The Ultimate Guide to Indoor Air Quality Testing

June 15, 2023

One day, we will be a nation full of citizen scientists that will use low-cost sensors with high-quality standards to monitor and report the outdoor air quality around the globe. What happens, however, when we are faced with the air in buildings? Air in our homes can be more polluted. Indoor air quality tests are very popular because we spend the majority of our time indoors (unless you like to go glamping in your backyard!).

Sometimes, when we suspect that there is an air pollution issue in our home, our first instinct will be to measure the contaminant level. Indoor air testing is a valuable tool, but it must be done with care and precision. The Connecticut Department of Public Health states that it is most helpful to measure pollutants (others than radon), when the contaminant in question has already been identified as a suspect.


Indoor Air Quality Testing Contaminants
Costs of Indoor Air Quality Tests by Pollutant Type
Pollutants Biological
Tests for Biological Pollutants
House dust mites
Chemical Pollutants
General Volatile Organic Compounds
Test for Lead
Combustion Pollutants
Smoke from Environmental Tobacco
Carbon Monoxide
Source Control Before Testing Your Indoor Air Quality

Indoor Air Quality Testing Contaminants
We cannot test all indoor pollutants at once. If we could, then you wouldn’t need to read this post! It can be costly and overwhelming to test for multiple contaminants. But if you think like a detective and choose your Air Quality Testing in Edmonton Ab based on your suspicions, then you will likely solve the mystery.

The EPA describes the most common indoor pollutants you may find in your home.

Mold, dander and dust mites are biological pollutants
Chemical pollutants include lead, radon, and volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde.
Combustion pollutants like carbon monoxide (and tobacco smoke)

Biological Pollutants
According to the EPA some biological pollutants can cause allergic reactions. These include hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HSP), allergic rhinitis (AR), and certain types of asthma. Airborne viruses and toxins can cause diseases. Sneezing and watery eyes are symptoms of health issues. Coughing, dizziness, shortness or breath, and sneezing could also be signs.

Tests for Biological Pollutants
It is important to remember that blind tests for biological allergens are not recommended. Instead, it is better to have an idea or, as the British call it, a “lineup” of suspect contaminants to determine which ones may be contributing to indoor air pollution. If you are still experiencing symptoms after a thorough walk-through and taking preventive steps, or if your air does not seem to be clean, an indoor air quality test might be the best option.

Indoor Biotechnologies, Inc. offers analysis services for testing indoor air quality to detect the allergens listed below. These tests can be tailored to one or 14 biological pollutants ranging from animal allergens and pollens to house dust mites. The Multiplex Array Indoor Allergens technology of the company has been used in studies such as those by Winn et al.

The sample would be either a dust sample or an air sample. Prices range from $75 to test one allergen to $345 to test all 14. Below, we have summarized the three most common household biological contaminants. We also explain what you should do if there is a suspicion of a problem and how to test.

Mold is the first thing we will discuss. It’s that fungus which has always made us cringe, but it also provided us with our very first antibiotic. Mold can grow indoors or outdoors. It can be brought into your home by vents, doorways and windows. Or, it may be brought in on clothing or shoes.

According to the CDC, molds can cause eye irritation, nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, wheezing or coughing in those who are allergic. The Institute of Medicine has found that even otherwise healthy individuals can experience upper respiratory symptoms such as wheeze and cough.

We must first sniff the air to detect any mustiness and then inspect any areas where mold could be a problem. Moreover, this time we won’t need to use our magnifying glass or microscope, as according to the EPA, if there is visible mold, no sampling is required. Mold spores are ubiquitous, and any air quality test for mold is likely to be difficult due to this. It is better to check for mold in areas that are prone to mold, remove any visible signs and correct the conditions which led to mold growth.

House dust mites
Dust mites can be found in carpets, mattresses, upholstered furniture and bedding. They are also present in all homes, no matter how clean they may be. Dust mites can trigger asthma because they are among the strongest biological allergens. Asthma triggers can cause symptoms such as coughing, chest tightness, wheezing and breathing difficulties.

The National Institutes of Health describes several ways to reduce the number of dust mites, including

Dust mites like warm, humid environments. Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to maintain humidity levels at or below 50%.
Cover your pillows and mattress with allergen-impermeable covers
To kill dust mites, wash bedding in hot (at least 60degC or 140degF) water. (Or, if the bedding is not washable you can freeze it overnight).
Use a vacuum to remove allergens, and a damp cloth to remove dust
Indoor Biotechnologies, Inc., the testing company above, produces a kit to test for air quality in your home, and specifically dust mite allergies. The kit costs $49.95.

Tigers, lions, and allergy season – oh my! In the spring, summer and fall, trees, grasses and weeds release pollen into the air. These pollen grains are then carried indoors by people, pets, and other objects.

