Breathe Easy: Healthier Indoor Air in Cold Weather, Part 4

In this four-part series, we go room to room to see how to improve indoor air quality. In the first part, we looked at your home’s entryways and living room. In the second, we considered the kitchen, bathroom and laundry room. In the third, we ventured into the playroom and bedrooms.


You’ve tackled the more obvious sources of airborne pollutants in your home. Now it’s time to poke around your home's behind-the-scenes spaces to eliminate them there as well.

Let’s take it from the top – the attic.

Asbestos can frequently be found in insulation, roofing and vinyl tiles. Worn or damaged materials can release asbestos fibers that can easily be inhaled. The fine asbestos fibers can get into the lungs and, over the long term, cause cancer and other illnesses.

Even if you’re not ready to replace the insulation in your home, find out what kind of insulation you have and whether it contains asbestos. Sampling by an accredited professional and testing by a certified lab is recommended. After that, you can consider whether it makes sense to remove or remediate it. An accredited asbestos contractor can help inspect your house, assess the condition of the asbestos and advise you what to do. Check with your state’s department of environmental protection or health for a current list of accredited professionals.

Now let’s head down to your basement, if you have one.

Radon is a naturally occurring, odorless and colorless gas that seeps up from the ground and into your house through cracks and openings in the foundation and elsewhere. During the winter months, it can become even more of a hazard, because windows are closed. In fact, radon trapped in indoor air is the second leading cause of cancer, after smoking.

Consult this map to find out how much of your area is prone to elevated radon levels. You can also test your home using a kit obtained from your local home improvement store and take steps to remediate it if necessary.

Now let’s consider your storage spaces. What you keep there can be a source of airborne pollutants, because many of the products used for DIY or home projects emit volatile organic compounds, or VOCs – sometimes when they’re being used, sometimes when they’re just being stored.

A few examples, according to the Environmental Protection Agency:

  • Paints, paint strippers and other solvents.
  • Wood preservatives.
  • Aerosol sprays.
  • Cleansers and disinfectants.
  • Moth repellents and air fresheners.
  • Stored fuels and automotive products.
  • Hobby supplies.
  • Dry-cleaned clothing.
  • Pesticides.

With a little planning, effort and common sense, you can minimize your exposure to VOCs. When possible, choose products with low or no VOCs. Buy only the harmful chemicals you need so you don’t have to store any excess. Better yet, use one of our DIY cleaning solutions.

Now that we’ve gone from room to room, there’s one more issue that will affect your home’s overall air quality: ventilation and air circulation.

An air filter is one of your best defenses against indoor airborne pollutants, since it can remove some of the dust and other airborne toxicants in your home. The type and quality of filter you use make a big difference, as does regular maintenance. Here’s more info about how to buy and maintain air filters for optimal use.

If your home ventilation system doesn’t adequately exchange air, it’s a good idea to crack the windows for a short time, even in winter, ideally creating a crossdraft. This gives the pollutants that may remain in your house somewhere to go. Extra circulation will also help you regulate the humidity. Your house shouldn’t be too dry – but it shouldn’t be too humid, either, since that can encourage mold and mildew, which bring their own set of air quality problems.

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