Today's new homes are built tighter than ever before, with fewer and fewer energy-wasting air leaks. But as a result, many also have poor ventilation - outside air can't get in and inside air can't escape.

This stagnant environment can cause indoor air quality problems - sometimes called "sick house syndrome."

What it is

"Indoor air quality" refers to the cleanliness of the air inside your home. Inadequate ventilation can lead to build-up of pollutants like mold, mildew, secondhand cigarette smoke, fumes from household chemicals, environmental allergens like pollen and more.

In a poorly-ventilated house, the air inside may be more health-threatening than living in a smog-infested urban area!

Health effects

The most common symptoms are allergies and other breathing difficulties. People with respiratory problems like asthma are particularly vulnerable to the dust, smoke and other allergens that linger in the home.

Indoor air pollution can cause also life-threatening situations, including carbon monoxide poisoning, radon poisoning and toxic mold.

Curing your sick house

Fortunately, even the most "polluted" home can be rescued with the use of air testing and mechanical ventilation systems.

If you suspect air quality problems in your home, the first step is to call your heating and cooling contractor. If their company doesn't perform the testing, they can recommend another qualified professional.

Your contractor will use electronic monitoring devices to measure the amount of air flowing through your home, known as "air exchanges." The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Engineers recommend a minimum of 8.4 air exchanges in a 24-hour period - but most homes average less than five!

If your contractor confirms your suspicions, he or she will recommend a mechanic ventilation system, such as a heat recovery ventilator. These machines are integrated with your existing heating and cooling systems to monitor the air inside your home. Even if your furnace or air conditioner isn't running, the ventilator will ensure that fresh air circulates.

An added benefit of a heat recovery ventilator is energy savings - it works as supplemental heat source, reducing the demand on your furnace.

Indoor air quality testing and mitigation can cost between $1,800 and $2,600. While the cost is high, the benefits for your family's health - and the reduction in your medical bills - can be significant.

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