A Guide to Indoor Air Quality Testing [How to Buy and Test]

Last Updated : November 2, 2023 /

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Indoor Air Quality Testing: A complete guide

Regular Indoor air quality testing is vital to the health of your family. Depending on what’s floating through the air, your family or employees might experience a number of symptoms ranging from sneezing and coughing to difficulty breathing.

Depending on what’s in the air you breathe, you might even increase your risk of lung cancer. Additionally, poor indoor air quality and substances it contains may damage your brain. Because you don’t know what’s lurking in the air you breathe, indoor air quality testing helps you understand what’s in the air. Once you know, you can keep your home safe.

Importance of Indoor Air Quality

Importance of indoor air quality

Indoor air quality is vital for life, but when the air you breathe isn’t clean, you could find your health and even quality of life decreasing as a result of the air. This is because contaminants and allergens are floating through the air. You may or may not have immediate symptoms as a result.

However, you might find that as time goes on, the air you inhale can cause you to become ill. For those who have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) or another breathing condition, particles in the air irritate the condition. This can lead to serious complications. Sometimes, the particles in your air consist of harmful substances that have the potential to damage your bodily organs.

Most Common Causes of Indoor Air Pollution

Common indoor air pollutants

More than likely, you’re inside your home more than outside. Unfortunately, the number of pollutants inside a home or office is often higher inside than outside. Some of the more common, but dangerous, pollutants in your home include the following.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide, referred to by its chemical element symbol CO, is an invisible gas. When fossil fuels don’t completely combust, they produce this particular substance. The element is tasteless and odorless. It has the potential to cause a severe reaction due to its high toxicity level. Carbon monoxide poisoning will prevent your body from utilizing oxygen efficiently. You might experience symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tachycardia (fast heart rate)
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Headaches

Carbon monoxide poisoning is fatal if the concentration of it is high enough.

Asbestos

Asbestos classifies as a mineral. It occurs all over the world. The fibers enter the air. When they enter the lungs, they increase your risk of lung cancer. Additionally, it’s possible to develop asbestosis. Asbestosis is an inflammatory condition of the lungs that causes difficulty breathing, coughing and even permanent lung damage.

Lead

Homes and offices built before 1978 may have lead-based paint on the outside and even on the inside on windowsills. Carrying particles of metallic substances into your home is possible. Although it’s natural, it’s harmful if consumed. It’s especially dangerous for children since lead poisoning has the potential to slow their growth and development. Additionally, it can decrease the child’s attention span and lead to behavior problems. Anyone who comes in contact with lead is at risk for brain, kidney, nervous system or red blood cell damage.

Secondhand Smoke

Environmental tobacco smoke, more commonly known as secondhand smoke, comes from burned tobacco products including cigars, cigarettes, and pipes. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,700 chemicals. You may have short-term effects from it like throat, nose or eye irritation. When exposed to the chemicals in secondhand smoke, you might develop wheezing, bronchitis or pneumonia. It’s even possible for you to develop lung cancer.

Nitrogen Dioxide

Nitrogen dioxide, known by its element symbol NO2, is a corrosive gas. It’s highly toxic when inhaled. It irritates your eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Excessive exposure leads to a liquid buildup in the lungs referred to as pulmonary edema. Moderate exposure can cause either acute or chronic bronchitis. Even in low concentrations, it’s dangerous to those people breathing problems like asthma and COPD.

Mold

Mold is a fungus that grows both indoors and outdoors. It commonly occurs in damp, dark areas. Although not all forms of mold growth are dangerous, the ones that are can trigger an allergic reaction. Fever and difficulty breathing will happen in those who have a severe reaction. Some people may even go into anaphylactic shock from mold growth exposure. More commonly, those who react to mold experience coughing, headaches, wheezing, skin irritation, swelling, and irritation.

Many of the chemicals in your home contain volatile organic compounds or VOCs. They emit gases that lead to both short-term and long-term consequences to your health and overall well-being. The concentrations of VOCs are potentially 10 times higher indoors than outdoors and thus cause more indoor air pollution. Examples of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) include the following:

  • Aerosol sprays
  • Paint
  • Paint stripper
  • Cleaners
  • Disinfectants
  • Moth repellents
  • Wood preservatives
  • Glues
  • Permanent markers
  • Air fresheners
  • Stored fuels
  • Dry-cleaned clothing
  • Pesticides
  • Automotive products
  • Building materials and furnishings
  • Copiers, printers and correction liquid
  • Photographic solutions

Buying Tips for Air Quality Kits

Test kit buying tips

Not all indoor testing kits are created equal. You must compare and determine which test is going to fit your needs. Your indoor air quality testing kit should analyze the air for allergens at the very minimum. You’ll also want to test for carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. You should ensure the test evaluates your home for potential problems and determines the levels of any contaminants that your home is most susceptible to. For instance, if your home is older, you’ll want a test kit that evaluates your home for lead. If you use a lot of cosmetics and cleaners, you’ll want a kit to test for aerosols and other volatile organic compounds or VOCs. It’s vital to test for all seven of the aforementioned common contaminants.

Never purchase a kit based on price. This is one time when it’s better to splurge. You want results that are trustworthy as well as comprehensive. Some indoor tests take several weeks before you’ll receive the results. Make sure you’re aware of the time it takes because you can find tests that come back with results in hours.

