6 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality

By: Beth Krietsch

From dust and mold to pollen and exhaust fumes, indoor air pollutants can lead to breathing difficulties and exacerbate respiratory problems like asthma and bronchitis.

Follow these tips for improving your home’s air quality, whether that means removing pollutants that have found their way in or keeping them out in the first place.

1. Keep moisture levels in check

Keep dampness at bay by installing a dehumidifier or air conditioner in the basement and other rooms that retain moisture. This will help keep mold growth down and let you breathe easier.

2. Test for radon and asbestos

Many homes built before 1980 contain asbestos, which was frequently used in a wide array of construction materials like insulation, roofing, siding, pipes, and textured paint.

When disturbed or damaged, asbestos fibers can be released into the air, and exposure can increase risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. For this reason, you’ll want to have your home inspected if you’re planning to remodel or disturb existing building materials in any way.

A naturally occurring radioactive gas that’s both colorless and odorless, radon can be harmful to human health in high concentrations as it decays and possibly can be inhaled—radon causes more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year. Fortunately, testing your home for radon is simple and inexpensive with a radon test kit. Many states even offer these for free or at a reduced price. EPA suggests taking action if test results show radon levels reaching 4 pCi/L or higher.

3. Keep your place clean

A few quick and simple swipes of the broom can go a long way in keeping your home clean and free of some common air pollutants like dust and dirt. Try vacuuming and dusting floors and furniture at least once a week, if not more, and using a doormat.  

4. Amp up the greenery

Some studies show that houseplants may help to reduce levels of chemicals from the air, the EPA says. But the agency notes that there is no evidence available to show that houseplants are capable of removing significant amounts of pollutants in indoor environments. Still, some houseplants with suggested air purifying properties include peace lilies, rubber plants, and English ivy.

5. Limit the use of harsh cleaning supplies like ammonia and bleach

Many cleaning products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation along with dizziness, fatigue, and other symptoms. The less chemicals you breathe in, the better. Fortunately, plenty of natural cleaning products are available on the market today.

vent hole on wooden wall

6. Improve ventilation

Increasing air flow from the outdoors will help lower concentrations of indoor air pollutants, the EPA says. Some ways to improve ventilation and remove contaminants from an indoor space include:

Ventilation systems

You may also want to consider installing a whole-house ventilation system. Here’s a breakdown of the four different types available.

Exhaust

Simple and inexpensive, exhaust ventilation systems work by depressurizing your home. These systems—usually whole-house, bathroom, or kitchen fans—are best for northern, low-moisture climates. Avoid this type of ventilation system in the Southeast and other places where moisture/humidity levels are high, as the home can be damaged by mold and condensation buildup that develops when warm air is repeatedly drawn into the structure.

Supply

Another simple and inexpensive form of home ventilation, supply ventilation pressurizes your home with fan and duct systems that bring fresh air inside while other air is able to leak out through holes in the shell, vents, and fan ducts. The incoming air can be filtered or dehumidified, helping to lower moisture levels and minimize pollen, dust, and other pollutants entering the home.

Balanced

More expensive than supply or exhaust ventilation systems to install and operate, balanced ventilation systems work by balancing equal amounts of incoming fresh air from the outdoors with extracted polluted air from the indoors. The more advanced balanced ventilation systems incorporate heat or energy recovery and can provide significant energy savings when properly installed.

Energy  recovery

Most cost effective in climates with high heating and cooling costs driven by extreme summer or winter weather, heating and energy recovery ventilation systems (both are types of balanced ventilation systems) provide a controlled way of ventilating a home while minimizing energy loss. Installation and maintenance of these type of systems can be expensive and time consuming, but they have the lowest operating costs among any home ventilation option.

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