Air quality problems in private homes, office buildings and other non-industrial structures may be due to a wide variety of inter-connected factors. The safety tips listed below should help you to keep your home, workplace or school safe and free of airborne contaminants:
- Keeping the air ducts in your home, workplace or schools clean will not only have a positive effect on indoor environment, it will also improve the efficiency of central heat and air units.
- Regular upkeep and maintenance of all HVAC systems is essential to maintaining a healthy indoor air environment.
- Regularly cleaning chimneys also enhances air safety inside your home.
- Keep relative humidity levels inside the building below 45%, and keep humidifier tanks clean and dry.
- Try not to install carpet on your floors, or use only low-VOC (volatile organic compound) carpet. Deep clean your carpets at least once a year.
- Good quality air purification systems can play a role in reducing airborne pollutants.
- Make sure that gas furnaces, water heaters and other combustion systems are sealed properly.
- Don’t neglect to ventilate your home or office. Ventilation can keep your indoor environment healthy by diluting airborne pollutants.
- Make sure that all ventilation exhaust fans are vented outdoors. This includes clothes dryer vents, bathroom vents, range hoods etc.
- Any time you need to paint an indoor wall, make sure you use only low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints.
- Always use solvent-free adhesives and use only low-VOC finishes on woodwork.
- When cleaning your home, keep indoor air quality in mind. Replace all aerosols and chemical cleaning products with natural products that won’t emit volatile chemicals. Animal dander affects air quality. Clean after your pets or keep them in a separate part of the house. Make sure vacuum cleaners are running efficiently and not spewing dust particles into the air. To ward against dust mites and their eggs, wash your laundry (linens) in hot water.
- Indoor smoking can reduce the air quality.
Perhaps you suspect that you already have an indoor air quality problem. Having unsuccessfully tried to discover the source of the problem and remedy it yourself, you’ve now decided you need to hire a professional service to deal with the issue, and you are reading this article to learn how to do that correctly and effectively.
The first thing you need to know is that indoor air quality is still an evolving field and our scientific knowledge in this area is relatively new. To determine the source of indoor air contamination issues, you will most probably require the services of a professional air quality consultant. Depending on the findings included in the report provided by the consultant, you might need to hire one or more contractors. Acute indoor air quality problems in non-industrial buildings are often caused by several complex and inter-related factors. Where this is the case, a multi-disciplinary team of professional contractors may be required to resolve the issue.
The guidelines in this article are designed to help you hire qualified professionals to investigate and correct any air safety issues that may exist in your home, school or workplace. It is best to start by calling in air quality inspection professionals to determine what the problem is and to recommend appropriate solutions. Guard against consultants who have a financial interest in the outcome of the investigation. For example, if an air duct cleaning contractor carries out the investigation and diagnoses the problem, he or she may deliberately misinterpret the results.
When hiring a professional consultant to assess your indoor air quality, you should:
- Interview at least three different professional service providers
- Because this is a relatively new field, it is important to question prospective consultants about their experience in air quality assessment and the methods they intend to use in their investigations.
- Make certain that the consultant has appropriate training and enough experience. An EPA survey of firms providing indoor air quality services showed that about half of the firms surveyed has been providing non-industrial air quality investigation or mitigation services for under ten years.
- Ask for references and check them for authenticity.
- In addition to experience, qualified indoor air safety investigators or consultants should have an understanding of indoor environmental problems and the conditions that can lead to them, including the importance of building structure, mechanical systems, human activities etc.
- Always try to define, in writing, the exact services (air monitoring, for example) that you expect from the consultant you hire. Keep in mind, however, that indoor air quality issues are usually complex and unpredictable. This means that there may be a legitimate need to modify proposed services after work commences.
- Note that although the notion of testing air safety may be attractive, it is an expensive procedure that may not necessarily be needed – especially given that existing standards for air safety were established for industrial settings. Expensive indoor air quality testing (sampling for volatile organic compounds, VOCs, for example) should only be undertaken if justified.
- Don’t forget to obtain a proposed budget estimate for services to be rendered and to establish a schedule for payment. Do not hire any professional who demands more than 30% of the cost up front.
- Your consultant will give you an air quality survey report. The report should outline what, if any, air quality problems you have. According to the source of the problem, you can decide what type of contractor you need. The report should also contain essential information that will help the contractor(s) you are about to hire to remedy the air quality issues. Once you have selected the appropriate contractor to correct the problem, you should give him, or her, a copy of this report.
Air quality consultants / inspectors typically have different training and experience. Architects, HVAC engineers, microbiologists, toxicologists or environmental and occupational health specialists may all perform air quality investigations. Although a few national professional organizations offer certifications in the field of air quality, this type of certification is not a legal requirement.
The American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) provides testing for the title of “Certified Industrial Hygienist” (CIH). The American Indoor Air Quality Council is an independent certification body that offers several certifications related to air quality, including the Certificate in Indoor Environmental Consulting and Investigation (CIECI) and the certificate in Indoor Air Quality Administration (CIAQM). Both HVAC engineers and certified industrial hygienists are very useful in indoor air quality inspections. They can also help you decide which type of contractor(s) you need to hire to remedy any air safety issues you may have.
Now that you know what the source of the problem is, the next step is for you to hire the appropriate contractor to remedy your air quality problem. This will probably be a professional, specialized in one or more of the following areas: Mold Remediation, Asbestos Abatement, Lead Remediation, Insulation, Water Damage Repair, HVAC systems etc. Use the guidelines below to select qualified contractors:
- Arrange interviews with a least three separate contractors. Prepare a copy of the consultant’s report for each one.
- Before staring on the project, obtain a written agreement outlining the services to be completed, project start and completion dates and total cost.
- Make sure the contractor(s) are familiar with the State and local regulations and the building codes of your area, as well as with the local climate conditions.
- If the work involves asbestos, lead or radon, make sure your contractor complies with state or federal certification requirements. If the contractor is legally required to have a license, ask for its number.
- Check with the local authorities if there are any complaints lodged against the contracting company.
- Though professional indoor air quality services are not regulated by the federal government, certain professions who deal with indoor air quality issues must hold special licenses and certifications (engineers, industrial hygienists and, in some states, air duct cleaners). Make sure to inquire about those licenses.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for detailed information about the type and extent of indoor air quality experience the prospective contractor has. Ask also about the training and experience of the personnel who will be assigned to do the work and contract for their services only.
- Check whether the contractor has bond and or insurance.
- Discount any contractors who claim to have EPA certification. The EPA does not establish air quality standards and does not certify indoor air quality mitigation firms and professionals.
- Contact your local office of consumer affairs or Better Business Bureau to check whether any complaints have been lodged against the contractor(s) you are considering.
- Make it a point to ask your prospective contractors any questions you may have and assess the quality and completeness of the answers provided.
Air quality mitigation is a relatively new field. This means that homeowners who need to deal with the indoor environment issues often don’t know where to turn or how to proceed. We hope that the tips and guidelines presented in this article will serve to reduce some of the confusion surrounding this matter.