How to test air quality in your home

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The quality of the air you breathe can contribute to health problems like asthma and allergies. And it’s not just outdoor air quality that exposes us to pollutants. The World Health Organization (WHO) says 9 out of 10 people worldwide regularly breathe polluted air. And as many as 93% of children under 18 are living in environments with pollution concentrations that exceed WHO safe air quality guidelines.

You can't always control outdoor air quality, but you can ensure better health for your family by improving indoor air quality. That starts by identifying levels of indoor contaminants and finding ways to restore good air.

1. Purchase an indoor air quality monitor

If you're experiencing symptoms you suspect are related to indoor air quality, getting an air quality monitor is an inexpensive way to pinpoint the problem. By monitoring levels of indoor air pollution, you can take steps to get fresh air back into your home, and hopefully, a little peace of mind with it.

Which contaminants or pollutants should an air quality monitor measure?

Look for air quality sensors that provide the following air quality measurements.

  • Humidity: Indicates potential for mould growth.
  • Temperature
  • TVOCs (Total Volatile Organic Compounds): These are chemical pollutants identified by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water as potential sources of indoor air quality problems and come from building materials, cleaning products, etc.
  • Levels of particulate matter (PM 2.5): This is the level of dust mites and other allergens present in the air.

Some air quality monitors provide additional information like outdoor air quality and levels of carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide. However, the above factors are the most critical measurements for an air quality monitoring station to capture.

2. Evaluate health symptoms

Once you’ve gotten a readout on your baseline air quality, it may be helpful to track health symptoms for a few weeks. Try to see if you can align them to a particular area or a specific time of day. For instance, if you experience congestion and a headache only while at the office, your home air quality may not be the culprit.

The kinds of symptoms you’re experiencing may also provide clues about the source of the problem. Nausea and confusion track more closely to symptoms of dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the home. A scratchy throat or watery eyes are more often signs of an allergic reaction to potential pollutants.

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Talk to your doc

While it can be helpful to evaluate your symptoms when identifying problems with air quality, an air quality detector is never a substitution for medical advice. You should always consult with your doctor first to determine the best course of action for the symptoms you’re experiencing.

3. Monitor carbon monoxide levels

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Two of the most dangerous substances that can affect indoor air quality are carbon monoxide and radon. Carbon monoxide, often referred to as “the silent killer,” is an odourless, colourless gas that can build to dangerous levels in poorly ventilated areas.

Because of the danger to pets, the elderly, and children, we recommend carbon monoxide monitoring on all levels of the home. Review our recommendations for the best carbon monoxide detectors to determine which one is the right fit for your family.

4. Get an air purifier

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Once you’ve identified potential air quality problems in your home, an air purifier may be able to address some of your concerns. Air purifiers help asthma and allergy sufferers by removing particulate matter from the air.

Air purifiers clean the air with two methods. One is to release negatively charged ions, which make pollutants stick to surrounding surfaces. The other method is to use HEPA filters to screen and collect particulates from the air. In a pinch, you can even make a quick HEPA filter air purifier at home for under $40, but it's worth spending the money on a legit air purifier with multiple filters, if possible.

You'll also need to do a little bit of air purifier maintenance to keep your air quality in tip-top shape. Be ready to swap out the air filter once it gets clogged. Some models also come with a washable pre-filter that traps larger debris (like pet fur) and helps the other filter stay clean for a longer period.

5. Call an air quality professional

If you notice indoor air quality problems, you may scurry to do a few common sense things like air conditioning duct cleaning and installing carbon monoxide detectors. But some indoor air quality problems, like the presence of mould spores, can be more elusive and require professional help.

If you’ve recently renovated, opened up walls to repair plumbing, or discovered mould growing in your home, your indoor air quality may be suffering. Here are some of the most common complaints associated with indoor air quality problems:

  • Eyes, nose, or throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

Asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and humidifier fever are also related to long-term exposure to indoor air pollutants. If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention and consider professional indoor air quality testing to identify potential sources of indoor air pollution.

Air quality FAQ

One hedge against poor air quality’s health risks is to live in an area with relatively clean air. At home, there are some steps you can take to improve the quality of the indoor air you breathe.

When installed and used according to guidelines, air quality sensors in monitoring stations can give you a good baseline on pollutant or contaminant levels in your home. However, if you detect dangerous substances like carbon monoxide, consult a professional to learn more about improving the indoor air quality in your home.

Many air quality monitors can create confusion by bragging about tracking various substances that may or may not be useful in diagnosing air quality problems. 

  • Sulphur dioxide (sometimes misspelled as sulfur dioxide) is primarily released from fossil fuel combustion and usually is not a factor in indoor air pollution.
  • Nitrous oxides are also typically released as a result of emissions from vehicles and power plants and aren’t a significant contributor to indoor air problems.
  • Carbon dioxide can rise to unsafe levels in indoor environments but is a natural byproduct of human metabolism.
  • Carbon monoxide is found in the exhaust from engines, generators, fireplaces, and even furnaces. It can build to dangerous levels in closed spaces. 

The two most essential substances to track for indoor air quality are carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time of publish and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on the retailer’s website at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. SafeWise Australia utilises paid affiliate links.
Kaz Weida
Written by
Kaz Weida

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