Improved Indoor Air Quality Through Renovation

A healthy home is the foundation for a healthy living environment. Planning a home renovation offers an ideal opportunity to take stock of the healthiness of your home.

The air in your home can have a big impact on how you and your family feel. Poor indoor air can leave you feeling tired and unwell; a wide range of airborne pollutants can aggravate asthma and allergies. Poor indoor air quality is not only a health concern; in an older home, it can be an indication of underlying problems needing attention.

One of the best ways to detect indoor air problems is by using your sense of smell. After closing all windows in your home, spend a few hours outside in the fresh air. As you enter your home again, sniff the air. An earthy, musty smell can indicate the presence of molds or mildew while stale, odorous air may mean a general lack of ventilation. Chemical odours may be linked to cleaning products, recent painting or renovation, or materials stored in the house.

Professional renovators can help you to determine if there is any reason to be concerned and, if so, suggest ways of improving the air quality in your home. Specially trained air quality inspectors can also conduct an independent examination of your home. The results of this third-party inspection should be shared with your renovator as you plan the details of your project.

  • One of the biggest culprits in poor air quality is excessive moisture, which is the perfect breeding ground for molds, some of which are toxic and can affect your health. It can also cause a deterioration in the home itself, resulting in rotting wood, peeling paint or spalling bricks, for instance.
  • Water can get into the house from the outside though leaks in the roof, walls or foundation. Moisture generated inside your home by cooking, showering and other ordinary household activities can get trapped, causing condensation on exterior surfaces such as windows and walls.
  • There are other reasons why the air in your home may not be good. Old carpeting and cracks in walls and flooring can harbour dust, fur and pet dander which may make it harder to breathe easy; some people are also allergic to dust mites. Worn or improperly vented heating equipment can release combustion gases into the basement, which may then travel through the house. Recent improvements such as paint, cabinets, flooring or new furniture may still be off-gassing. Household activities, from cleaning to hobbies, may kick up dust or put chemicals into your home's air.
  • There is a wide range of possible corrective measures. In older homes, the basement can be a particularly troublesome area; recommendations might include mold clean-up, foundation repair and sealing of air ducts to prevent molds and dust from circulating through the house. The renovator may recommend that you install exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom, or a whole-house ventilation system, often installed in conjunction with a substantial energy retrofitting of a home. Other measures include caulking leaks and removing old carpets.
  • When renovating, it is important that you do not inadvertently introduce new air quality problems. Your renovator can help you to select materials and products that will help to keep your indoor air clean. During renovation, every effort should be made to minimize dust and other airborne pollutants. When possible, the work area should be sealed off from the rest of the home.
  • If someone in your household has severe allergies or other extreme environmental sensitivities, there are alternative approaches and products that may be used, such as plaster wall finishes instead of paints. Some products might be harder to find or more difficult to install than conventional ones, but a professional renovator has the experience and the network to find them and do the work right.
  • For many years, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has provided the housing industry with valuable research and practical knowledge about the indoor living environment. Whether you are concerned about the quality of the air in your home, or simply want to know more about the issue, CMHC's Healthy Housing™ initiative provides general information and valuable advice for homeowners.