Types of Indoor Home Air Quality Testing 

Types of indoor air quality testing

As previously mentioned, not all tests are the same. The four types include chemical, gas, biological and particulate testing. Chemical testing determines the presence and level of the VOCs you have. This kind of air quality test detects the following:

  • Benzene
  • Formaldehyde
  • Acetylaldehyde
  • Xylene
  • Freon
  • Acetone
  • Methylene chloride

Because formaldehyde is categorized as a carcinogen in high levels and from prolonged exposure, the test is sometimes available on its own.

You may also purchase a gas detection test, which tests for airlike fluids such as carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen sulfide (HS), radon, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), hydrogen cyanide (HCN), ammonia (NH3) and sulfur dioxide (SO2). It’s possible to test for petroleum gases as well.

Biological particle testing identifies if you have mold spores in the home air you breathe. This is especially a concern for those who are immunocompromised. Legionella falls under this classification, too. It causes Legionnaire’s disease and some types of pneumonia. Bacteria commonly found in sewage may enter your home. A biological test allows you to check for it. Some common sewage bacteria that tests identify are coliform, E. coli, and enterococcus. Biological testing analyzes the air for allergens. Allergens are one of the most common types of contaminants in the air. Allergens include skin cells, rodent dander, pet dander, pollen and dust mites.

Bacteria commonly found in sewage may enter your home. A biological indoor air quality test allows you to check for it. Some common sewage bacteria that tests identify are coliform, E. coli, and enterococcus. Biological testing analyzes the home air for allergens. Allergens are one of the most common types of contaminants in the air. Allergens include skin cells, rodent dander, pet dander, pollen and dust mites.

A particulate analysis classifies several varieties of tests including a dust analysis, laser particle counting, soot analysis, silica levels and filtration evaluations.

Hiring an Indoor Air Quality Consultant

Hiring air quality consultant

Guidelines for air quality test aren’t static among government agencies, except for asbestos, radon, and lead. That means testing for many substances isn’t the same when you do it yourself. If you have circumstances that put you more at risk for exposure, it may be beneficial to hire a consultant. They’ll do a more thorough examination than you would. They investigate any issues that could lead to certain contaminants in the air. Additionally, they’re able to recognize issues inside and outside.

You’ll need to select a consultant. Just like the indoor air quality testing kits, not every consultant is the same. Be sure to verify their training and credentials. If you visit the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA)’s website, you’ll find a list of accredited environmental agencies in your area. Not all testing is the same, so make sure the consultant offers the testing you need. Craft an outline that clearly defines the scope of the project, the services you need and the time frame you would like.

Discuss with the consultant your expectations based on the outline. Craft an outline that clearly defines the scope of the project, the services you need and the time frame you would like. Discuss with the consultant your expectations based on the outline you devise. Therefore,  you’re aware if the agency can meet your requests.

The Testing Process

If you should happen to do it yourself, you purchase the indoor air quality kit and gather the sample. The indoor air quality test will give you step-by-step instructions on what you need to obtain for your particular test. You send the test kit back. They conduct the testing in their laboratory and send you the results. In many cases, you’re able to get the results via email. On the other hand, a consultant will determine what you’re susceptible to and will carry out the testing process if necessary. If you hire an indoor air quality consultant, they’ll advise you on how to resolve any of the issues you have.

EPA’s Guidelines for Testing

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) follows specific guidelines for testing. However, they don’t have regulations regarding the testing kits you purchase from laboratories. Each contaminant type has its own testing variety. For example, they use a SUMMA® stainless steel container for volatile organic compound sampling and solid absorbents. To test for nicotine, they use an XAD-4 solid adsorbent, passive filter cassettes or active filter cassettes. Both carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide testing use gas filter correction or infrared spectroscopy.

The EPA uses continuous Luminox LMA-3, passive sampler badge, transducer technology electrochemical technique or a Palmes diffusion for nitrogen dioxide testing. When they conduct formaldehyde analysis or polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons testing, they use mass spectrometry or high-performance liquid chromatography. They may also use a quartz filter/adsorbent cartridge that utilizes a subsequent analysis through gas chromatography.

The standard test for selective pesticides consists of low-volume polyurethane foam sampling along with a gas chromatography/electron capture detector. An Annular Denuder coupled with furnace filter pack assembly or transition flow reactor detects contaminants from aerosols, bases, and acids in addition to particulate matter. Additionally, an impactor with a filter pack setup will determine if there is any particulate matter in the air. A continuous particulate matter monitor does the same. On the other hand, a perfluorocarbon tracer or tracer gas tests the air exchange rate.

Additionally, an impactor with a filter pack setup will determine if there is any particulate matter in the air. A continuous particulate matter monitor does the same. On the other hand, a perfluorocarbon tracer or tracer gas tests the air exchange rate. An air exchange rate is a ratio that describes how rapidly outdoor air replaces indoor air.

Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

You can fix the indoor air quality problems you have by hiring a professional cleaning service to conduct a thorough and complete indoor air quality testing. We’re here to help if you’re too busy to treat for mold or other indoor contaminants. You can utilize our services by visiting our site to receive a free estimate.

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