What Impacts Indoor Air Quality When You Move Homes?

Between all of the packing, checklists, documents and the realization that you have accumulated way too many things, moving is incredibly stressful — especially if you are doing so in addition to buying a new home.

With all of these concerns to work through, air quality may not be at the forefront of your mind during a move. Nevertheless, it is also an important consideration — there are many factors that can affect your indoor air quality, both during and after your move, which can adversely affect the health of you and your loved ones. Read on to learn more about what they are and what you can do to protect the indoor air quality of your home.

Why should you pay attention to air quality when you move?

Good indoor air quality may not be at the top of your list of “must-haves” when searching for a new home, but it should still be on there somewhere. Ideally, the walls, doors and windows of your home should be adequately sealed and insulated enough to help keep outdoor air pollution from getting inside. But on the flip side, without proper ventilation, they can also trap in pollutants, such as dust, pet dander and mold spores, and cause indoor air pollutants to build up to levels worse than those found outdoors.

A home with consistently poor indoor air quality is a red flag that needs to be addressed. These can include HVAC problems, structural cracks that let in outdoor air (and air pollution) and problems with moisture accumulation and mold growth. There are handheld sensors you can buy to instantly test some aspects of indoor air quality like particulate matter and ozone, but be sure you know how to interpret their results. If mold is a concern, professional mold inspection is always the good place to start.

Aside from the indoor air quality, you should also consider the general air quality of your prospective neighborhood. High-traffic and industrial areas near your new home can create emissions that affect the outdoor air quality. If you are moving to a more rural area, air quality can be impacted by dust from vehicles driving on dirt roads, tractors plowing fields and rock quarries. Sites like AirNow.gov can help you get an idea of the outdoor air quality in a specific area before you move. Many states also require sellers to provide a Hazards and Disclosure form that details potential sources of pollution including lead based paint and nearby hazardous waste sites for prospective buyers — read carefully through these documents as you consider your home purchase.

Note: If you are moving to a different part of the country, you may want to research whether you will be exposed to different types of grass, weed and/or tree pollen, especially if anyone in your household has allergies or asthma.

Also bear in mind that children and individuals with allergies, asthma, and heart or lung disease may be more sensitive to indoor and outdoor air pollution. They may experience more frequent respiratory illness, such as bronchitis, in polluted areas than they would in areas with cleaner air.

How can poor air quality impact your health?

Most of the pollutants that affect indoor air fit into two categories — particulate matter and gaseous pollutants — each of which has the potential to impact your health. Particulate matter (PM) refers to any particle or liquid droplet suspended in the air. Only the biggest PM (i.e. certain plant spores and pollens) can be seen by the naked eye, while most airborne particles are microscopic. 

As particles get smaller and lighter, they have the potential to remain in the air for longer and also have the potential to cause more significant health effects. PM exposure can cause allergy-like symptoms, including irritation in the eyes, nose and throat. It can also worsen symptoms of coronary and respiratory diseases and contribute to premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

Many gaseous pollutants fall into the category of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are a diverse range of chemicals, not all of which are toxic. However, many VOCs commonly emitted by household products, such as formaldehyde, benzene and methylene chloride, have been found to cause both short- and long-term health effects. These may include:

  • Irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat;
  • Headaches;
  • Loss of coordination;
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Skin problems;
  • Damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system;
  • Cancer.

With any type of pollutant, the severity of its associated health effects depends on two factors: the airborne concentration of the pollutant and the length of your exposure. 

What causes poor indoor air quality at home?

Between facing a whole household’s worth of dust and enough cleaning supplies to take care of two homes, you may be exposed to more pollutants than you realize during your move. Here are some of the most common ones to consider.

Dust

When you start packing up everything in your home, finding a little (or a lot) of dust is inevitable. Whether you dust off each item before you pack it or bring it into your new home as-is, you will likely encounter a lot of dust during your move. Household dust can contain pet dander, dust mites, dead skin cells, pollen, food debris, lint, insects and insect droppings, and particulate matter from smoking and cooking — all of which can make life miserable for allergy sufferers and those with respiratory ailments.

Cleaning products

Regardless of its condition, it is a good idea to thoroughly clean your new house before moving in. However, depending on which cleaning supplies you use, the cleaning process may not be great for your indoor air quality. Many household cleaning products are sources of volatile organic compounds. These compounds evaporate quickly at room temperature, making it almost impossible not to breathe them in while cleaning. Plus, if you use more than one cleaning or sanitizing product at a time, VOCs can mix in the air to create additional harmful compounds.

