Indoor Air Quality: Basements

by Jane VanOsdol on January 27, 2011

We continue the indoor air quality series with a look at basements (last month’s focus was the bathroom). Basements can pose several problems when it comes to maintaining good indoor air quality. Let’s consider a few points to keep in mind.

Carbon Monoxide

As we all know, carbon monoxide is a deadly gas, which can sicken and kill quickly. It’s called a silent killer because it has no color, no taste and no smell. The particles in carbon monoxide are similar to the ones in oxygen, close enough that your body replaces the oxygen in your blood with the carbon monoxide, resulting in a lack of oxygen. Lower levels of exposure mimic flu symptoms, while higher levels lead to loss of consciousness and death.

If you have a basement in your home, that’s usually where your heating and cooling system is located. These combustion systems, including gasoline-powered heaters and other appliances, are sources of carbon monoxide.

For example, unvented kerosene or gas space heaters give off carbon monoxide. Fireplaces can too. If you have a fireplace, be sure you have it inspected because chimneys can leak, or if the chimney flue is the wrong size, obstructed in any way, or disconnected, that can also lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Contact a heating contractor to properly maintain your combustible appliances. Back drafting from furnaces and a worn or poorly adjusted furnace is a major source of carbon monoxide.

Mold

Basements are often damp places. If you have an excess of moisture, this can lead to a potential health hazard:  mold growth. Mold can cause respiratory distress to the general population and even more severe problems in those who are allergic to it. Running an adequate sized dehumidifier for the space can help control the moisture and thus prevent a mold problem from starting.

Radon

Radon is a radioactive gas that can enter your home through cracks and openings in the floors and walls that are in contact with the ground. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers in the United States. The only way to know if you have radon is to test for it. Do-it-yourself kits are widely available and easy to use, or you can hire a professional. If you are in the process of building a new home, ask your builder about including radon-resistant new construction (RRNC).

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

VOCs are emitted from substances like paints, resins, paint thinners and other chemicals and are a danger to your health. They can even be emitted when the chemicals are properly stored. Ventilate well when using these products and try to purchase products where the labels say low- or no-VOCs on the bottle.

Being aware of the potential dangers in your basement and properly maintaining your appliances will help you to establish healthy home air quality for you and your family.

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