Breathing easy: How to improve poor indoor air quality

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

Ross h…

Wildfire smoke, air pollution, airborne contaminants — all of these culprits can be detrimental to your indoor air quality. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates Americans are indoors 90% of the time, and poor indoor air quality can contribute to numerous symptoms and long-term health issues[1].

As homeowners, it's essential to consider the air quality in our homes. Unfortunately, many homes suffer from poor air quality, which can lead to respiratory problems, allergies, asthma and other health issues. It is essential to understand the causes of poor air quality to take the necessary steps to improve it.

In this article, we'll explore some of the potential culprits causing poor air quality in homes, and some preventive measures you can take to promote cleaner air.

Causes of poor indoor air quality

Unfortunately, studies indicate that indoor concentrations of air pollutants are actually increasing. There are a number of reasons for this, including the chemicals used in home products, building materials and the way homes are built now (efficiently but with poor ventilation) and hotter or more polluted outdoor air[2].

Let’s look at some of the major pollutants affecting our air:

Environmental factors

Environmental factors outside the home can impact air quality within the home. For example, if you live in an area with high air pollution, this could affect the air quality inside your home. The smoke from nearby wildfires can also contribute to poor air quality. Wildfire smoke and other pollutants form what we call particle pollution (meaning a mixture of solid and liquid droplets suspended in air). Some particles are small enough to penetrate homes and buildings increasing indoor particle concentrations.


To avoid these issues, you can consider using air purifiers with HEPA filters and regularly changing your HVAC filters for your air conditioning system. It's also essential to keep windows and doors closed during times of high pollution.

Pollutants from indoor activities

While outside pollution seeping in can be an issue, sometimes the problem is coming from inside the house. Human activities within buildings from smoking cigarettes to burning solid fuels can cause build up of emissions. Fireplaces, wood stoves and gas stoves can all contribute to air quality problems. The most common pollutions emitted from these sources are carbon monoxide, formaledyhde and nitrogen dioxide. 


If you smoke or vape, do so outdoors away from indoor spaces. If you can, replace older high polluting wood stoves with more efficient heating alternatives. Only ever burn clean, dry and seasoned wood in a fireplace.

Vapors from construction material and furniture

What you put in your home and what your home is made of can also contribute to harmful chemicals and particulate matter in the air. The furniture we buy and materials our homes are constructed from can also emit indoor air pollution. For example, pressed wooden furniture and some cabinets and flooring may emit formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in what is known as off-gassing. Lead and asbestos may also be present in older homes when these materials were used in paint or insulation.


If your home was built before 1978, ask your local health department about getting a lead paint inspection or assessment, especially if you are undergoing renovations. If buying furniture made with pressed-wood products, make sure it meets the requirements for ultra-low emitting formaldehyde (ULEF) or NAF (no added formaldehyde). 

Mold and mildew

Mold and mildew thrive in damp areas where airflow is limited, such as basements, bathrooms and laundry rooms. When not addressed, mold can cause respiratory issues and other health problems. Signs of mold in your home include a rotten smell, spots or odors in carpets, warped walls, black spots on your A/C air filter and a persistent cough or cold.


Be sure to control the indoor humidity level to below 50% and fix any leaks or water damage promptly[3]. You can use a dehumidifier if needed to help keep the level low. If you suspect mold in your home, it's best to call a professional to address the issue.

Cleaning products

The products we use to keep our homes clean can contribute to poor air quality. Like the furniture mentioned above, certain cleaners can release volatile organic compounds as a byproduct, which can cause headaches, allergic reactions, respiratory issues and other short-term and longterm health effects. This is especially true if you live in a home that lacks good ventilation.


Switch to natural cleaning products or dilute the chemical products. Ensure you read product labels before purchasing to ensure they are non-toxic. Try to open windows and let in fresh air when using cleaning products.

Pet dander and allergens

Dogs and cats are a significant source of both cuteness...and dander that can impact the air quality in your home. Pet dander, dead skin flakes and hair can irritate respiratory systems. Dander contains a protein that can be an allergy and asthma trigger for many. For those who suffer from these health risks, symptoms can become much more severe, especially if the home is not well ventilated and the pets spend a lot of time inside.


If you have pets, consider using a HEPA air filtration system to keep the air cleaner. You can also decrease dander by grooming your pets frequently (outside the home) and vacuuming regularly. It's also wise to invest in machine-washable bedding and pillowcases.

Other chemical gases in the home

There are a few other gases that can have serious health risks if they are in high levels in your home: radon gas and carbon monoxide. Radon is an invisible, odorless gas released naturally from rocks and soils that can build up in the air in your home over time. The EPA estimates radon causes 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year due to long-term exposure. Carbon monoxide can also build up in the home when it is released from sources including furnaces and boilers, gas stoves and ovens, motor vehicles, wood stoves, water heaters and more.


If you have never had a radon test conducted on your home, it’s definitely a good idea to check the radon levels. You should also have a carbon monoxide detector to alert you when levels in the indoor environment are unsafe.

Indoor air quality and home insurance

Can your home insurance help out with your poor indoor air quality? It depends on the cause.

They likely won't cover things like gas leaks (unless they lead to an explosion...which is a covered peril, but then you will have bigger issues than air quality). 

When it comes to wildfires, your home insurance will likely cover damage to your home and belongings, but what about smoke? If smoke is bad enough that you are forced to evacuate, they may cover a hotel or alternative living expenses until you can return. 

Whether or not your homeowners insurance covers mold damage depends on your location and your specific policy. Most insurance companies exclude mold from homeowners coverage but provide the option of adding coverage via endorsement. Some home insurers offer reimbursement for mold remediation if the mold was caused by a covered peril. 


The quality of air in our homes is integral to our health and wellbeing. Poor indoor air quality can lead to respiratory issues, asthma, allergies and even lung cancer. Maintaining good air quality in your home requires regular upkeep, proper cleaning and understanding the potential culprits. Regular home maintenance, such as cleaning and fixing leaks promptly, using natural cleaning products, and investing in air purifiers, can go a long way in promoting clean air. By implementing these prevention tips, you can create a healthier and safer living environment for you and your family.