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Indoor Air Quality FAQ

What is Indoor Air Quality?

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a term used to describe the quality of the air inside a building. It usually doesn't include factors such as temperature, humidity, and air movement, though in some situations, an IAQ professional could consider these factors. For example, excessively dry air (low humidity) can result in nose bleeds, dry eyes and other unpleasant symptoms.

Generally air quality focuses on particulates and gases that can be present in the air. Gases can include radon and formaldehyde. Particulates include things like airborne particles, mold spores, viruses and bacteria. All of these elements in the air can cause adverse health effects on the occupants of a building or home.

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How does outdoor air quality relate to indoor air quality?

Usually outdoor air pollution will be reduced by between 10 – 90% as a result of absorption by the building itself and the building’s ventilation filtration system. This means that a filtration system that isn't maintained properly can eventually lead to indoor pollution. Regular maintenance is recommended for both commercial and home heating and cooling systems, as both systems depend on drawing air into the building from outside.

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Are indoor air quality problems common?

Up to 30% of all commercial buildings suffer from serious indoor air quality concerns. Indoor home air tests across North America found that 96% of the homes tested had at least one indoor air quality problem. 86% of the homes tested had high levels of dust, pollen and viruses. 71% tested positive for potentially harmful chemicals and gases.

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How serious are most indoor air quality problems?

The seriousness of an indoor air quality problem depends on the specific problem. If Legionnaires’ bacteria begin to multiply in the cooling system, the results can be deadly. The presence of radon gas can cause lung cancer. Long-term exposure to mold spores can cause lung damage, brain damage, cancer and even death. Combustion products such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide can cause headache, nausea, dizziness, confusion, depression, memory loss, and if exposure lasts long enough, death.

Other indoor air quality concerns might seem far less important, but can still prove fatal if not attended to. The presence of bioaerosols (pollen, viruses, bacteria, insect parts, animal dander, etc.) can aggravate asthma and even precipitate a fatal asthma attack.

Indoor air quality is extremely important. Testing and installation of carbon monoxide detectors is recommended in homes that use natural gas or oil for heating and/or cooking.

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What should I do if I suspect my home or office has an indoor air quality problem?

If you and those around you feel ill while inside your home or office, but feel better when outside or elsewhere, you probably have an indoor air quality issue. One of the first things you should do is check the air filters on your HVAC system. Clean filters, especially HEPA filters, help to remove many particulates from the air.

Using bleach or some other home cleaning product to kill microbial contaminants is only a partial answer at best. Even though these biocides will kill molds and spores, they are toxic themselves.

A qualified HVAC technician will provide air and surface sampling. Both types of sampling are necessary to detect different types of toxic compounds that may be present in the air. Only then can you know what you are really dealing with and whether serious measures are needed.

A qualified indoor air quality expert uses both non-culturable air sampling and culturable air sampling to take a complete and accurate count of how many spores and other particulates are present. This also gives the expert an idea of how many of these particulates are able to reproduce. Surface sampling is used to detect mold on dry surfaces.

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