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Indoor Air

What you breathe at home could kill you...or at least make you sick.

Ventilation at home helps in many ways
Access to clean air was one of the first items on the list of tenement reforms that ushered in the era of tenant protections. As early as the mid 1850's, entrepreneurs in East Coast cities realized that they could offer "affordable" housing for low income, mostly immigrant families, by stacking them one on another in what came to be known as tenement housing. These smelly, humid, and overcrowded buildings became the target of public health reformers who championed features like a window in every room and central air shafts to provide fresh air in hallways. 

Winter ventilation is a particular problem because it's not so easy to just open window when the air inside gets stuffy. Tenants whose heat is included in the rent have been evicted for doing that. So how can tenants get ventilation and keep precious heat indoors. Rental units with air exchangers are unusual, so for most tenants, ventilation solutions come down to "treating the symptoms.

1. Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless that is poisonous to human beings. CO comes into homes that use open flames for heat or cooking. If a faulty furnace or stove is creating CO and it's not vented, household members can die. Having furnaces checked annually is a good way to assure that CO is not coming into the living space. Installing a CO detector is a good safety precaution. Changing furnace filters can make it easier for combustion gases to get out of the unit. 

2. Lower the humidity to prevent condensation and mold. Every household produces humidity just by breathing. Add in boiling water, taking showers, and hanging up wet clothes and households are injecting tons of water into the household air. Kitchen and bathroom vent fans that carry moist indoor air to the outside can help a lot, but simple range hoods that run cooking fumes through a filter won't help much with humidity. Make sure that vent fans are in good working order and use them regularly to prevent condensation, even if they are noisy and annoying. Condensation occurs when humid air comes in contact with cooler surfaces like windows and floors. 
     Think of condensation like the "lake effect" that produces winter snow on the south shore of Lake Erie. Condensation is a primary cause of mold in homes. If accumulation of condensation is a chronic problem, a dehumidifier might be necessary. Caution: dehumidifiers are energy hogs and can run up your utility bills, but it sure is better than mold when vent fans are not enough. 
      Your goal in controlling humidity is to control mold. Mold is always around us, but it cannot grow without moisture.

3. Remove Radon Risk. Like CO, radon gas is a colorless, odorless gas that can enter your living space. Unlike CO, radon enters from the soil beneath your home. Radon causes lung cancer by the slow release of naturally occurring radioactivity into your basement or first floor. Radon may be a problem for renters if 
  • there's a basement in your living space or just beneath your living space or
  • if your apartment is on a concrete slab (no basement), and 
  • you live in an area where there's naturally occurring radiation in the ground. Check the map
Radon test kits are available at hardware and home supply stores. If there's a problem discovered, your landlord may need to install ventilation to vent the air from the basement. More on radon here

Other ways to reduce air borne pollutants in your winter home are prohibit indoor smoking, eliminate noxious cleaning products and pesticides from your household, and remove asthma triggers like cockroach dust, mold, and other allergens. 

Ventilation is so important to home health and safety that home seekers should pay attention to the issue when looking for a new rental home. Ask questions about vent fans, furnace safety (most recent inspection), and look for signs of water leaks or condensation stains on floors, walls and ceilings. Check doors and windows to seef they close tightly and don't have gaps around the framing. National Center for Healthy Homes has a nice fact sheet on indoor air quality and Centers for Disease Control has in depth information on all these topics.
posted January 8, 2017
 What's News?

Healthy homes includes indoor cleaning products
posted February 27, 2018

March 3, 2017 Plain Dealer/ Asthma, allergy symptoms--healthy homes is not restricted to the elite
"Non-toxic cleaning products make spring cleaning a breeze. Baking soda, vinegar and other ingredients can be combined to make all-natural cleaning products. That'll Do Farm in Lorain Co. has classes on how to do it. You can make safer cleaning products at home."

Share your stories about indoor air quality. Send them to

Spencer Wells,
Aug 2, 2014, 2:02 PM