4 Important Things To Consider When Maintaining Healthy Indoor Air Quality In A Rental

by Steffi Cook | Updated: Nov 10, 2020

Renting a home may be the best option for your family for a variety of reasons. Maybe you can’t afford a down payment on a house quite yet, haven’t decided where to settle or simply enjoy not having the stress of homeownership. No matter the reason for living in a rented home, it’s important that it feels like just that — home. There are many things families can do to feel at home in a rental and one of those things is learning how to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) in the home.

Indoor air quality can affect a person’s health in many ways. According to a Global Burden of Disease study, it’s estimated that 1.6 million people globally die prematurely due to indoor air pollution every year. The modern citizen spends an estimated 90% of their time indoors, either at home or in the workplace. And often, indoor air quality can be worse than outdoor air quality. 

What causes poor air quality in a home?

As more homes are sealed for higher efficiency, HVAC systems that recirculate the air could be recirculating toxins too. These toxins include mold, radon, asbestos, dust, second-hand smoke and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The best way to improve indoor air quality in your rental home and increase your respiratory health is by understanding the basics of what these air pollutants are and how to protect yourself.

Common household air pollutants

Mold

Young adult man looking at the mold on his wall in shock.

One of the most common causes of poor indoor air quality is mold. Mold is caused by moisture, which is often the result of poor ventilation or a leak. Growth can be encouraged by a buildup of soap scum. It can also develop in moisture harboring spots like the shower and kitchen sink.  

Mold should be cleaned promptly when it emerges, and the areas it’s found in should be kept as dry as possible once cleaned. Mold exposure can cause a slew of health effects in people that are sensitive to it. For those with preexisting respiratory issues like COPD and asthma, mold can have severe effects. Exposure to mold in heavy doses for extended periods can cause lasting health issues as well.

Asbestos

Close up image of roof covering material with asbestos fibres

Asbestos was used in many homes built before the 1980s, added to everything from pipe wrap insulation to tile floors for its heat resistance and strength. However, it becomes a dangerous material when powdery and airborne. For instance, should an asbestos pipe wrap in a basement begin to deteriorate and get into your HVAC system, asbestos fibers could enter your living space. If the fibers are ingested, they could become lodged in the lining of the abdomen, leading to peritoneal mesothelioma later in life.

Landlords should inspect their rentals thoroughly for asbestos and have it removed, sealed or encapsulated if necessary. If you are looking for a new rental home, it would be wise to visually inspect any potential asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) and ask the landlord if they’ve had to deal with any asbestos in the home. A trained professional should always deal with asbestos and you should never attempt to remove or seal it yourself. 

Radon

When uranium breaks down in the soil, it produces a radioactive gas. As the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US, indoor exposure to radon is a serious problem. Radon exposure inside a home is caused by the way houses are constructed. If high levels of radon are present on a given building site, a mitigation system must be put in place. In older homes, radon may not be properly mitigated as its presence may not have been known at the time it was built. 

Landlords should have a radon test performed and disclose this information to residents before a lease is signed. If they don’t disclose radon levels in the lease, ask the landlord if they’ve had a radon test done. If not, you should request one before signing the lease. Not only will this give you peace of mind, but it will also help you gauge the landlord’s commitment to their residents.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Man on the floor using clearning spray to cleanse floors.

Volatile organic compounds are one of the most difficult things to mitigate in a home. They exist in many building materials like MDF fiberboard, paint and adhesives. They’re also often present in various cleaning supplies. Certain VOCs can be hazardous for a number of reasons. They can cause headaches and nausea, and in people with multiple chemical sensitivity, VOCs cause a severe reaction.

What can you do about VOCs?

Unfortunately, you can’t do much about building materials in a rental home, unless you and the landlord work together on remodeling. Landlords could commit to using low VOC materials if they do remodel to help attract better residents. If a landlord decides to paint their rental home, we recommend using low VOC paints, which will lessen the VOCs being off-gassed in the rental home. 

Another important thing to consider is your use of cleaning supplies. Using high quality cleaning supplies with non-toxic surfactants is the best way to minimize VOCs in your household routine. Liquid and solid cleaners are often better to use as spray nozzles amplify the chances of inhaling VOCs from cleaning products. 

Who’s responsible for IAQ in a rental?

When it comes to indoor air quality in a rental home, neither the landlord or resident is solely responsible. Improving the rental's indoor air quality is a shared responsibility.

The resident is typically responsible for the general maintenance and cleaning of their home. Changing the furnace filter regularly and keeping surfaces clean can make a huge difference in air quality. By using a high MERV and HEPA furnace filter, residents can trap dust and mold spores, keeping them from recirculating throughout the home. It’s important to change filters regularly — typically every 3 months is sufficient. 

There are some tasks that are outside the resident’s scope of responsibility, too. The landlord is responsible to mitigate radon and abate asbestos and its immediate removal if it becomes an infestation. Landlords can also do their part in maintaining good IAQ for their renters by having the HVAC system regularly maintenanced.

IAQ benefits both the renter and the landlord

There are a lot of things you can do to improve indoor air quality in your rental home, and knowing how to improve indoor air quality begins with a basic understanding of air pollutants. If both landlords and renters commit to maintaining good IAQ, the rental experience will be more beneficial and satisfying for both parties.

Categories: Landlords, Renters

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