What Causes Poor Indoor Air Quality (and How Do You Fix It)?

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Throughout the Maryland and Washington, DC area, thousands of families have poor indoor air quality. In fact, the EPA estimates that in some homes, the indoor air quality can be 100 times worse than outdoor air quality! The sources of poor indoor air quality in MD and DC are numerous and can come from unexpected places – it’s important to know how to keep your problems under control!

Sources of Poor Indoor Air Quality

Dust or Allergens

Sources: dust mites thrive in warm, moist areas where they have plenty of access to a solid food supply. This includes places like beds, carpets, etc.

Health effects: many people are allergic to dust mites, making dust the leading cause of common poor air quality symptoms.

How to detect: you’ll know. If you are sneezing or coughing a lot, or if your household surfaces collect a lot of dust, you probably have a dust problem!

How to solve: if dust is causing you to have severe indoor air quality symptoms, air duct cleaning might be your best bet. A local HVAC contractor should be able to help you with air duct cleaning in MD or DC.

Mold and Mildew

Sources: mold and mildew can develop on any moist organic surface.

Health effects: the health effects of mold are generally mild – from unpleasant odors and allergy symptoms to mild or severe flu-like systems. Occasionally these problems can be much more severe (particularly in the case of toxic black mold) and can cause structural damage to your home.

How to detect: you should be able to see (or, more likely, smell) most mold that develops in your home. If you see those little black dots in your bathrooms – you have mold! If you believe you have mold that you can’t see (like in your attic or in your basement), an HVAC contractor should be able to find it where it lies behind your walls.

How to solve: the easiest way to solve mold and mildew problems is to eliminate the sources of moisture that allow them to thrive and then treat the surfaces that have mold present.

Household chemicals

Source: household chemicals, including cleaning agents, pesticides, hobby materials and even specially treated furniture woods are a major cause of poor indoor air quality.

Health effects: household chemicals can cause irritation of the mucus membranes (eyes, nose and throat). Typically, these effects are only found when chemicals are in high concentrations.

How to detect: unfortunately, unless you suspect a specific chemical in the air it is very difficult to test the air for “household chemicals.” If you think common chemicals are causing poor indoor air quality in your home, examine your home furnishings and the chemicals you use for cleaning and see if you can develop a list of possible causes.

How to solve: assuming you don’t have a huge concentration of chemicals, it’s pretty easy to ease poor indoor air quality symptoms caused by household chemicals. Follow the directions on all of the product labels and make sure they are kept well ventilated.

Carbon Monoxide (CO)

Sources: carbon monoxide is produced as a byproduct of combustion heating (like your gas or oil fired furnace) and can be in your home if you have a poorly ventilated heater.

Health effects: the health effects of carbon monoxide cannot be exaggerated. They start off mild, resembling flu-like symptoms. Within hours, however, carbon monoxide exposure can cause severe illness – even death.

How to detect: automatic carbon monoxide detectors are available with digital readouts that display current levels of carbon monoxide in your home and go off when those levels get dangerous. At Michael Bonsby Heating & Air Conditioning, we want you to be safe – call us to install a Maryland or DC carbon monoxide detector!

How to solve: the most effective way to solve a carbon monoxide problem is to prevent it from ever happening. Make sure you schedule furnace inspections every year before you turn on your furnace – this way you can be sure that your furnace will not put you and your family at risk.


Sources: formaldehyde can be found in many, many places in your home – most that you wouldn’t even expect, including drapes, interior wood products such as veneered furniture and even cabinets.

Health effects: while concentrations of formaldehyde in most homes are typically low, about 10% of the population is sensitive to extremely low levels of the chemical.

How to detect: formaldehyde detection kits are available and fairly inexpensive. If you don’t have a problem with the chemical, however, it’s probably not something you need to worry about.

How to solve: if you are worried about formaldehyde in your home, try to only buy low emission products or use solid wood products. Coat any exposed particle board or fiberboard that you have with a varnish or with polyurethane.


Sources: though outlawed now because of serious health concerns, asbestos was once used in a variety of products, from insulating pipe and duct wrap to vinyl floors and spackle. Asbestos is commonly found in homes that are more than 20 years old. Fortunately, if left undisturbed, there is little chance of it becoming a health hazard.

Health effects: in rare cases, asbestos can lead to lung cancer.

How to detect: a certified HVAC contractor will be able to detect any asbestos problems present in your home.

How to solve: Unless the asbestos is presenting an immediate health concern, there is no real need to remove it. If you choose to, make sure you hire a certified asbestos removal expert – amateur attempts to remove asbestos are all but guaranteed to cause serious health hazards.

If you have problems with your indoor air quality, call Michael Bonsby Heating & Air Conditioning today!

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