Indoor air quality may not be at the top of your mind, but it’s important to know that the very air you’re breathing isn’t making you sick. Even if you’re not currently showing symptoms, poor air quality can lead to poor health as you age.
There are a few basic elements that go into indoor air quality; humidity, allergens, mold, and pollution. These different categories overlap each other quite a bit, but for simplicity’s sake, they are addressed separately here.
The humidity in your home isn’t a problem in and of itself. Instead, the side effects caused by too high or too low of humidity are the issue. Too much moisture in the air can grow mold and maximize the effects of allergens. Too low humidity, on the other hand, will cause dry skin and breathing problems. A good rule of thumb to follow is that your humidity should be above 25% but below 50% in the summer and below 40% in the winter. To test your home’s humidity, simply buy a cheap monitor available at most home improvement stores.
Home allergens include pollen, pet dander, and dust mites; too many allergens equal poor air quality. Excessive dust, owning a pet, or constant sneezing are all good signs that you have an indoor allergen problem. DIY kits can help monitor allergen levels, but sometimes professional testing is necessary. Thankfully, allergens are pretty easy to control. Buying mattress and pillow covers, not wearing shoes inside, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, frequently change HVAC filters, and keeping a cleaner house will all go a long way. For extra improvement, switch carpet out for wood or tile flooring and consider installing an air purifier.
Every home has mold inside. Even with hospital grade air filters, it’s almost impossible to eliminate it completely. The key becomes keeping mold to a controlled level. This is generally done by controlling the humidity level. However, the best indicators of if there is too much mold is generally your eyes and nose; if you see or smell mold, the level is way too high. Otherwise, your home can be tested for mold. This isn’t an easy process and is generally a task to be performed by professionals. If left unattended, the mold can travel through the air return and eventually into the ducts of the HVAC systems of the building, causing the mold to spread.
Pollutants include cigarette smoke, meth, asbestos, lead, radon, and chemicals that come from everyday household products. Some solutions to the problem, like not smoking, are obvious. You can also have your home professionally tested for radon, meth, asbestos, and lead. However, unless you’re undergoing renovations, testing for lead and asbestos generally isn’t considered necessary. To help prevent chemical pollutants, pay attention to any new flooring you install, cleaners you use, and what kind of clothing you buy.