A Breath of Fresh Air: Improving Your Home's Air Quality
Is the air in your home making you sick? It can be as innocuous as a persistent cough, rash or headache. But, for the very young, the elderly and those with respiratory disease, the effects of indoor air contamination can be far more serious. The very air you breathe could be affecting the comfort and health of your family. Recognizing the symptoms of poor air quality is the first step toward fixing the problem. Bad air can be the cause any of the following symptoms:
- Cold or flu symptoms such as coughing, congestion and sneezing
- Redness or irritation of the eyes
- Irritation of the nose or throat
- Dry, chapped or irritated skin
- Asthma attacks
Your home may have bad air if you or your family continuously experience any of these indicators, primarily when spending time at home.
In some cases the cause is obvious. Cigarette smoke and pet dander, particularly in poorly ventilated areas, are common culprits. But in many cases, the source is hard to identify. You may be able to locate the source by centring your attention in rooms where symptoms are more severe. Your basement is a good place to start, as basements are breeding grounds for mould, another leading cause of poor air quality. Look for damp areas, mould and mildew and dust accumulation. Is there a musty smell in the air? Is drywall, carpet or drapery stained or discoloured? Chemical fumes from a recent renovation or fumes from an attached garage or workshop could also be to blame.
Every home should have a carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide is an odourless gas caused by combustion sources like gas appliances, wood stoves/fireplaces and automobiles. Initial warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include sore throat, dizziness, headache and sleepiness - prolonged exposure can be fatal. Carbon monoxide detectors are available commercially and are required by law in some Canadian districts.
Solving the problem can be as easy as removing the source. Mould can be destroyed by cleansing the area with a mixture of one part chlorine bleach to four parts water. Wash the area thoroughly and let it stand for about 15 minutes before rinsing. To avoid recurrence, ensure that the affected area remains free of moisture. Contaminated carpet, underlay and furniture should be removed and discarded.
Routinely change furnace and air conditioner filters and keep your home clean and dust free. When removing the source is not possible or proves ineffective, there are other measures you can take:
- Improve ventilation in affected rooms
- Humid air can cause and exacerbate air quality. Consider purchasing a dehumidifier
- An air filtration system can be installed in the home
When symptoms are severe it is best to rely on a professional. Hire an environmental consulting company to analyze the air in your home, identify the cause and recommend a solution.