The Air You Breathe

Charlotte Meier of has written an excellent article with suggestions on how to maintain good air quality in your home. Whether your house is new construction or older, the potential problems are real. Here are five tips to help identify and correct risks that could cause long-term respiratory illness.

The Air You Breathe: Tips for Maintaining Safe Indoor Air Quality

It’s ironic that you can make it though cold and flu season without getting either, but still feel sick because of your living environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans are far more exposed to air pollution indoors than outdoors. That’s because there are many factors – many of them easily overlooked – that negatively impact indoor air quality, from mold, mildew and volatile organic compounds to poor HVAC maintenance. Many Americans risk long-term respiratory problems by failing to identify and act on risks that undermine the breathing air they take for granted every day.
As a new homeowner, it’s particularly important to do your research before you move in or shortly afterward. Whether you’re purchasing a brand new home or an older one, there are five main areas of concern.

Forms of microbial growth can be present in many parts of your house, from the basement to the upstairs shower. However, the worst source of danger may be your HVAC system. If, like many Americans, your air conditioning runs almost non-stop from May to September, it leaves considerable water residue in your air ducts and returns, which become fertile breeding space for bacteria and molds. When the blower comes on, those microscopic pests are distributed throughout the house, causing headaches, wheezing and coughing and exacerbating asthma and allergies.

For new homes: Have your air ducts cleaned professionally every year to minimize the risk to your indoor air, and your heating mechanism should be serviced regularly as well. Don’t forget to have your air conditioner’s drain line serviced.

For older homes: You can ask previous owners when the last time these tasks were completed, but you should still schedule an air duct and drain line inspection. If they need cleaning, schedule it before you move.

Have you ever belonged to a health club or gym and wondered how they stayed open with such filthy bathroom facilities, where mold and mildew could flourish? The same concept applies in your home bathroom; if mold is allowed to grow in the shower and/or bathtub, you and your family are at risk for infection and a variety of allergic reactions.
You can counteract the problem by regularly laundering your bath mat, hand towels and bath towels, sodden places where mites, bacteria and mold can grow. Try drying off in the tub or shower so you don’t drip quite as much on the bath mat. Also avoid using environmentally-harmful cleaning substances that contain bleach, instead using natural substances like baking soda, vinegar or lemon juice-and-water solutions.
For new homes: Minimize humidity by running your bathroom fan during and after you bathe. You should also squeegee your shower walls to reduce moisture by as much as 75 percent.

For older homes: In addition to the tactics above, you should fix all leaks before you move in, and ensure the existing fan works well for the room size. Replace or repair missing or broken seals wherever necessary.

Leaky pipes
Leaks can happen just about anywhere – under your sinks, inside your bathroom walls, or in subflooring. Undetected, leaks can lead to the spread of mold, which poses a real threat to people with breathing problems, such as asthma and respiratory allergies. Watch your walls and floors for water spots and check any exposed pipes for leaks. Be sure to dry and clean any leak spots with an eco-friendly solution containing vinegar, lemon juice and water.
For new and older homes: Your pre-purchase inspection should reveal any existing leaks or plumbing problems. Otherwise, consider reducing water pressure and using a water softener to lessen the strain on your pipes and prevent leaks.

You can be diligent about keeping the inside of your fridge clean and free of rotting fruit and vegetables, but still face an ongoing threat because of what happens on the outside of your refrigerator. Frost-inhibiting fridges melt frost build-up every few hours using an electric coil apparatus. The water melt runs off into a pan where it’s evaporated by warm air that’s automatically blown out by the refrigerator. In the process, any dust or mold build-up in your pan is spread to other parts of your home.
For new and older homes: The best solution is to clean the coils behind your fridge and the pan underneath on a regular basis, but take care to turn off and unplug the unit before cleaning.
Airborne pollutants constitute a dire threat to children with asthma, so it’s important to constantly clean and check your HVAC filter and prevent the build up of mold and bacteria and the accumulation of pet dander. An air purifier that uses a HEPA filter can be effective at controlling the spread of indoor air pollutants. Avoid using spray aerosols or plug-in air fresheners, many of which contain potentially-harmful compounds.
For new and older homes: Have the air quality in your home tested prior to move-in day. If you’re in an area of the country where industrial mining or other commercial industrial activity takes place, you should also check for contaminants like mercury, radon, and lead.
Poor indoor air quality is a serious problem in a great many American homes. A dangerous assumption that the usual methods we use to clean our homes will take care of any threats to our breathing air contributes to the problem. Knowing where mold and bacteria can build up is the first step in creating a home that’s safe for the entire family.