Spring and summer are the perfect times for home improvement projects. While some people may focus on aesthetically pleasing changes, like repainting, it is the perfect time to consider making changes that can improve the air quality in your home. Though we spend more time outside this time of year, on average, Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, so indoor air quality is critical to the health of families. Cleaning products, mold and moisture, pests and even the appliances that people use, can all impact air quality. We offer some simple and effective ways to keep these indoor air pollutants low so you can breathe easier.

1. Test Your Home for Radon and Address Any Problems

Radon gas forms naturally and can seep into buildings through cracks in walls, basement floors, foundations and any other openings. Being exposed to limited amounts outdoors is impossible to avoid. But when radon gets trapped indoors and is inhaled at high amounts, it can cause lung cancer.

To protect yourself, you should test for radon buildup in the air. Digital detectors can be purchased for your home and can provide short-term readings and report an average for the long term.

If you are concerned about a possible high level of radon, you can also purchase do-it-yourself test kits to test the air. Short-term tests usually take two to seven days and then need to be sent to a lab. Long-term tests are more accurate, but they require at least three months of data to measure long-term averages. Order a radon test kit today.

If you discover your home has elevated levels of radon, you can fix the problem by having a radon mitigation system installed. You will need to hire a certified mitigation professional who will seal any cracks in the floor or foundation and install a vent pipe and fan which will collect radon gas from underneath the foundation and vent it to the outside. Contact your state radon program for a list of certified radon mitigation professionals.

2. Check and Update Your Appliances

Almost all of the 118.2 million housing units in the U.S. have access to electricity. However, about two-thirds of those homes use fuel-burning appliances like cooking stoves, furnaces and water heaters, which produce emissions that are harmful to our health and the environment. The most effective way to reduce these emissions is to eliminate the use of combustion appliances and replacing them with all-electric appliances.

However, if you are unable to make such upgrades now, there are some immediate steps you can take to reduce your risk from exposure to harmful pollutants: 

  • Make sure your gas appliances are working properly and have them serviced immediately if they aren’t. Some things to look for include burners that are not working, the smell of gas in the air, or appliances not heating.   
  • If you are doing any wood burning indoors, install an air cleaning device that uses HEPA filtration to provide some protection from the soot and smoke. 
  • When using combustion appliances (including gas, propane, fuel oil and kerosene), have proper ventilation. This can include using either a range hood that vents to the outside, an open window or both.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors to monitor the air quality and warn you if the air pollution becomes dangerous. 

For more suggestions visit the Healthy and Efficient Homes page.

3. Consider Removing Carpets and Replacing with Hard-Surfaced Flooring

Carpets and rugs, especially high-pile and older varieties, can trap pollutants and allergens. Dust mites, pet dander, cockroach allergens, particle pollution, mold spores, pesticides, dirt and even toxic gases can get stuck and settle into carpets. Then, these pollutants can become airborne during renovations, vacuuming or even walking on the carpet. For this reason, reducing carpeting in your home can help reduce allergens in your indoor air.

If you switch to hard surfaces, you may decide to use rugs in some rooms. When using rugs, you want to choose ones that can be easily cleaned. Rugs should be vacuumed on both sides and kept dry to reduce the potential for mold and mildew. You should also deep clean carpets and rugs at least once a year using dry steam cleaning.

4. Fill in cracks and reduce moisture to keep pests out and reduce mold

Humidity and moisture are breeding grounds for mold and insects. Specifically, cockroaches thrive in warm, indoor areas where they can easily access water and food. Keeping indoor humidity below 50% is a good way to deter these pests. But you also need to eliminate any infestation first with the help of a professional exterminator. Opt for one that utilizes integrated pest management (IPM) practices, which minimizes the use of toxic pesticides. This will include closing cracks in the floor or foundation, or any other way that pests might enter your home. Additionally, if you discover a pest infestation, the allergens may linger in the air long after the extermination, so you should take some simple clean-up steps to eliminate the allergens completely.

Mold exists everywhere and is a natural part of the environment. But indoor mold can cause property damage and health problems. If you have excessive mold, it means there is too much moisture in your home. Common problem areas include air-conditioning units; basements, attics and crawl spaces; bathrooms; humidifiers and dehumidifiers; and refrigerator drip pans. If you suspect a high level of moisture in your home, there are a few steps you can take:

  • Contact a plumber or contractor to help you fix all leaks quickly and correctly.
  • Check the gutters to make sure they are clean and in good repair and that downspouts are directed away from the home.  
  • Use a dehumidifier to reduce the moisture level in your home.
  • Always ventilate to increase the air movement indoors. For instance, run bathroom fans when bathing, cover pots and use exhaust fans when cooking, etc.

Learn more ways to protect yourself from indoor air pollution.

5. Consider Integrating Smart Surfaces

Though many smart surfaces need to be incorporated on a higher neighborhood level, making changes at your individual home can help air quality. If you are considering new roofing, choosing a lighter color or adding solar panels in place of shingles can not only lower the heat your house absorbs, but it can also lower energy costs. If you are repaving, using more porous pavement options can allow rain to absorb into the ground, reducing pollution, stormwater runoff, and flood risk. Creating greenspaces by planting trees, shrubs, and native grasses can reduce the temperature around your home by up to 7°F during the day and remove pollutants from the air. Learn more about smart surfaces and how they may work for your home.

Create a Clean Room

If you live in an area at risk for wildfire smoke or high pollen count, you can create a designated space to keep these additional pollutants out of your indoor air.
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