly. This may be a warning sign of a gas leak or failed ventilation somewhere in the home.
Improving Your Indoor Air Quality
You can avoid the need to get indoor air quality testing by proactively improving your home’s air quality. Americans spend an average of 90% of their time indoors, which means that indoor air is arguably one of the most important things we should be focusing on in the search for a healthier lifestyle. (3)
Here are some ways you can help reduce the need for indoor air quality testing:
- Keep Your Air Conditioning Filters Clean
Your AC unit doesn’t just keep your home temperature controlled year-round, but most units also recycle the air in your home. As the air travels through ducts, it deposits air pollutants along the way. Another cycle, and the air may pick up some of those pollutants and recycle it right back into your home, gathering air pollutants and keeping your allergies on your case.
Filters are designed to capture as many of these air pollutants as possible before the air re-enters your home, but a dirty or flimsy filter may even fail to capture some of the larger particles.
Replacing your AC filter is your best line of defense for maintaining your home’s air quality.
- Installing Alarm System
Installing carbon monoxide alarm systems will help you monitor the gas levels inside your home. You can also purchase alarms for other types of gases, depending on the level of security you want to provide for your home.
These alarms should be installed on every floor in the home, alerting family members or tenants to gas levels wherever they are. Peace of mind like this does not cost much, with many pollutant alarms available at a local hardware store.
So long as each alarm is properly installed and the batteries are kept fresh, they will provide a sense of security in knowing that your family is always safe.
- Use Ventilation in the Kitchen
Kitchen ventilation ducts are one way to remove sources of combustible pollution and smoke that is produced when you cook over a stovetop. Using these ducts will help you reduce the amount of pollution in the home and keep your air cleaner.
One thing to be aware of is that many home ducts may not connect to the outside, providing false smoke ventilation. It is always important to inspect the ventilation system in your kitchen to determine whether your ventilation is connected to an outdoor port, or if it is simply recycling the pollutants back into the air.
These ducts may also require cleaning every few years as grease and smoke builds up on the inside.
- Keep Air Ducts Maintained
One of the most common solutions that come from indoor air quality testing is a simple cleaning of your air conditioning unit’s ducts. These air ducts should be maintained so they do not gather dust, mold, chemicals or other harmful pollutants and irritants.
Keeping your air ducts maintained, in addition to keeping filters changed regularly, using ventilation and installing alarm systems, means you should be clear from many common household allergens.
- Keep Humidity Controlled
Keeping the humidity in your home controlled can greatly reduce any risk of mold or mildew buildup, especially in exposed walls or inside your air ducts. This type of irritant is a common cause of symptoms like asthma or “indoor allergies.”
A dehumidifier can also help keep your home temperature controlled and comfortable year-round, especially if you live in a particularly humid neighborhood.
- Use an Air Purifier
An air purifier is a small appliance that does double-duty for your air conditioning unit, usually targeting a single room in a home, rather than the whole home. This appliance is meant to capture particles from the air and collect it on an internal filter, which then needs to be changed regularly.
This can help purify air that smells musty or feels stagnate, helping the AC unit filter and recycle the air in your home and help you breathe better in rooms that have a history with poor air quality.
Considering we spend an average of seven hours each night asleep, many people choose to place their air purifier in their home, and report better sleep, leaving them feeling more rested throughout the day.
- Purchase (Pet-Safe) Indoor Plants
Live plants are natural air filters, and they do not need to be changed. They do, however, need to be watered and cared for, so if you have been looking for an excuse to get into indoor gardening, all you need to know is that it’s good for your respiratory health. Of course, if you have or want pets, purchase plants that are pet safe.
Ferns, lilies, and herbs are popular plants chosen to add a splash of greenery and life to the home, all while helping purify the air. Moreover, adding live plants to your home can help boost your mood and make your home look more inviting to guests.
- Keep Fabrics Clean
Fabrics, such as carpets, couches, rugs and tapestries need to be cleaned regularly. These fabrics tend to trap dust and other particles, keeping them inside the home. By cleaning them regularly – and remembering to change your vacuum’s filter – you can reduce the amount of pollutants that are present in the air but have not made it to your AC system’s ducts yet.
You might be surprised at just how much dust and other gunk comes out of your home’s everyday fabrics, even in rooms that receive little foot traffic.
“If you are concerned about your indoor air quality and DIY test kits won’t cut it, or if these tests are proving inaccurate, you can save yourself time, money, and stress by hiring a professional.”
Visit JoinCleanAir.com, serving Dallas, TX homes with convenient, hassle-free air filter subscriptions to help keep your air free of indoor pollutants. Experience the joy of clean air by having air filters delivered straight to your door for free, with home installation available. You can choose you home’s air filter size, choose your delivery frequency, and you are done!
It’s easy to get started, and you never have to remember to replace your home air filter again. It’s perfect for people who lead busy lives in the Dallas metroplex, empowering families across the city to lead cleaner, healthier lives. Each filter is made from durable, pleated material to capture microscopic airborne particles and offer a higher level of filtration – all with the quality that comes with American-made products.
- Huffington Post
- Huffington Post
- Environmental Protection Agency