How Safe Is the Air in Your Apartment?

How often do you consider the air quality of your home? We spend approximately 90% of our time indoors, so having good-quality air circulating indoors is vital, even if you live in an apartment.

Pollutants created inside your home or drawn in from outside can create serious health issues— including asthma, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Read on to discover what indoor air pollutants to look out for, plus how to prevent and fix many air quality problems that can occur in your apartment.

What Causes Poor Indoor Air Quality?

There are various factors that can lead to poor indoor air quality (IAQ) inside an apartment, for example:

Secondhand Smoke

If you live with someone who smokes, you may be inhaling secondhand smoke such as carbon monoxide and very tiny particulates, or particles, of tobacco smoke into your lungs. These particles can remain at harmful levels for up to five hours. Carbon monoxide inhalation at high levels can cause nausea, unconsciousness, and even death. Request the other person to smoke outside—or give up the habit altogether.

Mold and Dampness

Mold is caused by fungal spores in warm, damp areas. Telltale signs are a steamed-up bathroom after your shower or condensation on kitchen windows when cooking.

Fungal spores from mold can aggravate asthma, so it’s important to tackle mold by keeping your apartment’s humidity levels below 50%. If you and your family are tenants, tell your landlord immediately.

Lead-Based Paints

According to the American Lung Association, the most common source of lead pollution indoors is old paint in homes built before 1978. If untouched and in good condition, lead-based paint won’t pose a significant health risk. If the paint is chipped or in poor condition, it can form into dangerous particles. Try and avoid homes with lead-based paint, or ask your landlord to address this as soon as possible.

Pests and Pesticides

Pests and pesticides can enter your apartment from contaminated dirt, dust, and air. The National Pesticide Information Center recommends only using pesticides formulated for indoors and making sure you mix or dilute it outside first. To eliminate pests inside your apartment with a chemical spray, ensure the area is well-ventilated, wear a face mask, and make sure no one else is present.

Building Ventilation

Poor building ventilation can be due to air filters contaminated with dirt or moisture, impacting your indoor air quality. Microbial growth may form in stagnant water gathering in drip pans or uncontrolled moisture inside air ducts. According to the World Green Building Council, your productivity, cognitive function and well-being could also be at risk. Ask your landlord to call in ventilation experts to check the filters.

How to Fix Your Apartment Air Quality

Don’t worry, you have many tools at your disposal to improve the IAQ of your apartment. Some can be performed with the help your nearest HVAC company, and some are so simple you can do them yourself. Here are some simple tips:

Open Your Windows

The cheapest, easiest way to improve your indoor air quality is to open your windows for five to ten minutes after you shower or cook. Just opening your windows for a few minutes daily is a great way to improve ventilation, as most modern buildings are very well insulated and heated, leading to a contamination buildup.

Use Exhaust Fans

Consider fitting a kitchen hood with an exhaust fan. In the bathroom, an exhaust fan will remove moisture droplets in the air from your shower, preventing mold growth.

Buy an Air Purifier

A mechanical air purifier can remove over 99.5% of particles such as house dust mite, pollen, pet dander and mold. The air purifier works by placing electric charges on the air particles so they stick to a surface inside the room, or the machine. To remove gaseous or chemical pollution, the air purifier will require an absorbent material such as activated charcoal.

Empty Drip Pans

Be sure to empty drip pans from your dehumidifier or window air conditioner, if fitted. Allowing water to build up in drip pans can lead to the growth of fungus, mold, bacteria, and other contaminants. By being vigilant, you help these ventilation systems to work more effectively.

Notify Your Landlord

Concerned about your apartment’s IAQ? Tell your landlord right away. Follow any procedures in your lease agreement. If problems persist, meet with your landlord. Agree in writing any actions they will take, by when, and as required by state laws. Landlords who don’t abide by air quality housing codes can be fined. For more information, contact your state’s city housing authority.

How Do I Check the Air Quality in My Apartment?

Buy an Indoor Air Quality Monitor

A good air quality monitor analyses your air and highlights significant changes, such as the amount of dust aggravated by vacuuming, or the extra carbon dioxide emitted by people in your apartment.

Test for Mold

Buy a mold testing kit for use at home. Follow the instructions and send them to the lab recommended for test results.

Alternatively, use a borescope to drill a small hole into a wall affected by moisture or mold. Insert the fiber optic cable through the hole. Any signs of mold will appear on the monitor.

Or contact a professional, licensed mold inspector who works with a lab accredited by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Fit Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, and potentially lethal gas. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends installing carbon monoxide alarms on every floor outside each sleeping area. Ensure they’re installed properly calibrated, with a digital display and battery backup.

Conduct a Radon Test

Radon is a radioactive gas formed from decaying uranium deposits in the earth. It can enter your home or apartment through cracks in the building’s foundation. It is the second-highest cause of lung cancer in the US.

You can buy radon testing kits to use at home. If the level is above 4 pCi/L, contact your state radon program for expert help.

Test Your Apartment’s Air Quality

Quality of air is key to a healthy home and the safety of its residents. There are many ways you can improve the IAQ of your home. Simple, cost-effective measures like decluttering or buying house plants can help purify your indoor atmosphere. What’s important is preventative action to avoid breathing in harmful indoor air pollutants.