You’re probably aware that professional HVAC technicians can install special filtration and UV light systems designed to purify indoor air. And while most indoor air can be noticeably freshened with this technology, it’s not always obvious which homes need it the most.
HVAC professionals can also conduct inspections and tests to determine what types of airborne pollutants are present in a home. But if you’re not yet ready to take that step, there are some simple, affordable DIY tools you can use to assess whether your home is a good candidate for further testing.
One of the most common and important types of indoor air quality (IAQ) testing focuses on the presence of radon. Radon is a highly toxic, colorless gas that originates from decaying radium, used in some radiography and cancer treatment applications. Exposure to radon is a known cause of lung cancer.
Even though you likely have no sources of radium in your home, trace amounts of radon gas are present in the soil due to the natural decay of underground elements. The concentration of radon in the soil varies by region and is greatest in the Great Plains, the upper Midwest, Appalachia and in some northeastern states. This Environmental Protection Agency map shows radon zones by county in the United States.
Radon in the soil can seep into homes through cracks in the foundation, so if your home has never been tested, there’s no time like the present to start. Affordable, disposable radon testing charcoal canisters are available at most hardware stores and offer estimates of your indoor radon concentration over a matter of weeks.
It’s worth noting that these DIY tests are not precise, but they provide the cheapest and easiest way to determine whether professional testing and IAQ solutions are needed.
As with radon tests, you can pick up toxic mold tests at most hardware stores. These often consist of discs that provide breeding grounds for mold spores -- leave one out in the area you suspect of having a mold problem, and mold growth may appear over the coming days. The color, appearance and coverage area of the mold on the disc can tell you more about what type of mold you have and how bad the problem is.
Mold has a distinctive smell, so if you have active mold growth in your home, the odor is likely to be the first telltale sign. In instances where you can clearly smell mold, a home test kit may not be necessary. A professional IAQ inspection is the reliable way to find the presence of mold and outline options for how to attack it.
But if you do opt for DIY testing, keep in mind that mold occurs naturally outdoors and circulates into most homes in trace amounts. Most at-home tests will respond to these tiny amounts, but that’s not necessarily indicative of a mold problem.
Carbon Monoxide Testing
This is the easiest and most important of all. Carbon monoxide, an odorless, tasteless gas, can kill in minutes in high concentrations. It can originate from something as simple as a furnace malfunction, which is another reason to get your furnace inspected and tuned up every year.
Fortunately, carbon monoxide detectors are reliable and affordable, just like smoke detectors. They can be professionally installed and permanently wired into your home, or they may plug into an available electrical outlet with a backup battery. Install one of these on every floor of your home and test or replace them whenever you do your biannual smoke detector maintenance.
Regardless of whether you conduct your own IAQ tests, remember that you can always call upon your local HVAC experts for professional testing and high-tech air quality solutions.