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10 Steps to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Monday, November 28th by Tim Snyder


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers indoor air quality to be one of the top five environmental risks to public health. Asthma, respiratory ailments, and irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat are common health problems caused by indoor air pollution. To protect family members from these ill effects, put these 10 steps into practice.

  1. Don't operate unvented kerosene heaters. Any combustion appliance (including kerosene heaters, fireplaces, and woodstoves) operated indoors must be properly vented to prevent potentially lethal exposure to carbon monoxide gas and other combustion byproducts. A gas-fired grill designed for use outdoors should never be operated inside the house.
  2. Eliminate secondhand smoke. Don't allow anyone to smoke in your house. Secondhand smoke causes 38,000 deaths every year.
  3. Have your house tested for radon. This radioactive gas is the leading cause of lung cancer after smoking tobacco. Radon gas is emitted by rocks and soil and can enter a building through any type of foundation. It's invisible and odorless, so the only way to determine if radon concentrations are excessively high (above 4 picocuries per liter of indoor air) is to perform a test. Reliable radon test kits are available online, from some municipal health agencies, and from local suppliers. You can also have a licensed radon abatement contractor perform a test for you.
  4. Have a radon mitigation system installed if necessary. If your house shows a high level of radon as the result of a test, don't panic. But don't ignore the need for action. An experienced radon abatement contractor will be able to use proven techniques to reduce radon exposure to acceptable levels.
  5. Avoid storing paints, chemicals, and solvents in the house. Water-based paints can be stored indoors, but the solvents used in some finishes and heavy-duty cleaning products can produce fumes that are irritating and harmful. Many of these compounds may also pose a fire hazard, so it's better to store them in a garage or shed.
  6. Have at least one carbon monoxide detector installed on each main living level. To ensure proper functionality, follow the manufacturer's instructions about where to install each detector.
  7. Control moisture in basement and crawl space areas. Waterproofing and/or dehumidifying measures may be necessary to keep moisture and humidity levels down in these areas. Doing so is your best opportunity to eliminate the harmful effects of mold, which spreads by means of airborne spores.
  8. Get fresh air inside. As weather permits, open doors and windows to introduce fresh air to the interior. Operate vent fans in bathrooms during showering and at least once a day for 5-10 minutes.
  9. Change air filters at least once per season. If your house has a forced-air system for heating and/or cooling, make sure to install a new air filter in each air handler unit at least once every season.
  10. Purchase formaldehyde-free products for use in the home. This bad-smelling gas is emitted by certain textiles and building products. The particleboard used in some types of flooring, composite panels, cabinetry, and furniture is the most common source today. Formaldehyde can cause respiratory ailments and irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. Most manufacturers have eliminated the use of formaldehyde in their products, but it's wise to check labeling and ask about formaldehyde content when buying products for your home.

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