Picture of pollen and dandelion in the air

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, some of those tiny pollen grains which enter your nose or throat can cause a respiratory allergy known as hay fever.

Hay fever symptoms include:

Itching of the eyes, nose and throat
Red and watery eye
Some prevention strategies for increased pollen exposure include

Pollen counts at their highest between 5:00am and 10:00am
Close the windows of your car and home
You can dry your clothes inside a dryer rather than outside.
Avoiding grasses or trees that produce high levels of allergen
For $75, the testing service at the start of this section will analyze only two types of allergens: the birch allergen and the Timothy allergen.

Chemical Pollutants
General Volatile Organic Compounds
According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), volatile organic compounds are organic compounds which easily turn into vapors or gasses, thus their “volatile nature”. The “organic” component comes from the chemical definition for organic compounds which states that they must contain carbon. Many organic chemicals are synthesized and not found in nature.

Different chemical products can emit organic compounds when used or stored. Paints, disinfectants and cleaners, wood preservers, dry-cleaned clothes, and stored fuels are the usual suspects. Building materials, furniture, office equipment and graphics and crafts materials can also contain VOCs.

It is dependent on the VOC’s toxicity whether an organic chemical can cause adverse health effects. Some VOCs are extremely toxic while others do not create any known health issues. According to the NIH, long-term exposure can damage kidneys, livers, and the central nervous system. Volatile organic compounds may cause eye irritation, respiratory tract irritations, headaches and dizziness. They can also lead to fatigue, nausea, loss of coordination and memory impairment.

Reduce VOCs levels in your home by following these tips from the EPA:

When using products that emit VOCs, increase ventilation and fresh air.
Take any cautions or instructions that are stated on the product label.
Buy only the quantities you will use in a short time and dispose of old or unused chemicals.
Avoid exposure to benzene, a carcinogen, as much as possible.
Reduce exposure to perchloroethylene from materials which have just been dry cleaned.
There are several home testing kits that can be purchased, such as one from Home Air Check, which costs $130.74. The kit comes with a sampling pump, sorbent sample collector and is accredited by the American Industrial Hygiene Association. The kit measures the Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOC) levels in the home.

Before we rush to grab the air sample collection kits, it is important to remember that even though the laboratory where the samples will be sent has been accredited, the final result should be collected only by a technician who is trained. Professional collection ensures that the sample is representative of the typical conditions and meets accepted standards. While home sampling kits can give an idea of VOC concentrations, they may not be accurate without the expertise of a trained professional.

Formaldehyde, a VOC that is well known, is inhaled when it is released into air. Formaldehyde can be found in particleboard, urea-formaldehyde products and other building materials. The chemical is also used in household products such as glues, permanent-press fabrics, paints and paper. It is used in many personal care products, medicines and cosmetics.

However, these tests are expensive and they cannot tell you what products emit the most formaldehyde at home. The results of home air tests can vary depending on the location and duration. They are not comparable to professional tests.

Lead was one of the very few elements that ancient peoples knew. Lead pipes were used by the Romans in their water system and in pots and saucepans. Modern scientists believe that this use may have caused many people to become ill or even die.

The negative effects of lead on health were only discovered in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By 1930, most European countries had banned lead paints for interiors. The U.S. adopted laws in the 1970s to reduce air pollution from lead. By the end of 20th century, lead-acid batteries were the main lead product.

Lead can enter a person’s body when it becomes airborne. This happens if he or she breathes in lead particles, or ingests them. Lead can have a negative impact on all body systems. At high levels it can cause convulsions and comas. It can also harm the central nervous system, kidneys, brain, and blood cells. Lead can cause behavioral and attention problems in young children and fetuses, whose bodies are growing. It may also delay physical and mental growth. In 1991, Secretary of Health and Human Services stated that lead is the “number-one environmental threat” to children’s health in the United States.

Reduce lead exposure in children by:

Keep the play area as clean and dust-free as possible
Before meals and bedtime, wash your child’s hands.
Wash toys and stuffed animals often
Use a solution of automatic dishwasher powder in warm water to mop the floor and clean window ledges, cribs and other chewable surfaces. (The high phosphate content can remove dust containing lead.)
Below are more tips on how to reduce lead levels:

Lead dust can be poisonous if you scrape or sand lead paint.
Use doormats before entering your home to wipe off your feet
If you are exposed to lead at work or in your hobbies, change your clothes before returning home and wash them separately.
In a fantastic online resource, the EPA provides additional tips for making your home safe from lead and protecting your children.

Test for Lead
California Department of Public Health suggests that you test for lead if your home contains children and: 1) it was built prior to 1978; or 2) you live near a highway or freeway where the exhaust from leaded gasoline could have polluted soil.

The EPA has set specific criteria for lead testing kits. When used by a trained professional, an EPA-recognized test kit can be used to reliably determine if there is lead-based painting in the house.

