Healthy Aging Column – Health and Your Home’s Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality can be worse than outdoor air. That is because many homes are being built and remodeled more tightly without regard to factors that assure fresh and healthy indoor air. Many homes contain furnishings, combustion appliances and household products that result in questionable indoor air quality. For older Coloradoans, chances are high that they live in older homes and that they have become more sensitive to air quality as they have aged.

Almost all homes contain some common pollutants. Frequent headaches, itchy eyes, congestion, nausea, asthma attacks and fatigue are some of the health problems caused by poor indoor air quality. Use the following guidelines as you walk through your house, room by room, and identify and write down potential indoor air pollution sources. Address each potential pollutant with the suggestions listed.

Biological pollutants include mold, mildew, dust mites and pet dander that can be made worse by high humidity, inadequate ventilation and poorly maintained humidifiers and air conditioners. Maintaining a maximum temperature of 80 degrees F and a humidity level of about 45 percent is recommended. Carpets that have been water-damaged can house biological pollutants. Promptly clean as well as dry or remove water-damaged carpet. During installation of new carpet, open doors and windows, and use window fans or room air conditioners. Vacuum regularly. Air conditioners are another common source of biological pollutants. Change the filter according to manufacturer recommendations.

Combustion by-products include carbon monoxide from unvented fossil-fuel space heaters, unvented gas stoves and ovens, and back drafting from furnaces and water heaters. Have professionals inspect your flue and chimney, gas burning appliances and gas burning furnaces and water heaters every year. Install a smoke detector in the hallway adjacent to or located in each bedroom. If you have gas or other fossil-fuel burning appliances in the house, install carbon monoxide detectors in these locations as well. Combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are available. Remember to check the batteries frequently, such as on your birthday each year. Installation and use of exhaust fans is a good way to reduce indoor air quality problems from combustion by-products as well as from other pollutants.

Formaldehyde is used as a preservative and adhesive in building products and furnishings. Common sources include draperies, upholstery, paneling and particleboard products used for cabinets and furniture framing. To reduce your exposure, ask about content levels before buying furniture or cabinets. Open your windows after installation and air out draperies before hanging.

Radon is a radioactive gas prevalent in Colorado that has been linked to lung cancer. This gas can seep into basements, crawl spaces and other areas from soil and rock beneath and around the home=s foundation or from groundwater wells. Test your home for radon by using an inexpensive radon test kit that can be purchased from a hardware or building supply store. If there is a problem, contact a professional.

Household products that may contribute to indoor air problems include paints, solvents, air fresheners, hobby supplies, dry-cleaned clothing, aerosol sprays, adhesives, moth repellents, pesticides and paint strippers. Select no or low odor-producing products. Select non-aerosol varieties. Open windows or use an exhaust fan. Follow manufacturer directions for use and container disposal.

Asbestos is only a dangerous pollutant when particles become airborne. Asbestos no longer is used in new homes but it may be found in homes more than 20 years old. Sources include deteriorating, damaged or disturbed pipe insulation, fire retardant, acoustical material and floor tiles. If you are remodeling an older home, do not cut, rip, chip or remove materials you suspect contain asbestos. Contact a professional to repair or remove the materials.

Lead from lead-based paint dust created when removing paint by sanding, scraping or burning can be a problem in many homes built before the mid-1970s. Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if in good condition. Prior to removing paint, test for lead. Do-it-yourself lead test kits are often available from hardware or building supply stores. If you are remodeling, hire a professional to correct lead-based paint problems.

Indoor air quality is a complex issue, and one that can dramatically affect the health of older Coloradoans. In fact, October is designated as indoor air quality month. Fact sheets are available from Colorado State University Cooperative Extension on lead-based paint, carbon monoxide and healthy indoor air. A useful web site is

Additional articles on Healthy Aging are available from Colorado State University by going to and clicking on Extension and Outreach, then Extension, Consumer and Healthy Aging.