Is there a way to test the air in my home?

Question

Is there a way to test the air in my home?

Asked by Lori

My home was built in 2003. Always has seemed dustier than any other. Now it's even dustier and my family has been fighting headaches and respiratory issues for a good two months.

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Answers

Cynthia Phakos's picture

I am starting with a quote and some information written by Ray Woodcock (CIH) a professionalin environmental health issues.

"No two buildings and no two indoor air quality problems are identical. A generalbut systematic approach is usually more effective and economical than relyingon extensive air testing, unless there are specific complaints or observations thatcall for testing.... Building-related conditions such as these can cause symptomssimilar to those of indoor air pollution. An investigation should therefore alsoevaluate non-indoor air quality factors."

Are building issues the cause?

As I am an architect, my initial response to your question was related to building issuesand the fact that your home was recently built.
  1. One reason for noticeable dust in a newhome is that debris may get into the ductwork during construction if the ducts are notproperly sealed.This condition might get worse over time as the debris degrades andbecomes more easily dispersed.
  2. Another thought is that if there is carpet in your home, weoften recommend people with dust allergies (actually dust mite allergies) avoid carpet, as it is a collector of all sorts of dirt and dust.

Then I thought thedust might be laden with chemicals from the offgassing of VOCs (volatile organiccompounds) from a whole host of items such as the cabinetry, glues for the flooring,insulation, paints or sealers.

Beyond the home

I next called an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Testing Consultant. He suggested lookingbeyond the home to the site, and finding out if anyone nearby was doing construction.
  • As you live inNebraska I thought perhaps it might be something regional and related to agriculture.
  • Hethen recommended doing an ambient air test, EPA TO-15, as a starting point, a methodfor testing VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
A testing lab gave me a different opinion. As IAQ complaints are becoming morecommon today there are numerous tests that can be done on the air from your home.
  • Each of these tests focuses on a specific area, whether it is testing for a particular categoryof chemical, for particulates in the atmosphere, mold spores, dust mites, lead, and so on.
  • Each test will cost you roughly $400, and so it would be better to start testing once youget an expert opinion.

Hire a CIH

The more sensible approach is to hire a Certified Industrial Hygienist, (CIH), a highlytrained professional aware of many of the common problems.

  • This person would havemet the minimum requirements for education (a BS and an MS) along with practical fieldexperience.
  • They would have the required level of knowledge in all aspects of the field, from chemistry, to engineering controls and ventilation, to air sampling.
The CIH would come to your home, consider your issues relative to your environment, and recommend the appropriate tests. This would save you time and money, andhopefully solve your problem.You most likely could find someone in your area listedon the internet.
  • I read on one site that in 2009 there were 22 specialists in Nebraska, withsome associated with the University of Nebraska.
  • The term Industrial Hygienist is notrestricted by law, so please make sure that he/she is certified with the American Board ofIndustrial Hygienists.