The Inside Outside Guys: We are what we absorb -- indoor air

Ken Calverley and Chuck Breidenstein
Special to The Detroit News

Go to your favorite room in the house and sit back in your favorite chair. Take a deep breath. A really deep breath. OMG! What did you just inhale?

According to groups like the EPA, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Lung Association, household air is not only likely to contain several different allergens and pollutants, but in higher concentrations than you will find outside.

According to the NIH, the volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, in some air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners and other deodorizing products may be harmful to your lungs by diminishing lung capacity.

Additionally, these and other particulates can contribute to rhinitis, sinitus and asthma conditions. Runny nose, stuffed sinus cavities, coughs and difficulty breathing may all be attributable to indoor air pollutants. Have you ever noticed your allergies clear up when you leave home?

Why now after all these decades, is this an issue? For starters, our culture has changed to the point we now “live by the thermostat.” In a previous article we discussed the widespread use of air conditioners in this country. Instead of opening doors and windows in the summer, we adjust the dial on the wall. And our buildings are being built “tighter”. Less leaky. Fewer gaps and cracks that used to allow all kinds of “fresh” air into the home 24/7.

And, we have gotten away from the great products and practices our grandparents used to keep a clean house and replaced them with “fast working, no scrubbing, use-it-once-a-month”, solvent cleansers and odor masking agents.

The first national survey of 831 U.S. homes decades ago found dust mite allergens in over 84% of the homes. Independent predictors of dust mite allergens include high indoor humidity, (which includes “pockets” of high humidity), an older, generally 50+ years, home or a musty odor anywhere in the home.

Mold spores are everywhere, but can often be found in higher concentrations indoors. Potted plants, bathrooms, laundry rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and foundation spaces below ground can all be breeding grounds due to higher humidity levels.

Family pets, notably dogs and cats, are also a frequent source of allergy triggers. Most people mistakenly think that pet hair is the culprit and that regular vacuuming alone will take care of the problem. But the allergy trigger is actually a protein on the animal’s flaking skin and in their saliva.

Chemical “off-gassing” from cleaners, furniture and floor polishes, adhesives and synthetic fabrics like many found in carpets and furniture can also contaminate indoor air.

Fuel burning appliances may be complicit, from your gas furnace or water heater to the stove in the kitchen or the fireplace in the family room. Negative air pressures created in the home when an exhaust device like a furnace tries to find ample combustion air can cause exhaust gases to remain in the home rather than go out the chimney.

Some further “signs” that may indicate your home air is at risk include use of health and beauty aids in fine powder form or aerosols. Use of odor masking chemicals is a sign for those pet owners and others who have become “nose-blind” to the smell of their less than clean home. An attached garage or basement where solvent based chemicals are stored and may off-gas into the surrounding air can be an issue.

For most of us the solutions are not complicated. Clean regularly and use products like white vinegar, Dawn dish soap, baking soda, etc. Delayed cleaning only makes it more difficult to remove built up minerals, scum and dirt. As an example, wipe down the tub/shower after every use; it takes about 30 seconds using the towel you dried with.

Vacuum regularly with a good quality, clean filtered, vacuum with multiple filters. Done properly your carpets will actually last longer.

The American Lung Association suggests we eliminate as much of the “soft” fabrics as we can in the home, from carpets to drapes to furniture, since these become the breeding ground for many contaminants. Products you spray on top of a smelly couch or rug are not cleaning the couch or rug.

Clean filters are one method to improve air quality in your home.

Keep your furnace filters clean and have the air ducts in the home cleaned and sanitized by Amistee Air Duct Cleaning in Novi.

If you want an analysis of your home’s air leakage, call Terry Russell at Blessed Assurance Home Inspections and have him perform a blower door test on your home. Use of properly sized and installed exhaust fans in a home with adequate “make-up” air is highly suggested.

A good quality dehumidification system can make a huge difference. Remember, your AC unit is just that, but it needs to cycle for longer run times to effectively de-humidify, so wait until the house has warmed a bit before turning that thermostat down in the summer. Better to have it run for two continuous hours than to cycle four times in a three-hour span.

Do all you can to maintain a clean and healthy indoor environment. And when you need help, keep in mind the great professionals at

For more housing advice,  listen to the Inside Outside Guys every Saturday and Sunday on News/Talk 760, WJR-AM, from 10 a.m. to noon  or contact us at