Air pollution got national attention in the 1960s and 70s, but at the time it seemed almost like a fad. Unless, of course, you were among the environmental scientists who knew the dangers and learned about new ones that resulted from natural causes and man made ones.
In your tenure as a home inspector, you won’t be required to report on air quality. That’s a specialty. But understanding why it’s important can help untangle some of the meanings behind defects in the homes that you’ll inspect through the years.
How Poor Air Quality Affects People
Most people spend a lot more time indoors than out. So the air that you’re breathing inside can have a greater effect on your health, even if you can’t readily see a source or a problem. Unfortunately, many contaminants aren’t visible in the air, so you might not know that they’re there.
Breathing bad air can lead to a number of health conditions. Among them are allergies, respiratory disorders, headaches, sore throat, lethargy and nausea.
Preexisting health conditions can worsen the reaction to polluted indoor air. And long-term exposure can trigger serious health issues including heart disease and certain cancers.
Where Contaminants Come From
The list of possible indoor air contaminants is deep and wide. Mold is one of the most common, and it can grow in any home. Mold needs dampness to survive. And where conditions are both damp and warm, it can spread like mad.
Other common pollutants include radon gas, secondhand smoke, smoke from a wood fire, and volatile organic compounds or VOCs. Radon is largely controllable, at least once testing confirms where it’s entering the building.
VOCs usually come in the form or manmade product, from fabric dyes and plastics to paint and carpet fibers. VOCs can off gas into the building for weeks or longer.
Methods for Creating Cleaner Air
For many contaminants, cleanliness can good ventilation play major roles. Mold can’t grow in dry conditions. Smoke is completely avoidable, and so are items that you bring into your home such as carpeting and paint. Low and zero VOC products are available as alternatives. And good ventilation keeps air circulating.
Some contaminants need a different approach. Radon, for example, requires specialized testing and then mitigation. This can mean something as simple as layering plastic sheeting over the soil in a crawlspace by passively and actively ventilating the area using vets and permanent fans.
Alternatively, it can mean something as complex a applying sealants, home pressurization to reduce the vacuum that draws the gases into the dwelling.
Indoor air quality ranks fairly high with the EPA in terms of public health concerns. New homes can have problems because they’re built tighter, but older homes aren’t immune, either. The type of foundation a home has plays a role, and so do the choices that the home owner makes.
You won’t perform air quality inspections unless you choose to specialize. But when you see clogged HVAC filters, you’ll know that the air quality indoors might not be great and why clean filters matter for more than just the efficiency of the AC unit. Where mold and mildew are detected in different parts of a house, you’ll understand that dampness is present, which can damage the house, and you’ll also know that the people living there are breathing contaminants.
If you’re interested in all of the inner workings of a house and its many systems, get a free course demo and see what ICA School’s home inspection course is all about. You could turn your general interest into a highly skilled profession, and do so at your own pace.