Pesticides

Like cleaning products, pesticides may make your new home feel cleaner at the cost of your indoor air quality. These products are inherently toxic and can be sold as powders, liquids, bug bombs and bug sprays. Both their active and inactive ingredients can contain VOCs and other chemicals that can negatively impact indoor air quality and contribute to a wide range of health effects.

Paint fumes

A fresh coat of paint can make your house feel brand new, but unfortunately the solvents used in some paints contain VOCs that will evaporate and affect indoor air quality as the paint dries. Most paint lines now also include low VOC paint which is a better option for air quality, particularly if the freshly painted space is to be occupied immediately.

New furniture or new flooring

VOCs, such as formaldehyde, are commonly used to manufacture many household goods, including electronics, furniture, mattresses, upholstery and carpeting. During the manufacturing process, these VOCs start out as liquids, but they evaporate during the life of the product in a process called off-gassing. Though these products may emit VOCs for as long as you have them, they do most of their off-gassing when they are brand new (hence the distinct smell that comes with new furniture or flooring).

Other air quality concerns

While you can take steps to minimize your indoor air pollution during your move, there is nothing you can do about how the previous owners treated the home. Pre-existing contaminants may be lingering in the air that can affect the house’s air quality — particularly in carpeting and HVAC ducts, which are prime gathering places of pollutants, such as:

  • Pet hair and dander;
  • Mold;
  • Dust and dirt;
  • Residue from cleaning chemicals and pesticides.

Minimize your exposure to indoor air pollution while moving

Moving is a lot of work, but it is a great opportunity to set the tone for the air quality standards you want to implement in your new home. Fortunately, you do not have to forgo cleaning, painting or buying new furniture to protect your indoor air quality. Instead, you can use the following tips to help reduce the presence of indoor pollutants.

  • Before you buy, take stock of the air quality in the home. Take any note of any weird smells, excess humidity, dirty carpeting, or other areas that need cleaning. If possible, bring a particle sensor and measure both indoors and outdoors. These can all indicate potential air quality issues and should be taken into account when choosing your new home.
  • To reduce the amount of dust you introduce into the air while moving in, wipe down your household items with a wet cloth before bringing them to your new home. This will capture most of the dust instead of sending it into the air to settle on a different surface. You may also want to use a wet mop and cloth to dust your new home before you start moving your things in.
  • When cleaning or painting your new home, opt for low- or no-VOC products, such as those that follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Safer Choice Standard.” Open windows and doors to increase ventilation while using products that may contain VOCs. 
  • You can also reduce the presence of VOCs in your home by only buying as much product as you need while you are moving. That way, you do not have to store any leftovers that may off-gas VOCs in your home. If you need to store paint or cleaning products, try doing so in a garage or shed.
  • If you buy new furniture during your move, try to let it off-gas outside or in a garage before bringing it into your home. Open windows and increase ventilation in your home (especially in the room with the new furniture) as much as possible during the first few days after bringing the piece indoors. 
  • Use integrated pest control methods to reduce the amount of toxic chemical pesticides you use inside your home. This can include sealing any places pests may use to enter your home, placing baits and traps, vacuuming frequently and eliminating possible pest food sources.
  • If you install new flooring, increase ventilation in your home and allow it to air out before you start moving your things in.
  • Use a dehumidifier and air purifier to help regulate the air quality in your home. A dehumidifier can help reduce mold growth by eliminating excess moisture in the air. An air purifier, on the other hand, can help get rid of pollutants that are already present in the air. If you decide to buy an air purifier, make sure to choose one equipped to handle the size of the room you will use it in. Additionally, look for an air purifier that can filter both PM and VOCs from the air (not all models can do this).

Moving can be a daunting process, but taking steps to reduce indoor air pollution in your new home does not have to be a massive undertaking. You can accomplish a lot by avoiding high-VOC products and increasing the ventilation in your house, as well as using dehumidifiers and the right kind of air purifier to filter out (and even destroy) pollutants from the air. Taking these steps to tackle indoor air quality concerns will allow you to focus on what is truly the most rewarding part of the whole process: unpacking, settling in and making memories in your new home.