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Inspecting for Indoor Air Quality

April 26, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 148

Pollution and air quality, both outdoor and indoor, continue to be high-priority health and political issues today. Some customers want air quality tested as part of a home inspection when they make an offer to purchase a house. This might be part of a broad request for an environmental survey encompassing water, air, soil, and hazardous materials, or it might be specifically indoor-air-related due to heightened sensitivity of family members with respiratory problems.

Air quality testing is normally not a direct part of a home or pest inspection. In fact, it is customarily one of a long list of items specifically excluded from home inspectors' contractual duties. Nevertheless, many of the items that are a part of an inspector's checklist will either provide a subjective assessment of air quality or reveal conditions that influence it. Beyond this, some home inspectors offer add-on services that sample or test the atmosphere for specific pollutants, and this may be available from other professionals as well. There are also informal techniques the individual can implement himself.

What are the sources of contaminants that degrade the quality of indoor air, and how does one inspect for them? The worst offenders are byproducts from the combustion of kerosene, coal, tobacco, oil, gas, or wood. These come from smokers and from fuel-burning appliances that are improperly vented or not vented at all. Contaminants can also come from certain building materials such as pressed wood or insulation. Some cleansers and other household products, particularly those with volatile organic compounds, release substances that degrade air quality. A third source is the out-of-doors; pollutants, pesticides, and radon in the atmosphere can filtrate into houses.

In addition, modern green-oriented construction practices contribute in two ways. First, more insulation and sealing result in tighter houses that don't ventilate very well, causing a stale atmosphere. Second, vented exhaust from high-efficiency appliances is cooler than before, meaning it can retain less moisture. These trends increase the likelihood of condensation and excess moisture accumulating inside, which in turn fosters mold growth and the presence of air-borne mold spores.

The combined home and pest inspection is designed to ferret out moisture accumulation and other conditions that induce harmful organisms to infest and grow. It checks insulation caliber, investigates the character of ventilation, and looks for any malfunctioning in appliance performance. Though useful to a degree, these evaluations yield a somewhat vague assessment of air quality. Those who conduct energy audits and/or sample the air for the nature of pollutants are equipped to make a more accurate and quantified determination.

The homeowner is also able to do his own informal assessment. He should first close all windows and doors and acclimate himself to the outdoor atmosphere. This renders him more sensitive to the presence of odors, stuffiness, and pathogens upon reentering the house. If he detects such, he should attempt to track down their origin, being sure to include the attic and crawl space in his search.

If inspecting has identified substances harmful to the air, there are roughly three techniques for improving its level of purity. They are: removing the source, increasing ventilation, and using air cleaners. The effectiveness of any of these methods depends on the nature of the contaminant. Obviously, some sources are not easily removable, and cleaners are good at filtering out particle-based pollutants but not so good at screening gaseous ones.

John Gordon, PhD, is a licensed home inspector based in Bellingham, Washington. He focuses on thoroughness and in providing his customers with extensive and helpful information about inspection-related topics, including air quality. John invites you to view this info and sample reports on his website,

Source: EzineArticles
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