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Indoor Air Quality: Is Your Home's Air Safe?

November 27, 2012; 11:26 AM ET

You can go online each morning and check your city's daily air quality, the allergen rating and the ozone levels. But while you may know exactly what your hometown's air is like, you probably don't consider what's lurking in the air inside your home.

Photo by Sparkzy

Because most people spend more time inside their home than in the outdoors, indoor air quality is an important and often overlooked consideration for the general health of everyone in your household. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that, depending on where you live, your indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outdoor air.

Why is the average American home's air so dirty? While a variety of factors and behaviors contribute to each home's individual air quality profile, the increased energy efficiency of homes is one major reason indoor air has become a problem, says Lisa Cleckner, Ph.D., assistant director of operations at the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems.

"Conventional thought is that as buildings were made tighter in the 1970s for energy efficiency reasons, the problems of adverse indoor air quality became more common because not as much fresh air was entering homes, offices, schools and other buildings," explains Cleckner. "People are becoming more aware of the issue and are paying more attention."

But while the problem is widespread, the causes vary from household to household, depending on the region you live in, your household's habits and even your house itself.

"There's no one test for indoor air quality issues," explains Michael Dooley, certified home inspector and owner of ESI Inspections in Albuquerque, N.M., an environmental consulting and inspection firm that specializes in air quality inspections. "It's like detective work-you often see the symptoms of a problem with health issues or home problems, then you have to work backward to determine what's causing it."

Here are a few common culprits of indoor air quality problems and what you can do about them.

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