Basements can be a paradise of space. We can put home gyms, TV or game rooms, and laundry facilities there, and use it for storage. All great ideas. Except…you’ve got to be sure it’s safe. What you might not realize is that poor indoor air quality can turn your basement into a health hazard. Air quality is affected by the presence of mold, radon, and other toxins. Symptoms can include:
- Dry cough
- Nasal allergies
- Eye, throat, or nose irritation
- Itchy, dry skin
- General feelings of malaise
- Difficulty concentrating
If you get any of these symptoms, especially while in or after spending some time in your basement, you may have a serious indoor air quality problem.
“Basements are often damp, and moisture and mold go hand-in-hand,” says Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and founder of RTK Environmental. “Mold and poor indoor air quality have been known to trigger allergies that cause coughs and headaches, as well as irritations to the nose, skin, and eyes. If you are working out in an environment that is full of dust and mold allergens, it can be particularly difficult to breathe.”
If you have not had an indoor air quality test, you should. It can tell you if the air you are breathing is negatively affecting your health. “More and more, our daily lives revolve around being healthy – eating well, physical activity, regular wellness checkups, organic food, non-toxic products, and more,” points out Weitz. “What we don’t realize is that it’s all for nothing if the air we are breathing in is filling our bodies with toxins.”
Here are the most common things to watch out for:
Mold is the leading cause of poor indoor air quality in basements and can have dire effects on your health. In fact, in about 80% of “sick building syndrome” cases, where poor air quality spreads, mold infestations (black mold and other types) are the main cause of illness.
Mold thrives in damp environments and spreads easily.
2. Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs
We may cringe when we have to breathe recycled air on an airplane, yet the indoor air quality in our basements may not be too much better or even worse! According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air may be up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air. Because the air in your basement tends to be stagnant, it can breed unhealthy conditions. Poor air circulation and inadequate ventilation may force us to breathe in toxins and chemicals, including lead dust, exhaust, radon, formaldehyde, asbestos, and VOCs from adhesives, upholstery, appliances, carpeting, manufactured wood products, machines, pesticides, cleaning agents and even personal care products.
3. Gym Equipment
When was the last time you washed your basement elliptical (with soap) or really dusted your treadmill? If you say, ‘I can’t remember,” then listen up. Basements are generally dirtier than the rest of our house because they are dusted and vacuumed less frequently. Therefore, dust mites and vermin droppings can build up in neglected areas, like crawl spaces and behind the clothes dryer, and on fans used to keep you cool on exercise equipment. Chances are you’re breathing in lint, mites, dust, and other particles, and it’s not good for your health.
With rugs serving as a haven for dirt, bacteria, and mold spores, you’ll probably never look at carpeting the same way again. Every time you walk across that carpet, you may be releasing mold spores and unhealthy microorganisms into the air. Doing so may cause asthma, allergies, and a host of other ailments. So, you may want to move your yoga mat upstairs before your downward dog brings you within inches of a health problem.
5. The Washing Machine
Ever open the washing machine and get a whiff of an awful stale scent? That’s mold and mildew. Washing machines are prone to harboring mold, especially front loaders. Failure to clean your washer rigorously can result in the growth of fungi and bacteria that can cause lung inflammation. Cleaning the washing machine frequently will help prevent odors as well. Be sure to leave the door open in between washes to allow air to circulate and dry out the machine.
6. Your Family
Watch out for crumbs! Whether Dad’s eating a sandwich while watching the game or the kids are snacking on chips and soda while playing video games, if they’re not keeping the area clean, they may be attracting pests, like rodents and insects. Cockroaches have been linked to respiratory problems, and according to the EPA, certain proteins in cockroach droppings and saliva can cause allergic reactions and trigger asthma symptoms.
Your self-built shelves that hold your treasures, like Grandma’s china and your kid’s artwork from nursery school, keep clutter out of your main living area. But if those shelves have been relegated to the basement, they could be creating a problem. Moisture tends to collect in boxes, making it easy for mold to grow. Dust also can accumulate on stored items. Things like pesticides, old paint cans, and cleaning products, when stored inside, can cause harmful indoor air by emitting toxic VOCs. Shelve it elsewhere!
It is not uncommon for radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, to be found in basements. It is an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas produced when uranium naturally decays in soil and water, and it is hazardous to your health. Because 90 percent of the land in the Northeast is likely to have elevated radon levels, every home should be tested for radon, an important part of indoor air quality tests.
How Do I Know if My Basement is Safe?
If you are experiencing any of the health symptoms we’ve listed after you’ve been in the basement for a while, or if you just want to be sure you are not harboring toxic material, have your indoor air quality tested. A thorough environmental health inspection will tell you what the problem is, and how to alleviate the source of the issue. An independent testing company, like RTK Environmental, will conduct indoor air quality testing to determine if mold, asbestos, VOCs, radon, or other harmful toxins are present in your environment. You may also want to see your physician to rule out any other possible medical conditions. Be sure to tell them if the symptoms occur when you are in your basement.
If you would like to schedule an indoor air quality inspection or have questions, call us today at (800) 392-6468.