Ways To Improve Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

By Mike Holmes

Mike’s Advice / Home Safety & Maintenance

Friday, June 15th, 2018 @ 11:28am
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The air inside your home plays a huge role in the way you and the rest of your family feel on a day-to-day basis.

Most people worry about the air quality outdoors, but the air inside your home can be 2-5 times more polluted. In some cases, it’s 100 times worse!

We are constantly exposed to pollution, toxins, pesticides and gases—even radon. Most of the time, these toxins and pollutants get diluted into the atmosphere. But they can also find their way into our homes through tiny cracks in foundation walls and floors, through unfinished floors, windows, sumps, vents or gaps around pipes and drains.

Today’s homes are constructed to be more tightly sealed in order to make them more energy-efficient. This is great to reduce energy consumption and increase monthly savings, but it also means that anything that comes into our homes will have trouble escaping. When pollutants get into our homes and can’t escape they begin to accumulate, and in high concentrations, they represent serious health risks.

The average home might also contain various materials that can release toxins into the indoor air, such as VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in paint and kitchen cabinets or the adhesives and glues in carpeting and flooring. In significant concentrations, these toxins can contribute to poor indoor air quality.


If you or anyone else in your home experience headaches, itching or burning eyes, irritated skin, nasal congestion, a dry throat, nausea or feel unusually tired on a regular basis, it may be due to poor air quality inside your home.

IAQ Assessments

Some home inspectors offer Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) assessments. During these assessments a home inspector will go through the entire home and identify potential indoor air quality risks. They will also ask the household questions concerning their habits and lifestyle that could contribute to the air quality inside the home.

The home inspector can also take indoor air samples from the home and send it to a certified lab for analysis. They can even get a mould spore count and send you a report of the results.

IAQ & Furance Filters

Changing a home’s furnace filter is an important part to maintaining a healthy home environment. As a minimum, it should be changed at least once every three months. It is recommended to change the furnace filter once a month during the winter and summer seasons when we’re using our furnaces more often to heat and cool our homes, and once every two weeks during a renovation because there are more particles and debris in the air.

Some filters will do a better job at removing toxins and allergens from the air than others. For example, Filtrete’s Ultimate Allergen Reduction Filters can help capture up to 93 percent of large airborne particles. That includes dust, pollen, mould spores and dust mite debris. They can also pick up to 4 times more microscopic particles, such as smoke, smog, pet dander and particles that carry bacteria and viruses.

Indoor Air Quality (Iaq) filter

Reno Tip

Try to refrain from using the furnace during a renovation, especially during jobs when fumes and dust will most likely be released into the air, such as during demolition, painting, sanding or drilling. This will help prevent dust and debris from getting into your HVAC system.


VOCs or volatile organic compounds are chemical byproducts found in many building supplies, products and materials. They can evaporate or off-gas into your home’s indoor air for weeks, months and in some cases, even years after being installed in your home. For this reason, newly constructed homes and homes that have been recently renovated tend to have higher levels of VOCs.

Furniture, paints, cabinets, carpeting, treated wood, and insulation all contain VOCs, as well as products made with adhesives, such as pressed wood, particleboard or MDF (medium density fibreboard). You can usually smell VOCs the strongest in varnishes and some paints. They’re also in cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, air fresheners, furnishings and plastics.

Did You Know?

That “new car smell” is actually VOCs! The “new” smell of new home products, materials, even electronics and other plastics indicates the presence of VOCs. What’s in your cabinets? Pressed wood cabinets will off-gas for weeks, sometimes months. In fact, cabinets are huge VOC contributors.

Adhesives and caulking are among the worst for off-gassing and VOCs – that’s why you’re supposed to stay out of bathrooms for at least a couple of days after caulking—whereas VOCs in spray foam will dissipate or be non-detectable within a few days.

Spray Foam

Spray foam is a safe product as long as it’s installed properly (the standard curing time is 24 hours), but problems can occur when inexperienced contractors install it.

For example, if a job requires more than one coat of spray foam, the installer must wait at least two hours before applying the second coat; however, some spray foam installers have rushed jobs and not waited the appropriate time.

When spray foam is not able to cure for the full two hours VOCs will get trapped in between the layers and then off-gas over time – usually when people are living in the home, which is dangerous.

What I prefer using is WALLTITE which provides a gap-free, durable, air-tight envelope even under extreme climatic conditions, and does not support fungal growth


Formaldehyde is a strong-smelling, colourless gas that was used in a lot of building products and materials that contain adhesives, such as pressed wood. There was also a specific kind of insulation that was made from formaldehyde – Urea-Formaldehyde Foam Insulation (UFFI).

UFFI was popular in the late 70’s but then in 1980 it was banned because improper installation made it harmful for too many homeowners.

Moderate exposure to formaldehyde can cause your eyes or nose to burn and a sore throat. Higher levels of exposure can cause asthma-like symptoms, like coughing and wheezing. But very high exposures can be toxic. It’s been known to even cause some cancers.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies formaldehyde as a known carcinogen. Luckily, most Canadian homes don’t have formaldehyde levels that can cause cancer and its use in building materials and products has significantly decreased over time.

VOCs & Your Health

Breathing in VOCs over a significant period of time can be dangerous to your health, which is why industry leaders are taking proactive measures and developing innovative products that help create healthier indoor living environments.

For example, CertainTeed has developed a new line of drywall called AirRenew that helps remove dangerous VOCs from indoor air.

Smarter Choices

Glass, ceramic tile, metal, stone and other hard, inert materials don’t release any VOCs, which makes them the safer choice. Hardwood also tends to contain less VOCs than vinyl flooring, as well as natural carpet versus synthetic. Whenever possible, homeowners should choose custom solid wood cabinetry with a low or VOC-free finish in order to help keep VOC levels in the home down to a minimum.

Do Your Homework!

Homeowners need to be careful when a product claims to contain low-VOCs. It could just mean “lower than before” or “lower than another brand”.

Also, a brand of paint might be low-VOC or VOC-free, but the pigment added to it could contain VOCs. For this reason, light-coloured paints tend to be safer than darker colours-white is usually best-or homeowners could look for a pigment that is also low-VOC or VOC-free.

Check the Green Seal

Homeowners need to look for Green Seal (GS) Standard products, including paints and rubbers. Green Seal means the product and/or material has been tested and meets environmental standards. It’s a better safety indicator than just “low-VOCs”.

Make It Right®