The average person spends 90% of time indoors, which is why indoor air quality testing is so important. Furniture, building materials, stale air, poisonous gases, and other compounds can cause short term and long term health problems.
The good news is it is easier than ever address these problems. Today, scientists have identified the source of these issue, the risks to human health, and have developed air quality testing kits to make finding a solution easier.
Indoor Air Quality Testing Can Be Fast And Easy
Before you make a drastic change, you need to know what the problem is. If you suspect a problem, but haven’t given it much thought, it can help to ask questions of the people who share the space. This will give you insight into your own experiences and may bring to light something you overlooked. This approach to information gathering will prove valuable because it helps you work through the following steps sooner, test smarter, and implement a solution without wasting money.
- Investigate your own experiences, then consult others.
- Make sure you have recently changed air filters, and the building gets enough fresh air.
- Purchase a test kit (see below list).
- Once you have the results, see professional help.
- Set a timetable and price before acquiring the tools needed to fix the problem.
- Implement tools and perform a final indoor air quality test to verify the solution worked.
If you are concerned about your ability to complete the test correctly, consult a professional to conduct the testing. When going the route of a professional, use a service like HomeAdvisor to find a contractor in your area.
Important Types of Air Quality Testing
Volatile Organic Compounds
The term volatile organic compound describes a broad grouping of chemicals. Furniture, carpet, building materials, clothing, cleaning compounds, and other human made items may contain these compounds. Over time, these compounds may outgas, which means the chemicals in these items may release into the air. Exposure to these compounds can cause low productivity, flu like symptoms, general discomfort, and other aliments.
Solution: Many tests are available to test for VOCs in the air. Some tests only measure formaldehyde, for example; while others will measure multiple compounds. When found in the air, the easiest solution to reduce exposure is to increase the flow of fresher outdoor air into the building. Another solution is to remove items that contain VOCs and replace them with more environmentally friendly alternatives.
Asbestos is a silica material mined from the Earth that has natural properties that make it resistant to fire. While less common in America and some other countries, this material has been found in building materials and products that were at risk of catching fire. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that health professionals began to recognize asbestos exposure as the cause of several illnesses.
Solution: If a building was constructed before 1989, it could potentially contain asbestos. The good news is this material can be safe if not disturbed. If asbestos is found in the ceiling, for example, exposure may only occur during renovations when the material is being cut or removed.
To test for asbestos, material from inside the building will need to be removed for analysis. This should be completed by a professional. Once the test is complete, a solution may include removal or sealing of the material.
Mold is a bacteria that breaks down dead organic matter. As mold grows, it reproduces and releases spores into the air. These spores can survive until they find a suitable area to grow and start reproducing again. For some, exposure to mold spores can trigger an allergic reaction. While not everyone will have a reaction, another risk of mold is that it can cause expensive property damage.
Solution: Mold spores are microscopic and they are found almost everywhere in nature. So your goal is more about controlling mold, rather than eliminating it. This means identifying areas of the building where mold is likely to grow, including utility closest, in ceiling tiles, garages, bathrooms, areas where water pipes run, or anywhere that moisture is plentiful.
Once these areas are identified, fix leaks and add ventilation to the area. This can include running a dehumidifier to maintain humidity levels around 30-50%. Also, an air filter in the heating and cooling system, and a free standing HEPA rated air purifier will help to capture these particles in the air. Air quality testing devices are available to gather samples of air, but these require lab testing and can become expensive just to be told what you already know – that mold is everywhere.
The use of lead has been extensive through much of human history thanks to its desirable attributes that makes it easy to work with and inexpensive to buy. While phased out in many applications, use of lead around the world continues to grow. In buildings, the risk of exposure to lead is largely the result of lead in paint before it was banned in 1978. If the building was built or renovated before this time, it might contain lead.
Many people today are exposed to lead paint as a result of the old paint flaking off. They many also unknowingly chip off or sand old layers of paint that causes it to be released into the air as lead dust. Children are most at risk to exposure, and may experience behavior or learning problems, lower intelligence, hyperactivity, delayed development, hearing problems, or a blood disorder as a result of exposure.
Solution: Test kits are available to sample paint, but blood tests for children under six years of age, pregnant women, and nursing mothers are recommended for those concerned about exposure to lead. If lead is found indoors, it should be left alone and sealed. If materials made with lead need to be removed, it should be done by a professional.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, radon is responsible for 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year. This is second only to cigarette smoking. However, unlike cigarettes, you can’t avoid exposure to radon. This is because radon is a chemical element that occurs as a result of the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. In this gaseous state, it more easily enters buildings and the lungs. Additionally, radon produces other elements during breakdown that are solids and will stick to walls, floors, and dust.
Solution: Short term or long term test kit are available, but most should be used for no less than 90 days. This is because radon levels can fluctuate during the year. When you conduct the test, you will measure the “picocuries per liter of air.” If dangerous levels of radon are detected, future exposure can be prevented by installing a vent pipe system and fan. This system draws in air from below the foundation and releases it above the roof. Additional solutions may involve checking the foundation for cracks, replacing windows, or a similar cost effective measure.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that can kill very quickly. This gas is found in burnt fuels, the gas that fuels stoves, fireplaces, furnaces, and lanterns to name a few. Headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion may be signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Solution: A carbon monoxide detector will alert you if this gas is in the air. Place devices in areas where the gas may be present, such as kitchens and utility closets, and in hallways around bedrooms or offices. If this gas if found in the air, there is probably a leak. In this situation, everyone should leave the building, open windows, and contact a professional to perform any necessary maintenance.
Work Towards A Solution
Blind testing may be useful if you experience discomfort, difficulties breathing, or another aliment when spending time indoor, but you are not sure of the source. This method can prove to be expensive and time consuming, so it is not recommended
In most cases, problems associated with indoor air quality can be addressed by increasing outdoor air flow into interior spaces, replacing air filters, and running a HEPA rated air filter.
- To learn more about ways to breathe better, read The 7 Ways To Keep Indoor Air Fresh.
To learn more about testing equipment, check out HomeAirCheck. This site offer air quality testing kits to help you identify your air quality problems and to get them tested by laboratory technicians.