Safety begins at home. And it starts with something as basic as the air you breathe.

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Take a deep breath.  Wait – are you breathing clean air?

We used to take it for granted that the air we breathe is clean and healthy.  But today, that’s not so true.  Concern over air quality everywhere is a real issue.  In cities, suburban and rural places alike, air pollutants range from factory, machinery and car fumes to pesticides and other chemicals.  Even natural irritants like pollen affect air quality.  At least we can all know that the air in our homes is clean and safe.

Right?

Actually, you can’t assume that the air you and your family breathe at home every day is safe.  Indoor air quality is affected by many factors.  In fact, indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air.  It’s important that you check your indoor air system, or have it checked, regularly to ensure good, pure air in your home, free from any irritants.  And if your family includes young children, older adults, or anyone with asthma, it’s not just a good idea.  It’s crucial to their health.

What’s more important than clean air?

How do you know if the air you and your family breathe daily is clean and safe?  Don’t wait to see coughing or other signs of trouble.  Here’s a home air quality inventory you can do pro-actively, before you experience home air quality issues.  It starts with a check on three major causes of poor indoor air quality.

Smoking

Smoke stays in the air and causes serious second-hand smoke health problems, even with ventilation.  You should never allow smoking in your home.

Mold or mildew

If you have areas of dampness in your home, you may have a mold or mildew issue.
Can you smell a musty odor?  Can you see water stains, on either ceiling or walls?  Does the humidity in your home seem high?  Then you know you have a dampness problem.

Dampness causes air quality problems, since it provides a great environment for indoor pollutants to flourish.  Mold and mildew can lead to asthma and irritation.  If you can see even tiny amounts of standing water indoors, such as condensation on pipes, carpets that stay damp, leaky plumbing, damp kitchens or basements, leaky attics, etc., then you should take steps.

Make sure all pipe and plumbing connections are tight.  Fix any leaks.  Set your indoor humidity levels under 50%.  Ensure good ventilation and air flow throughout your home.
Always use exhaust fans in the bathroom and kitchen.  Keep any drip pans clean, and change pet’s water regularly.  Keep an eye on those problem damp areas in your home, and wipe dry as needed.

If you did develop mold or mildew, the EPA recommends calling for professional help to clean any mold growth that covers more than 10 square feet.  If you choose to do it yourself, be sure to clean the affected area thoroughly using protective gear, at minimum an N-95 mask (you can get these at hardware stores), disposable gloves and goggles.   Hard-surfaced materials can be cleaned with detergent and warm water.   Porous materials, like ceiling tiles, must be discarded.  If water build up was caused by sewage, floods or other contaminated water, call in a professional.

Improper ventilation

Your home needs proper ventilation to be healthy.  Indoor air can get stale without a good air flow. Odors, dust, off-gassing from fabrics, flooring or furniture, tiny particles, dander, etc. can lead to problems if not properly filtered and vented.  You home can even become oxygen-deficient.

A combination of circulation with outside air and a well-maintained home ventilation system together are key to maintaining a healthy environment inside your home.

When building for maximum energy efficiency, it’s important not to seal off your home completely, but to allow for adequate air circulation and flow.

If you use gas, propane, wood or other stoves, heaters or fireplaces, check carefully to ensure they are fully vented to the outside.  Failure to vent these properly can lead to deadly levels of carbon monoxide build-up.

Make sure there is extra ventilation for craft or hobby areas, where you may use paint, fixative, or other chemicals, or produce sawdust, etc.

Once you’ve removed any mold, mildew or dampness, checked for adequate ventilation and made your home a smoke-free zone, there’s one final step to be sure your home air is always safe and fresh.

Your home HVAC system works to clean and circulate your air.  It’s important to change the filters regularly.  Even better, have them changed as part of a regular, yearly system check-up, perhaps scheduled when you change the batteries on your carbon monoxide detectors.

After all, what could be more important than the quality of the air we breathe?  Especially in our homes, you want to be sure it’s clean and healthy.  Taking this home air inventory, and scheduling regular HVAC service and maintenance appointments, will mean you and those you love can breathe easier.