Article at a Glance
• Our home’s air quality has a huge impact on our health.
• Improve your home’s air quality by identifying any potential contaminants like cigarette smoke, mold, radon, carbon monoxide, VOCs, and allergens.
We are used to worrying about poor air quality outside, but when was the last time you thought about the air quality inside your home?
We spend so much of our time indoors that the quality of air in our home can play a major role in our overall health. It isn’t uncommon for children to suffer from recurrent colds and illnesses due to mold or other allergens in the home. However, the effects of air contamination may also take years to manifest.
With the colder months on the horizon, we will all be spending a lot more time indoors. Now is a good time to take stock of our home’s air quality. Here are some good questions to ask.
Does anybody smoke in my home? Not only is smoking bad for the smoker, but it is also bad for those around them, particularly children. Secondhand smoke can cause cancer and respiratory problems.
Is there anywhere in my home where mold could grow? Mold loves wet and humid areas. Are there areas in your home where condensation frequently occurs? Do you have any leaks? Is your home’s humidity level high? Taking steps like buying a dehumidifier, investing in mold resistant products, cleaning out your gutters, and improving air flow in your home can help prevent mold from growing.
Mold affects people differently, but some common symptoms are headaches, fatigue, eye irritation, sore throat, shortness of breath, or a runny nose.
What is the radon level in my house? Radon is a radioactive gas that can cause cancer. In fact, it is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Radon comes from the natural decay of uranium in the soil. It gets into our homes when it moves up through the ground and then through any cracks or holes in your foundation. Once inside your house, it gets trapped and can build up to dangerous levels. It doesn’t matter if your house is old or new, or if it is well insulated or not, any house can have a problem with radon.
Testing is easy and inexpensive. Many hardware stores carry test kits. For more information on how to test your home, visit www.epa.gov/radon/radontest.html.
Do I have a carbon monoxide detector in my house? Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that is odorless, tasteless, and colorless. The initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, fatigue, disorientation, and nausea. Higher levels of exposure can lead to death. Because carbon monoxide is difficult to detect, experts recommend installing a carbon monoxide detector in your home. It is an inexpensive way to protect your family.
Other ways to protect you and your family include never using grills or portable generators indoors, never leave your car running in an attached garage, and teaching your children to get to fresh air immediately if they start to feel dizzy or weak.
Where do I store my paints, cleaning supplies, and pesticides? These chemicals are called volatile organic compounds. They can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation in small quantities. In large quantities they can cause damage to the liver and kidneys, central nervous system problems, and cancer. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found levels of VOCs to be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside. During and following certain activities like paint stripping, the levels may be 1,000 times higher.
It is recommended that you store VOCs out of the reach of children and pets and in a secure, well-ventilated place outside the home. Make sure you always use these products in a well-ventilated area. Buy and store only what you need and never mix household products unless instructed to do so on the label.
Am I taking steps to eliminate the pollutants in my home? Over time things like dust, mold, and pet dander can build up and cause asthma problems. Cleaning your floor regularly with a vacuum with a HEPA filter will help filter out toxins and allergens instead of blowing them back into the air. Mopping will help you pick up anything the vacuum missed. Regularly replacing your air-conditioning filter can also help filter out pollutants in your home.
A floor mat in front of any doors into your home or a “no shoes” policy helps prevent pollutants from coming into your home.
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