Is there a way to test the air in my home?

Asked by Lori
Bennet, NE

My home was built in 2003. Always has seemed dustier than any other. Now it's even dustier and my family has been fighting headaches and respiratory issues for a good two months.


Cynthia Phakos

Answered by Cynthia Phakos

Los Angeles, CA

Koffka Phakos Design

February 7, 2011

I am starting with a quote and some information written by Ray Woodcock (CIH) a professional in environmental health issues.

“No two buildings and no two indoor air quality problems are identical. A general but systematic approach is usually more effective and economical than relying on extensive air testing, unless there are specific complaints or observations that call for testing.... Building-related conditions such as these can cause symptoms similar to those of indoor air pollution. An investigation should therefore also evaluate non-indoor air quality factors."

Are building issues the cause?

As I am an architect, my initial response to your question was related to building issues and the fact that your home was recently built.
  1. One reason for noticeable dust in a new home is that debris may get into the ductwork during construction if the ducts are not properly sealed. This condition might get worse over time as the debris degrades and becomes more easily dispersed.
  2. Another thought is that if there is carpet in your home, we often recommend people with dust allergies (actually dust mite allergies) avoid carpet, as it is a collector of all sorts of dirt and dust.

Then I thought the dust might be laden with chemicals from the offgassing of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from a whole host of items such as the cabinetry, glues for the flooring, insulation, paints or sealers.

Beyond the home

I next called an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Testing Consultant. He suggested looking beyond the home to the site, and finding out if anyone nearby was doing construction. 
  • As you live in Nebraska I thought perhaps it might be something regional and related to agriculture.
  • He then recommended doing an ambient air test, EPA TO-15, as a starting point, a method for testing VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
A testing lab gave me a different opinion. As IAQ complaints are becoming more common today there are numerous tests that can be done on the air from your home. 
  • Each of these tests focuses on a specific area, whether it is testing for a particular category of chemical, for particulates in the atmosphere, mold spores, dust mites, lead, and so on.
  • Each test will cost you roughly $400, and so it would be better to start testing once you get an expert opinion.

Hire a CIH

The more sensible approach is to hire a Certified Industrial Hygienist, (CIH), a highly trained professional aware of many of the common problems.

  • This person would have met the minimum requirements for education (a BS and an MS) along with practical field experience.
  • They would have the required level of knowledge in all aspects of the field, from chemistry, to engineering controls and ventilation, to air sampling.
The CIH would come to your home, consider your issues relative to your environment, and recommend the appropriate tests. This would save you time and money, and hopefully solve your problem. You most likely could find someone in your area listed on the internet.
  • I read on one site that in 2009 there were 22 specialists in Nebraska, with some associated with the University of Nebraska.
  • The term Industrial Hygienist is not restricted by law, so please make sure that he/she is certified with the American Board of Industrial Hygienists.

Tagged In: home air quality

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