Does my home need an air quality inspection?

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Air quality can play a big part in our lives, especially if you have respiratory problems, allergies, or are feeling sick. Most of the time, though, you’re probably more worried about the air quality outside rather than the air inside your home.

But air quality isn’t all about the particles and odors that air purifiers remove from the air; it also encompasses mold, radon, and other pollutants that can be harmful to your health. Most of the time, you can identify poor air quality by simply breathing and existing. With so many people spending more time at home with remote jobs, it’s important to keep an eye on your home’s indoor air quality (IAQ).

Do I need to test my home’s air quality?

When you buy a home, the presale home inspection should identify any indoor air quality issues, especially ones related to radon. But after you’ve moved in, there really isn’t a reason to regularly test air quality unless you don’t know why you’re having trouble breathing. Most causes are obvious: pet dander, a wood-burning stove, a dirty oven. Testing your air quality when the source of poor air is easily identifiable is an unnecessary expense.

If you can’t figure out why your home’s air quality seems poor, or you’ve cleaned up some mold and still have trouble breathing, then it may be time to bring in an inspector.

What are signs of poor air quality?

Generally, it’s pretty easy to identify when your air quality is bad enough that it needs to be tested. Looking for any of the following:

Coughing or difficulty breathing

Coughing or difficulty breathing are by far the most common symptoms of poor air quality. Poor ventilation or more sinister concerns like the presence of mold or radon could make your home feel barely habitable. If your home lacks proper air circulation, you could also deal with build ups of carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide that make it hard to breath.

Allergic reactions and sneezing

If allergy season comes around every year and you can’t stop sneezing, even inside, then there might be an issue with your home’s air. Allergic reactions to things in the air should stay outside, so if you’re always struggling with watery eyes and a runny nose when you’re indoors, there might be an issue with the air quality inside your house.

Dry or irritated skin

Rashes, redness, or dry skin are common symptoms of allergic reactions but if you can’t figure out why you’re frequently breaking out, it could be due to your home’s IAQ.

Headaches or nausea

You could get headaches or nausea for myriad reasons, from stress to the flu, but if they’re frequent or lingering, there might be something in the air. It could be contaminants from cleaning products or pesticides, garbage, it could be fumes from the construction down the street. Whatever it is, you should try to improve air circulation through the home.

Inability to sleep

When the air quality indoors is fine, you should at least be able to breathe well enough to sleep. (We can’t speak to the stress in your life that’s keeping you up.) If you’re constantly struggling to breathe when you lay down at night, it may be a sign of poor air quality.

Dust buildup

When dust is visible on all the surfaces of your home, you need to dust it. Your home’s air filter should prevent dust from accumulating too frequently but it can’t eliminate the existence of dust entirely. Most of the time, when dust has built up so much that it’s impacting your breathing, solving the issue is as simple as dusting. If it’s happening all the time, no matter how much you dust, then it may be time to consider a new HVAC system.

Drafts or temperature changes

Noticing hot and cold spots around your home? This shows that air isn’t flowing properly around or that there is a draft somewhere. Your HVAC system could have a problem or maybe your window frames have morphed and aren’t keeping the air out as well as they used to. 

Unpleasant odors

When air remains stagnant, odors come on faster and stick around for longer. Obviously, there are many odor-causing things in a home but a lingering unpleasant odor could also be a sign of mold. If odors seem to last for more than a few minutes, your air circulation system is probably not working right.

→ Learn when you should get a mold inspection

Fatigue

Chemicals and other contaminants like carbon monoxide can impact your cognitive functions, primarily by making you feel sleepy or dizzy. If symptoms come on suddenly or with intensity, get outside as quickly as you can to see if the feeling subsides. If it does, there may be something seriously wrong inside your home.

How do I get an indoor air quality test?

If your detective skills aren’t up to snuff and you can’t find the source of your discomfort, it’s time to find an indoor air quality specialist. Unfortunately, since air quality inspections aren’t exactly common, inspectors are not the easiest thing to find. Professionals who conduct property inspections can give a a broad assessment of the air quality, based on experience working with many homes, but they may not be qualified to identify issues like mold, radon, VOCs, or other air pollutants.

To find a reputable IAQ specialist, check out resources:

  • IAQA, the American Industrial Hygiene Association
  • American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH)

Before you hire someone, ask them how long they’ve been in the industry, whether they’ll focus on a specific issue or a full spectrum of IAQ issues, and if they’ll help you interpret the results of the inspection.

How to deal with specific air pollutants

Air quality testing is just the first step of resolving the problem. This is why it’s useful to find someone who can test for a full spectrum of issues. For example, a radon test  doesn’t reveal anything, but your breathing issues, and poor indoor air quality, may persist.

A qualified, reputable air quality inspector should be able to identify what's causing the issue, and offer DIY or professional solutions. For many air quality problems, it might be as simple as cleaning out an A/C unit, but it might be as complicated and expensive as installing an entirely new HVAC system.

In the case of radon, at-home test kits cost less than $20. If you can’t figure out why your home’s air quality seems bad, get a test. If you’re not comfortable doing that, check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s resources for radon measurement and mitigation.

It’s not hard to know if something is wrong with your home’s indoor air quality. You’ll feel it. As such, there’s no point in testing your home’s air quality unless you’re convinced it’s poor. Resolving an IAQ problem is usually simple, too. But when the solution isn’t obvious, you’ll have to seek professional help to identify the cause and help you determine a solution.

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