Do your sniffles never seem to go away? Are you constantly suffering from headaches, nagging colds, fevers, irritation, and fatigue for no apparent reason? These and other symptoms could be signs of poor indoor air quality.
Mold, dust, pollen, cleaning solutions, and even your house itself could be causing serious long-term health issues. The only way to know is to test, but if you don’t know the minor details to look for, you could spend hundreds more than you need to.
Poor indoor air quality is a serious issue, but it’s relatively easy to fix. Testing, making adjustments, and purifying your air is not nearly as hard as you might think. In this guide to indoor air testing, we’ll cover:
You can breathe a sigh of relief—clean air and healthy lungs are closer than you think.
What is Sick Building Syndrome?
Sick building syndrome (SBS) is when you suffer acute health or comfort effects due to the air in your home. The symptoms are usually accompanied by no clear explanation and typically improve as soon as you leave your house.
Let’s put the dangers of SBS into perspective first….
When you think of air pollution, what comes to mind?
A Chinese metropolis shrouded in dense fog? Factories billowing smoke and poisoning our planet?
Believe it or not, the air inside your home or office can be even worse than the air outside. In fact, it could be even more destructive to your health for one key reason: you never think about it. You shrug it off as allergies, chalk it up to the cold, or blame your feelings on the weather. Most of us never think that our homes could make us sick.
But it can….
Have you been experiencing:
And is there no clear explanation?
The air in your home could be making you sick, and you should take action.
Signs You Have Poor Indoor Air Quality
The tricky part about detecting poor indoor air quality is that signs and symptoms often overlap with other, more likely explanations. It’s more likely that you’re allergic to flowers in your garden than from toxic indoor air. You have to dig deeper if you want to get to the root of your air quality issues. Just like any syndrome, SBS leaves clear reminders of its presence.
If you have symptoms and notice these signs, it’s time to take immediate action:
- 1Inefficient Air Filters: Before testing directly, look at your air vents. Is there dust accumulating on the outsides? How about your air filters; do you have to change them monthly or more frequently? This is a telltale sign that your filters are overworked. It could be due to more pollutants in the air.
- 2Inexplicable Headaches in Winter: Winter sucks! But it shouldn't give you a headache. One common sign of SBS is when homeowners and their families constantly suffer headaches while running their heating system. This could be a sign that there’s too much dust in your vents or other pollutants in the air.
- 3Mold. Mold. Mold. Mold!: Make no mistake, this fungi is in no way a fun guy. Moisture buildup can cause mold, especially in the bathroom. And this is a clear sign that you should test your air quality immediately.
- 4Your Home is Old: When was your home built? If it was built before 1978, it may have been constructed with harmful materials that are now banned. For example, lead was used to paint homes until it was outlawed in 1978, and you may still be suffering from residual effects.
OK, so now you know how to determine if you need to test your air or not. Now it’s time to learn how to test it and how much it’s going to cost.
How to Test Your Air for Contaminants
It’s not possible to buy one test, grab an air sample, and instantly find out the problem. Sick building syndrome is too complex to condense down into a single test.
For one, the culprits are as diverse as they are dangerous. The EPA warns against these 3 categories of air pollutants:
Testing for all of these at once is futile (and EXPENSIVE), so you need to make an informed decision. Let’s break each down further in plain English and give you an idea of how bad it’ll hurt your wallet:
How to Test for Biological Contaminants
Biological contaminants are the ones you are probably most familiar with. Normally, their presence comes down to ventilation or cleanliness. It can actually be quite expensive to test for all contaminants at once, so it’s best to use a neat free tool: YOUR SENSES.
TIP: Air purifiers are a real breath of fresh air...literally! They are the cheapest, most effective way to rid your air of biological toxins. Some models can remove 99% of airborne pollutants, leaving you with only fresh, healthy air!
How to Test for Chemical Pollutants
Chemical pollutants are some of the most dangerous toxins in our environment. When it comes to the air in your home, the ones you need to be most familiar with are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are chemical toxins that can easily become a vapor or gas, and they are a common byproduct of home cleaning solutions.
While you can order a home testing kit, these can get quite expensive ($100+). They require you to take a sample and send it to a testing lab. However, samples should always be collected by a trained technician to avoid errors, and that can get expensive FAST.
It’s best to have a good idea if it’s necessary first. The most common culprits of VOCs are paint, cleaners, disinfectants, fuel, and wood preservatives. Store these in a garage if possible, and only buy as much as you intend to use. And remember to always properly ventilate your home when cleaning (open the windows!).
Testing for Combustion Pollutants
Tobacco smoke and carbon monoxide are the two combustion pollutants you must worry about. It’s recommended to always have a carbon monoxide detector in your home (they go for as little as $20 online). If you smoke, quit. If you can’t do that, smoke outside.
However, there is one benefit to conducting a test for environmental tobacco smoke: it can convince you to quit! In fact, one study confirmed that seeing the results of ETS testing can convince parents to quit due to the negative health effects on their children.
The most efficient way to test your indoor air quality is to control the source first and determine what you’re really suffering from. In most cases, simple measures such as cleaning, ventilating, and protecting your home are all you need. And a simple, affordable air purifier might be the only necessary upgrade you need to breathe that sigh of relief.