6 Causes of Poor Indoor Air Quality and How to Prevent Them

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6 Causes of Poor Indoor Air Quality and How to Prevent Them

Indoor air quality is an important issue that deserves significant attention. Poor air quality inside your home or workplace can lead to serious problems including severe illness and even death.

Indoor air quality problems can arise from a variety of causes. Luckily however, you can prevent or resolve many common problems with proper testing and a little common sense. Below is a list of some of the most common causes of poor indoor air quality and exactly what you can and should do to prevent them.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a long-known issue that can occur in homes that are outfitted with appliances or heating elements that burn natural gas, propane, fuel oil, and wood. In many homes where carbon monoxide becomes a cause for concern, it is a result of combustion byproducts that build up to hazardous levels where insufficient outside air is provided.

Part of what makes carbon monoxide so dangerous is that it is a colorless and odorless gas that can be impossible to detect without proper equipment. In lower concentrations, carbon monoxide can cause symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion, disorientation, and fatigue. At higher concentrations, carbon monoxide causes unconsciousness and can be deadly.

To prevent a dangerous build-up of carbon monoxide, be sure that an adequate quantity of outside air is provided to the furnace area of your home. This will make up for the air that goes up the exhaust flue. Additionally, combustion appliances should be regularly inspected and cleaned to ensure proper combustion and venting.

Radon Gas

Radon gas is a radioactive gas that comes from the natural decay of nearly all soils on Earth. There are no immediate symptoms of radon exposure, but it is one of the leading causes of lung cancer in the U.S. Radon-related lung cancer causes an estimated 21,000 deaths per year.

Radon usually enters the home through cracks in the foundation, porous concrete blocks, sump openings, unfinished basement floors and occasionally untreated well water. In 1991, a national residential radon survey found that the average indoor radon level is 1.3 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). By contrast, outdoor levels sit at about 0.4 pCi/L on average.

To help eliminate the dangers of radon exposure, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that you have your home tested to see if radon reduction methods are an urgent need. If a radon reduction device is needed, it should be installed by a professional, as installing a reduction device on your own increases the risk of furnace back-drafting.

Environmental Tobacco Smoke

Cigarette, pipe, and cigar smoke is a well-known pollutant. Tobacco products contain a massive carnival of toxic chemicals including carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, arsenic, acetone, and thousands of others, all of which can pose a serious problem for indoor air quality.

Recent studies on the effect of second-hand smoke have continued to show that tobacco smoke can cause inner-ear infections, asthma, and lung cancer in non-smokers, and is listed by the EPA as a confirmed cancer-causing agent in smokers. Tobacco smoke has a habit of sticking to the interior of homes of indoor smokers, which only serves to exacerbate the problem.

Indoor air quality and personal health can be greatly improved by abstaining from tobacco products. If not, at least refrain from smoking indoors or around children, who are especially susceptible to lower respiratory tract and inner ear infections. If indoor smoking cannot be avoided, be sure to improve the ventilation of your home through the use of exhaust fans or by opening windows.


Comprised of six naturally-occurring silicate minerals, asbestos was one of the most commonly used building materials dating back 4,000 years, but especially in older buildings constructed between the late 19th century through the 1970s.

If inhaled over a significant period of time, asbestos can cause a slew of respiratory issues including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and the aptly-named asbestosis.

In newer buildings, asbestos-based materials are extremely rare. In many older buildings however, asbestos products can still be found in materials used for pipe insulation, vinyl flooring, cementitious shingles, and decorative wall and ceiling textures.

To prevent the dangers of asbestos, homeowners should have their houses checked by a professional inspector prior to conducting renovations. It is best to leave unexposed asbestos alone if it is unlikely to be disturbed, but be sure to always use professional asbestos cleaning services if needed.

Certain Building Materials

There are several non-asbestos building materials that can still wreak havoc on indoor air quality due to the contribution of small, but noticeable amounts of dust, debris, and vapors. This includes plywood, particle board, insulation, and deteriorating carpeting.

Many pressed wood products like plywood and particle board are held together with formaldehyde-based resins. Additionally, Urea-Formaldehyde Foam Insulation, a product commonly used in the 1970s, is another problematic material.

Formaldehyde has been known to cause eye, nose, and throat irritation as well as severe skin and respiratory symptoms in sensitive individuals. Old, deteriorating carpeting can also harbor molds, dust mites, allergenics like animal dander and dust, and asbestos fibers.

Always use caution when working with these materials. Wearing safety glasses, ventilation masks, gloves, and full-body clothing can help to keep you safe from airborne particle exposure. Additionally always be sure to provide your workspace with plenty of fresh air both during and after installation.

Chemical Pollutants

You may be surprised to learn how many common household cleaning products or chemically treated objects in your home contain toxic or irritating chemicals that can affect the quality of your indoor air.

For example, freshly dry-cleaned clothing, petroleum solvent-based paints, gasoline, and pesticides can all damage air quality. Dry-cleaned clothing and petroleum paints may release solvent vapors, which are toxic and can cause symptoms like dizziness and headaches.

Gasoline should never be stored inside your home, as it is highly-flammable and releases benzene, a cancer-causing vapor, while pesticides should only be used when absolutely necessary. Even moth balls can give off potentially hazardous substances in small amounts.

Instead of storing these chemicals in inhabited areas, store them in farther away, properly ventilated areas like the garage or shed. For major jobs or serious pest problems, hire a professional who can safely address your concerns and is trained to properly dispose of unused or unneeded chemicals.

For any of your air quality, renovation, or ventilation needs contact the pros at The Plumbing Works. No matter whether your job is personal or commercial, the highly-trained, efficient, and enthusiastic team at The Plumbing Works can handle it! Give us a call or contact us online today with any questions or concerns, or to schedule service.