Which do you find more scary: something right before your eyes, or something you can’t actually see but looms large in your imagination?
The spider on the ceiling? Or the monster under the bed?
For most of us, it’s what we can’t see that’s truly frightening.
When it comes to the quality of the air in your home, those fears about what’s lurking unseen can be justified. There are quite a number of invisible dangers that you risk with every breath you take.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely you already have some cause for concern. Whether it’s odors, comfort issues, or health complaints, you’re probably wondering if your problem is serious enough to warrant indoor air quality testing.
Read on to learn about some of the scary and invisible things that might be polluting the air in your home. Also we’ll cover some important facts to know and a few steps to take before doing indoor air quality testing.
5 invisible reasons to consider indoor air quality testing for your home
1. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Have you installed new carpeting (or even a new shower curtain) and noticed a chemical smell that lasts for days or even weeks? What you are smelling is the off-gassing of VOCs from that material.
Countless products in your home emit VOCs, from cleaners to paint to furniture. Even through you can’t smell all of them, they’re present in most homes at least at “background” levels, and can cause short-term health symptoms including headaches and nausea. Longer term (and scarier) health effects are also possible with repeated exposure.
Although indoor air quality testing for the wide range of VOCs may not be helpful due to a lack of standards to interpret the results (more on that in a minute), it can be used to detect particularly dangerous VOCs such as formaldehyde. This carcinogen is found in wood, fabrics, tobacco smoke, combustion appliances and more.
2. Carbon monoxide
Combustion appliances such as gas stoves, furnaces, woodburning stoves, and fireplaces can emit dangerous gases like carbon monoxide that you can’t see or smell but can have deadly consequences if they accumulate.
Combustion can also emit particle matter into the air that can cause breathing problems.
Related article: HVAC Safety Tips: Don’t Let Carbon Monoxide Sneak Up On You
3. Mold, mildew and bacteria
In addition to chemical contaminants, there are all sorts of biological contaminants to worry about, including mold, mildew, fungus and even bacteria and viruses.
These nasty microorganisms grow and multiply in warm, humid air. That means you need to be extra vigilant about keeping humidity down and fixing any water leaks in bathrooms and basements.
According to the CDC, mold can cause a variety of symptoms including respiratory issues (especially for people with asthma or breathing problems) as well as eye and skin irritation.
Unlike some other airborne contaminants, mold can be discovered with a visual inspection, although indoor air quality testing may be recommended in some situations.
4. Pest droppings
You probably were aware that mold can contaminate the air in your home, but there are other biological agents that can cause odors and health issues as well, namely insects and rodents. Even if you don’t see them, dust mites, cockroaches and mice can leave behind droppings that cause respiratory problems, especially in children and the elderly.
Indoor air quality testing can detect the presence of these pests, but you can also get to the root of the problem with a visual inspection.
What do you do if you find out you have insects? In this case, the solution can cause another problem. Pesticides used to eradicate insects and vermin cause indoor air quality problems as well.
Chances are, you’ve used at least one pesticide in the past year; according to the EPA, two-thirds of US households have. That means indoor air quality testing will probably detect some level of pesticides in your air. However, it can be helpful in revealing unusually high levels due to improper use of pesticides.
BUT wait! Here’s what to do before indoor air quality testing
All that being said, there are some facts you need to know, and some steps you should take BEFORE investing in indoor quality testing.
Indoor air quality testing results may not be definitive
First of all, the results you will get from indoor air quality testing may not give you a definitive answer.
Most buildings will have some level of contaminants in the air, and interpreting the results can be subjective. For most environments, there are no standards in place that can tell you precisely what level of VOCs or mold in the air (for example) can be deemed safe or unsafe.
Also, since people react differently to environmental contaminants, what’s fine for one person may be dangerous for another.
What to do BEFORE indoor air quality testing
Indoor air quality testing is most beneficial when it’s used to confirm or refute the presence of a specific source of contamination, such as mold or pesticide levels or the presence of carcinogens like formaldehyde or benzene.
To get to the source of a possible indoor air quality problem, start with an inspection of the space. That will help you identify areas of concern. Pay special attention to the following:
WATER DAMAGE: Leaks and other sources of dampness in your home can lead to mold and mildew growth. Look for plumbing, roof, and HVAC water leaks that are causing water to linger and damage your home. Fix any leaks right away and get rid of anything damaged by water, including ceiling tiles, carpet and wall board.
ODORS: You can’t see most sources of indoor air contamination, but there many you can smell, including cleaning products, new building materials such as carpeting, pesticides, cigarette smoke, fireplaces and musty smells from mildew. Try using cleaning products that don’t produce odors, and remove any chemical contaminants you may find.
VENTILATION: Does your home have sufficient fresh air intakes, and are they correctly located? For example, intakes might be too close to exhaust vents or to sources of outdoor air pollution. You might have excess humidity due to a poorly functioning air conditioner that’s contributing to mold growth. Your HVAC ducts could also be harboring mold, dust mites or other pests. Your best bet is to have your system inspected by a qualified HVAC professional.
Taking the time to investigate the cause before investing in indoor air quality testing can help you hone in on the cause of your problem so you can get to a solution faster.
Got questions about duct cleaning and how it can improve the air you breathe? Get your free copy of this informative guide to FAQ: Duct Cleaning and Your Indoor Air Quality.