No one enjoys dusty air or mysterious odors hanging around the house, but the effects of poor indoor air quality go well beyond a little annoyance. In fact, even if your home smells fresh and clean, your air may still carry contaminants that can, with long-term exposure, contribute to serious health problems.
Southeast Texas’ warm summers and mild winters also lead to higher levels of certain air pollutants, such as mold spores and pest debris. That makes it especially important for Conroe area residents to be aware of the risks of indoor air pollution and learn how to reduce it.
If your home’s air isn’t up to par, there are a number of health effects you may experience.
Worsened allergy symptoms – If you have seasonal allergies, you’re already well acquainted with the sneezing, watery eyes, and other effects of pollen outdoors. When your home’s air isn’t sufficiently purified, you’ll find yourself having those symptoms even if you avoid the outdoors.
Pet allergies are even more challenging because the source of the allergens is inside with you. Insufficient ventilation and air filtration can lead to a buildup of pet hair and dander that leaves you constantly suffering from allergy symptoms.
Worsened respiratory conditions – For those with asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema or another respiratory issue, indoor air pollution is a particular concern. Dust, smoke particles and biological contaminants such as pollen and household pest debris irritate the airways, triggering asthma attacks and exacerbating symptoms of other conditions. This can eventually lead to permanent lung damage. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as fumes from cleaning products and new carpets, may also worsen asthma.
Breathing trouble – You don’t need to have allergies or a medical condition to experience the negative health effects of poor indoor air quality. Even in the healthiest person, air pollution can lead to coughing, sore throat and watery eyes. In more severe cases, chest tightness and shortness of breath also can occur.
Because it’s easy to write these symptoms off as a common cold or mild allergies, the indoor air quality problems causing them often go unaddressed.
Frequent health problems – If you’ve been dealing with nagging health complaints or generally feeling under the weather, your home’s air could be to blame. VOCs, for example, can cause chronic headaches, muscle aches and fatigue in those sensitive to chemicals. Certain types of fungal infestations, such as black mold, can cause similar symptoms even in those not allergic to mold.
Carbon monoxide poisoning – Carbon monoxide (CO) is a harmful gas produced when fuel is burned. Any home with a fuel-burning appliance, such as a gas stove, a fireplace, fuel-burning garden equipment, such as a gas lawnmower, or an attached garage is at risk for unsafe levels of CO. While basic safety precautions minimize this risk, some CO sources are easy to overlook. For example, a poorly adjusted gas stove can release enough CO to cause coughing and headaches. Make sure your home is equipped with working carbon monoxide detectors.
Lung cancer – Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas formed in the ground, and can cause one of the most serious effects of poor indoor air quality: lung cancer. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research, some 21,000 lung cancer deaths annually are caused by radon. This gas can enter your home through the floor or water. Ground radon levels vary by location, so not every household’s risk is equal.
A Threat to Your HVAC System
While your family’s health is your primary concern, it’s not the only thing subject to the effects of poor indoor air quality. The pollutants floating around in your home’s air also can harm your heating and cooling system.
Reduced efficiency – To work efficiently, furnace and air conditioner components need to stay clean. The more debris there is in your air, the faster these components get dirty.
Dust on your blower fan blades forces the fan to work harder to push the required amount of air through the system. Even a thin layer of dust on your indoor cooling coil impairs its ability to cool your air and control humidity. Both these issues force your system to draw more energy to heat or cool effectively, which raises your energy bills.
Component lifespan – Components overworked due to the effects of poor indoor air quality often fail before their time. Excessively dirty fan blades may cause your fan motor to burn out. Grime on your evaporator coil places strain not only on the coil, but also on the compressor, potentially causing both these parts to break down.
How to Assess Indoor Air Quality
While air contaminants are never good for your home, the effects of poor indoor air quality depend on the type and amount of contaminants. Assessing your home’s air helps you know exactly where you stand.
Biological contaminants– Mold spores, pollen, pest debris and pet dander all fall into this category. Visual inspection is the most effective way to assess your exposure.
If you need to dust often or find pollen buildup on your furniture, you could benefit from a higher-efficiency air filter.
Look inside the accessible sections of your ductwork. If you find dirty ducts, discolored patches (possible mold), moisture or signs of pest infestation, such as rodent droppings or bug parts, chances are these contaminants have entered your air. You’ll need to eliminate the source and take steps to improve your air quality.
Carbon monoxide testing – A carbon monoxide detector is the only reliable way to know if your home has unsafe levels of this gas. Most sound an alarm when they detect CO levels averaging 70 ppm for 15 minutes. Because some people are affected by even lower levels, many detectors provide a digital readout of the current CO level.
Radon testing – Radon test kits are available from the Texas Department of State Health Services and certain privately run programs. To use the kit, you’ll take a sample of your home’s air and send it to a lab for analysis. If your home has high levels, a radon mitigation expert can help you protect your health.
VOC testing – The smell of new carpeting, fresh paint and cleaning products makes it obvious VOCs are present, but not all VOCs give off an odor. While VOC testing kits are commercially available, the reliability of the analysis varies.
Four Ways to Clean Up Your Home’s Air
Determining levels of contamination is difficult because while there are guidelines, there are rarely scientifically established standards. What’s more, individuals vary in terms of which effects of poor indoor air quality they experience. Because of this, it’s wise to take steps to improve your home’s air quality as much as possible.
Increase your ventilation – If you don’t have efficient exhaust fans in your kitchen and bath, install them and use them when necessary. These fans draw out the excess moisture that encourages mold, as well as contaminants such as cooking smoke particles, lingering CO, and VOCs from cleaning supplies and cosmetics. You can supplement your exhaust fans with trickle ventilation, which consists of small, screened openings near the windows.
For better airflow throughout every room in your home, consider installing a whole-house ventilation system. Given the hot climate in Texas, a supply-only or a balanced (exhaust and supply) ventilation system is usually the best choice.
Upgrade your air filter – Regularly replacing your air filter is essential for clean air, but there’s more you can do. One of the simplest ways to mitigate the effects of poor indoor air quality is to switch from marginally effective one-inch disposable filters to pleated filters that trap more harmful air contaminants while maintaining system airflow.
Look for a filter with a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) of at least 5. If you have allergies or a respiratory condition, choose a filter of at least MERV 8 and ideally MERV 11 or 12.
For whole-house filtration more efficient than this, such as HEPA filtration, consult a heating and cooling professional. Most residential systems must be modified before they can safely and efficiently run with a high-efficiency filter.
Install an air cleaner – Even the most efficient filters can’t handle all types of contamination. A whole-house electronic air cleaner uses electrostatic attraction to trap fine particles that typical filters miss. An ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) air-cleaning system shines UV light into your ducts to neutralize mold spores, viruses and bacteria. Air purifiers containing activated carbon help reduce the VOCs in your home and control odors, too.
Portable (tabletop) air cleaners are another option. Many contain HEPA filters, so they’re especially helpful for supplemental air purification during allergy season.
Control humidity – High humidity encourages the growth of mold and dust mites, and increases the chance your home will attract certain types of pests, such as cockroaches. If your air always seems to feel humid or sticky, a whole-house dehumidifier may be in order.
If you’d like professional assessment of your indoor air quality or you could use some guidance on improving your ventilation and air cleaning systems, please contact us at Conroe Air, serving Conroe, Montgomery County, and the surrounding area.