Whether you’re in the workplace, in your car on a bumper-to-bumper expressway, or just trying to enjoy the great outdoors, air quality can be an issue to consider. Perhaps it’s harmful industrial chemicals that you can’t help being exposed to. Perhaps it’s simply everyday pollen and environmental allergens. Even your phone’s weather forecast will update you on air quality. One way or another, you find yourself being mindful of something as basic as breathing. That’s something that can take up a lot of mental bandwidth—and that’s even before your allergies kick in. But in the privacy of your home, you probably don’t give much consideration to the air you breathe. After all, your home should be your safe harbor, a fortress against all the pollutants of the outside world. Home should be healthy. Home should be normal.
Unfortunately, your home carries its own assortment of respiratory hazards—some of which could demand your immediate attention and action. But you deserve clean air in your own home. Here is an extended guide on how to test your indoor air quality for a number of irritants and pollutants. If necessary, you’ll also learn what to do about those test results in order to breathe the clean air your home should have. Ultimately, you should have one less thing to think about.
Test for Carbon Monoxide
As winter sets in, homes need heat. That can come from your gas furnace, your fireplace, or even your wood-burning stove. But with the increased demand for heat comes the increased risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of combustion that occurs when a combustion reaction does not have enough oxygen present to create carbon dioxide. Dirty or compromised HVAC systems and water heaters may not have enough oxygen for flames to burn their fuel cleanly, which results in carbon monoxide production. Carbon monoxide, or its chemical symbol “CO,” is invisible and odorless, making it impossible for humans to recognize without identifying the symptoms of inhalation. When inhaled, CO prevents blood from carrying oxygen, which leads to dizziness, nausea, and confusion, followed by loss of consciousness and death. But even low concentrations of CO over long periods can be hazardous to your health.
Household carbon monoxide testing is something we take for granted. In fact, every home should be outfitted with a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector. But if you suspect that your furnace, water heater, or even your dryer is affecting your indoor air quality, you can test the air closer to the source. Consumers can purchase air quality testers that will measure air in the vicinity of your utilities. But before you buy, consult with your local gas utility. They may be able to send a worker to your home at little or no cost to measure your CO levels and ensure that this silent killer is kept out of your home.
Test for Radon
Another gas that is imperceptible is radon. Radon is a noble gas that originates from uranium, which naturally occurs in the ground. Like all radioactive elements, uranium decays, or loses its radioactivity. As it does so, it releases radon gas, which can work its way up through the ground and into your home through cracks in the foundation or through your sump pump. Like all radioactive substances, radon is believed to be highly carcinogenic, and sustained exposure to radon can lead to a significantly higher incidence of lung cancer. Unlike carbon monoxide, which works very quickly, radon exposure is a dangerous long-term hazard.
As with carbon monoxide, testing for radon is something you can do yourself. Radon detection kits require sending results to a laboratory for measurement and a full report. You can also hire professionals to measure your radon. If you do have elevated levels of radon in your home, you will need to remediate the situation through a system of pipes and fans that will draw radon in from the soil and release it so that it does not build up inside your house. In some jurisdictions, you may be required to disclose radon test results when selling real estate.
Test for Mold
No guide to air quality hazards and testing would be complete without a look at mold, possibly the most common obstacle to clean air. Exposure to mold can cause a litany of flu-like symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat, and watery eyes. For people with asthma, mold can trigger asthma attacks. Mold is a difficult issue to address, as it naturally occurs as microscopic spores.
Mold colonies are often unsightly growths on surfaces, walls, and ceilings, and as such can be hard to miss. But not all mold takes this form, nor does it always lie in plain sight. This is why mold testing kits exist for you to determine whether mold spores are compromising your air. Place these testing kits near what you believe to be the sources of the mold and wait for results. Unlike CO and radon, you should be able to locate and treat most mold cases without professional expertise.
Before you go to these lengths, it can be best to take preemptive steps against mold. High humidity and standing water make bathrooms an ideal spot for mold to grow. Run exhaust fans during showers to lower humidity levels and clean your fixtures and surfaces regularly to prevent mold from developing in sink basins and toilet bowls. Mold can do the most damage when it spreads through your heating ducts. This occurs when a furnace’s air filter is blocked or dirty. Remember to maintain a clean air filter, either by replacing disposable filters every 30 to 90 days or by cleaning your filter. For people who find traditional filters wasteful, washable HVAC filters allow homeowners to reduce consumption while keeping their indoor air clean.
Whether you want to handle the issues yourself or leave it to the pros, knowing how to test your indoor air quality is a crucial part of both good homeownership and good health. With a challenging winter coming up that will have us spending most of our time living, working, and playing inside our homes, now is the time to ascertain that these common air-quality issues will not be problems for you and your family. With those issues accounted for, you can indeed breathe easily.