Air Quality Problems? Open Windows and Other Easy Tips

a woman in a sweater, jeans, and socks reclining on a sofa and taking a deep breath

Getting a breath of fresh air in your home may be harder than you think. Indoor air can be full of pollutants that can influence your living environment. Carpeting has volatile organic compounds that give off a gas, and even your shower curtain has hazardous air pollutants. Your home may also have radon and carbon monoxide, and both are dangerous to your health.

Now that spring and its warmer temperatures have arrived, improve your home’s indoor air quality with these simple tips! 

Monitor your indoor air quality 

a man in a blue T-shirt holding up an air quality monitor
Monitor your home’s air quality.

Americans generally spend 90 percent of their times indoors, where pollutants can be as much as five times higher than the Great Outdoors. While you’ll always need to air out your home every once and a while, you’ll probably want to know the exact status of your home’s air quality.

Consider investing in an air quality monitor. Some smart options will test the air quality in your home and then turn on your air purifier or ventilation systems. Other options simply monitor the pollutants in your air, so you’ll know when to address an issue. 

a round, white radon detector hanging on a gray wall
You may need a radon monitor.

You should also test your home’s radon levels. Radon is a radioactive gas that is odorless and colorless, which can lead to adverse health effects or even death. Unfortunately, you won’t know your home has it without testing. Learn more about radon and how to mitigate an issue your home in Outsmart Radon, the Invisible Killer.

You should also continuously monitor carbon monoxide in your home, which kills more than 400 Americans and sends more than 20,000 to the emergency room each year. Place a carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home and check them alongside your smoke alarms on the first Saturday of each month. 

Bring the outside in 

a white curtain fluttering out an open window
Open your windows when able.

If you’ve been keeping your home shut tight, chemicals and allergens can build up and threaten your health and home. One of the easiest ways to improve air quality in your home naturally is to open your windows and doors and use ceiling or box fans to create a draft.

For the best outdoor air quality, open your windows and doors before 10 a.m. and after 9 p.m., when the air is less polluted. (Open windows can welcome critters and intruders into your home, too, so install screens and always shut and lock your exits before going to sleep.) If you can only open your windows between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m., you should. Generally, the indoor air pollution in your home is worse than the pollution outside.

How to combat moisture 

condensation lines streaking a window
Moisture can damage your home and your home’s indoor air quality.

Humidity can be the scourge of your house, resulting in stagnant air and mold growth. Always turn on your bathroom exhaust fan for at least fifteen minutes after you shower to prevent mold from growing, and if possible, open a window. (Your fan should vent to the outside, not blow into your attic or crawlspace, which will create even more mold and mildew problems).

Laundry rooms also need proper ventilation in order to prevent damp air from creating the perfect breeding grounds for mold. 

If you have mold issues, contact a mold specialist who can help to mitigate any problems and prevent further damage.

a gas burner burning a blue flame
Always use the exhaust vent when cooking with gas.

Also, turn on your kitchen exhaust fan when cooking as steaming and boiling can create moisture. Plus, a natural gas or propane stove can generate carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and other toxic pollutants. If you don’t have an exhaust fan, open doors and windows when able.

If you have extreme humidity levels in your home, you may need to turn on your air conditioning and even buy or install dehumidifiers.

Be careful what you bring into your home 

a blue paint can with a used paint roller on top
Certain household products can poison the air.

Household products within your living environment can increase the pollution levels of your house and create poor indoor air quality. These items include cleaning supplies, paints, tobacco smoke, glue and other home improvement products, and certain cosmetic products. 

When using these items, follow the label instructions carefully, and throw away old or unneeded chemicals safely. Also, buy limited quantities, so you don’t have excess chemicals that will need to be stored.

Complete routine HVAC maintenance 

a technician changing an air filter in a HVAC unit
Replace your air filters every three months.

Routine HVAC maintenance can help to improve air quality, in old homes especially. Simply replace or clean your air filters as per the manufacturer instructions. Some units require homeowners change their air filters every three months, others every six months. Some even need to be changed every month, so check with the manufacturer or a qualified professional to know when this task needs to be done for your specific unit.

Also, make sure your air filters fit. If your air filter is too small for the unit, it won’t capture allergens, dust mites, pet dander, or other pollutants. (It can also be sucked into your unit, which could cause damage and even a costly insurance claim.) Buy the correct filter and replace or clean as needed. This will not just improve your indoor air quality but will also prolong the life of the unit and lower your energy bills. 

Upgrade your air filter 

a homeowner changing his HEPA air filter
Invest in MERV air filters.

If you have a budget for home improvement, consider installing a pleated air filter. These are measured in MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) or how much particulate matter they capture, and they are thicker than the normal air filters in a HVAC unit.

They range on a scale from one to 20, though you should strive to get a filter with a MERV rating between 11 and 13 if you want superior air quality. Anything over nine is used in hospital laboratories and anything over 13 captures bacteria, smoke, other pollutants, and droplets from sneezing.

You can also consider a separate air purifier, but to get a good one, you’ll need to spend a few hundred dollars. An air purifier will also raise your home’s energy consumption and can be noisy.

With all this push to get clean air inside your home, you might be wondering if you should still weatherize your home. 

Don’t skip the weatherization 

a homeowner applying a tube of caulk to a window frame
Minimize drafts with caulk and weather stripping.

While weatherization efforts – installing storm windows, weather stripping, and blown-in wall installation – can prevent polluted air from escaping your home and fresh air from getting in, it’s imperative to weatherize to keep your home energy efficient. Just make sure to get adequate air flow through the above methods and check for moisture issues. If you find mold and mildew growth, you shouldn’t weatherize your home until you’ve fixed these issues.

Stay on top of home maintenance  

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