Posted by: SherlockHomesSY | 4 Jan 2011

Common Complaints: Breathing Difficulties (2 of 2)


– Volatile Organic Compounds
– Dry Air
– Soil Gases
– Pesticides
– Mold
– Allergens
– Dust
– Smoke
– Carbon Monoxide
– IAQ Priorities

Some reports indicate indoor air is 90 times more polluted than outdoor air.  Maybe.  There are many things leading to poor indoor air quality: high indoor moisture vapor, volatile organic compounds (VOCs – out gassing of manufactured goods), soil gases, pest control mixes, mold, allergens, fiberglass ductwork—to name a few.

Anything that makes breathing difficult is an indoor air quality issue.  Each irritant is worth one or more blog posts of their own.  Here, we’ll touch on sources of irritation and what can be done in the house to avoid them.

In our last post, we covered priorities for dealing with sources of indoor indoor air quality issues and breathing difficulties caused by VOCs and dry air.  We’ll cover the rest of the list above in this one.

Soil Gases. There are probably a variety of gases escaping through our soil at the surface.  One familiar one is radon.  It’s the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, second only to smoking.

The only way to know if radon is an issue at your house is to properly test for it.  When it’s a problem, a pipe is usually run from under the foundation through the roof with a fan on top that runs non-stop.  The great news is that this approach works for all soil gases.

Pesticides. Have you ever considered that most pesticides inside your house designed to kill bugs are not healthy for you or your pets either?  Bugs are going to get into your house, but can easily reduce the number and discourage them.

Air sealing and duct sealing goes a long way toward keeping bugs out.  Make sure plumbing p-traps have water in them all the time.  These actions keep rodents out too.  Cover any required air holes with 1/8 – ¼ inch mesh.  Just don’t do it across the dryer vent.

Food management helps a lot too.  Keep open food in tightly sealed containers or the equivalent of Ziploc bags.  Thanks, mom, for the tip!

Food management and air sealing may eliminate the need for indoor pesticides.  I’ve been practicing this for years without the need for pest control.  When they do dare to show up, my pets have a blast playing with them.

Mold. We’ve talked about mold and moisture management in several blog posts and we’ll continue to do so.  Mold, like fire, isn’t a bad thing unless it’s out of control.  However, what is okay for most of us can irritate or kill others.

Mold is a result of moisture issues.  To solve it, conduct a moisture investigation.  When necessary, test for mold too.  Then, fix the moisture problems while removing the mold.  You may need professional help from a mold remediator.

Allergens. There are quite a variety of them, sometime in the form of particles in the air. After eliminating or separating the sources where possible, good air filtration is needed.

Dust. We talked a lot about dust in our last two blog posts.  The gist of it is that dust is made up of a variety of thing.  Most of it originates outdoors, but it could be insulation or lint too.  The reason for getting a lot of dust in the house is air leaks through the walls, floors, and ceilings.  Air seal the house to make almost all of it go away.  Use a good filter for the rest.

Carbon Monoxide. About 1/3 of US households with combustion appliances (e.g., furnaces, water heaters) or fireplaces have installation problems or unsafe conditions.  A concern is carbon monoxide.  Add that to this idea: we park cars in attached garages.

A good place to start is with a through combustion safety investigation.  Find some way to ensure appliances are installed correctly, the garage is isolated from the living space, and that any or all fans don’t cause backdrafting.  A BPI Building Analyst (likely your home performance assessor) is trained to do it all.  HVAC contractors and appliance installers can check their equipment.

At all times, monitor for carbon monoxide—especially if there are gas appliances or a garage attached.  You’d be amazed at what folks without gas or fireplaces do inside a house!


For more information on indoor air pollutants, there’s the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) on-line publication: The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality.

In Conclusion

Sometimes, breathing is made difficult by vermin, pesticides used to deal with them, or the things they leave behind.  We’ll talk about pests, next!


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