3MLeadCheck is an EPA-recognized home lead test kit that contains swabs capable of detecting lead on surfaces in less than 30 seconds. The cost of this test kit on ranges between $10 for two swabs to $22.50 for 8 swabs. The D-Lead (r) Lead Paint Test Kit costs $36 and includes seven tests.

Radon is named after radium and was discovered by Friedrich Ernst Dorn in 1900. In the United States, radon was found to be the second most common cause of lung cancer 100 years after its discovery. How are you exposed to this radioactive and colorless gas that is created outside in the soil in your home? According to the EPA, radon can enter homes through foundation cracks or holes. One in fifteen U.S. homes has elevated radon.

Radiation can cause lung cancer. Not everyone who is exposed to high levels of radon develops lung cancer.

All homes below the third-floor should be tested for radon air quality by the EPA and Surgeon General. Online or at home improvement stores, you can find many affordable air-quality testing kits for radon. Short-term kits can stay in your house for two to ninety days. Long-term kits remain longer than 90 days. The long-term test gives you a better indication of your home’s average radon levels throughout the year.

The EPA suggests that you take a short-term radon test first. The EPA suggests that if you discover that your radon levels are 4 picocuries/liter (pCi/L), or higher, you should follow up with a second radon test. This can be a short-term radon test if the result is high or a longer-term radon test if you want to get a better picture of the average radon levels in your home. If you have a second long-term result of 4 pCi/L, or if the average short-term results are 4 pCi/L, then the next step is to fix your home.

The primary method to reduce radon in your home is using a fan and vent pipe system. It depends on the home but most can be repaired for less than the cost of an average home repair. It is important to hire a contractor with the technical skills and knowledge to lower radon levels.

Combustion Pollutants
Smoke from Environmental Tobacco
Secondhand smoke or environmental tobacco smoke is a complex mixture of compounds that are released from a cigarette, cigar, pipe or smoke exhaled. ETS is similar to the flaming Cauldron in Shakespeare’s Macbeth because it contains over 4,000 compounds. According to the CPSC, over 40 are carcinogens. According to a 1992 EPA study, exposure to ETS is responsible for about 3,000 lung-cancer deaths in nonsmoking adult smokers.

If parents smoke around infants or young children, it can increase the risk of respiratory infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis. The symptoms of respiratory irritation, such as a cough, may be more common in children. ETS is especially dangerous for children with asthma, since it can cause more episodes and worsen symptoms.

You know that the best way to prevent the harmful effects of ETS on your health is to not smoke, or to not allow others to smoke in your home. You may think it unnecessary to test a household that smokes for ETS. According to a Rosen et. al. study, there are real benefits in measuring tobacco smoke air pollution. The measurement of air pollution from tobacco smoke may have real benefits. Rosen et. al. (2015) suggest that the analysis could persuade some parents to smoke-free households to protect their children from harmful ETS. The 2015 study recommends improvements to the testing process. Home Air Check offers air quality testing kits for tobacco smoke to consumers at a price of $103.24 each.

Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide is another combustion pollutant. It’s a colorless and odorless gas which, at high concentrations can cause unconsciousness or death. According to the CPSC and EPA, pollutant sources are unvented kerosene or gas space heaters as well as woodstoves and fireplaces. CO, NO2, and particles are the primary pollutants released into air.

CO is deadly at high concentrations. CO can cause symptoms such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, confusion, dizziness and weakness at lower levels. CO poisoning symptoms are often confused with flu or food poisoning.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that all homes have a carbon dioxide alarm that meets either the latest Underwriters Laboratories 2034 standard, or International Approval Services 696 standard. This carbon monoxide detector is currently available on at $38.74. The CPSC also recommends that all fuel-burning devices, such as furnaces and stoves, fireplaces and clothes dryers, space heaters and water heaters be professionally inspected to detect any dangerous carbon monoxide emissions. The Commission recommends that chimneys, vents and flues be inspected by a professional every year for blockage or leakage.

Source Control Before Testing Your Indoor Air Quality

Here are some last points to think about-the EPA’s recommendations to improve your air without spending a penny (or very little):

Reduce or eliminate the sources of pollution. Whether it’s mold, animal dander, or VOC products – the best way to improve your indoor air quality is to reduce or eliminate the individual sources.
When possible, ventilate your home. This will help reduce the amount of pollutants in your home. Open windows and doors, or use bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans to vent outside.
Replace filters frequently, including central heater filters and air conditioner filters.

Set humidity between 30 and 50%.
This guide is finally over. If you’re still reading it, you truly deserve a cup of hot tea. This guide is intended to answer your questions regarding indoor air quality testing, give you the tools necessary to determine how to improve your home’s air, and ultimately provide you with suggestions on ways to improve your health and that of your family.

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