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How To Improve Basement Air Quality

Experiencing musty smell and air quality issues in a basement? You're not alone. The basement is one of the dustiest places in the home due to poor ventilation and lack of sunlight. Having a dirty basement can trigger many allergies and will have adverse health effects particularly those staying in it. In this post, we will be looking at the root cause and explore the many ways you can improve basement air quality with little effort. Whether is a crawl space, finished or unfinished basement, this guide will cover it all.
Short answer
Keep it clean and dry.

 

1. Use An Air Purifier To Clean The Air

The simplest, quickest, and most effective way to improve basement air quality is with an air purifier. An air purifier circulates clean air by trapping airborne contaminants into its filtration. With a True HEPA filter, it will capture microscopic particles as small as 0.3 microns such as lead dust, mold spores, pollen, pet dander, asbestos, and bacteria. With an Activated Carbon filter, the air purifier can remove smoke, odor, and chemical fumes such as radon, VOCs, formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, musty odor. Some air purifiers come equipped with an ionizer and ultraviolet light that can kill microbes and germs with no chance of multiplying.

Before you invest in an air cleaner, if you need to calculate the basement size to ensure you’re getting the proper size air purifier. Most manufacturers will include the recommended room size in square footage for the particular model but you can also refer to the CADR. It is always better to go with a larger air purifier than a smaller one even though it is more costly to own and maintain.

Make sure the air purifier is equipped with a genuine True HEPA filter instead of a HEPA-type filter to target microscopic particles. A good gauge would be between MERV 17-20 rating system that can trap even the finest particles. An activated carbon filter is a must to deal with a smelly basement. Depending on how bad the basement air quality is, you will need to wash or replace the air purifier’s filter before it is worn out. While you’re at it, look for useful features such as an air quality monitor, timer, and auto mode. Skip the air freshener, bamboo charcoal deodorizer, or desiccant that has little impact on basement use.

2. Install HVAC System To Improve Ventilation

The ventilation system exchanges fresh air in and prevents air from getting stale. Very useful in dealing with the basement’s poor ventilation, where stale air can lead to adverse health effects. The downside with HVAC or exhaust fan is the need for a qualified HVAC technician to perform the installation. You will have to incur the expensive cost along with the necessity of hacking and drilling. An air purifier is a cheaper and quicker alternative to improve basement ventilation.

3. Keep It Dry (With A Dehumidifier)

Besides stale air, a damp basement can lead to musty smells and deteriorating air quality. It will also make the air harder to breathe which can be dangerous for those working or sleeping in the basement. A high humidity environment will also promote mold and mildew growth that can be seen infesting on the ceiling, joists, trusses, dry walls, or floor. Exposure to mold can cause allergic reactions like coughing, sneezing, nasal congestion, eye irritation, skin rash, headache, and other severe health problems.

In comes a dehumidifier that can absorb excess moisture in the basement and maintain the ideal humidity level between 30% to 50%. Without a favorable habitat for mold and mildew, the microorganisms will not spread and survive. However, not all dehumidifiers are created equal. Only use a refrigerant dehumidifier with enough moisture removal capacity to cover the entire basement area. Opt for models with a direct drainage option that diverts the water straight to a floor drain rather than having to empty the water tank every 1-2 days. If the basement can reach a freezing temperature, make sure the dehumidifier comes with a built-in defrost function to protect the coils.

4. Seal Cracks And Gaps

To prevent polluted air and moisture from flowing in or escaping, use masking tape, glass adhesive, or plastic cover to seal the cracks. Works great on windows with condensation, stress cracks, pressure cracks, or impact cracks, and leaky pipes. If there are gaps on the basement foundation wall or floor, seal it with cement, caulk, expanding foam before the gaps expand over time.

5. Keep Windows And Doors Closed

Contrary to many beliefs that opening windows help with basement ventilation, you’re inviting moisture and pollutants in particularly during the summer where pollens are running high. If your basement comes with windows, make sure it is shut tight to block allergens and polluted air from coming in. By keeping the windows and doors closed, it will also prevent the basement humidity from rising and promoting mold growth. The best time to leave it open is during the winter season without a running air purifier or heater.

6. Remove VOCs Sources

Avoid storing chemicals and solvents in the basement such as leftover paints, cleaning agents, dry cleaning fluid, varnishes, lacquers, and gasoline that are known for off-gassing VOCs. Store it in the garage or outdoor shed with good ventilation instead. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are high vapor pressure toxic that can build up quickly and polluting a poorly ventilated basement. For repainting, use zero or low VOCs paint specifically designed for indoor use. You can also get a VOCs detector to monitor and detect the VOCs level in your basement.

7. Declutter Your Basement

Never treat the basement as a storage unit. Toss away old magazines, unfinished paints, tools, old clothes, toys, or books that have no sentimental value. Do not keep chopped firewoods inside as the porous materials may contain fungi that can spread and multiply. For items that need safekeeping, Store them in a box or bag, seal them tight, and tuck them in a dry area. An air purifier can help reduce airborne dust and so is a thorough cleaning. Vacuum regularly from top to bottom to remove surface dust. The fewer items you have cluttered in the basement, the less dust it will accumulate.

8. Test For Radon

Get a radon detector or hire a certified radon professional to get it tested once a year. Radon is a common source of basement air pollution that causes more than 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. Radon is formed naturally occurring process of radioactive decay of uranium found in soil, rock, and water. The radioactive gas can seeps into your home through the basement floor, crawlspace, cracks in the foundation, building joints, water, or exposed soil.

Because radon is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless radioactive gas, most people didn’t realize they are exposed to it until it is too late. Sealing all cracks, openings, and sump pumps is a good start, when a dangerous 4 picocuries per Liter (pCi/L) or higher level of radon is detected, your only solution is radon mitigation systems. A costly solution that pumps out all the radon gases in your home via PVC pipe drilled into the floor.

9. Mindful For Carbon Monoxide

Another common source of air pollutants in the basement. CO is an odorless and colorless gas that can be lethal when inhaled. Most people didn’t realize it until it is too late therefore having a carbon monoxide detector installed in the basement can be a life-saver. The carbon monoxide detector alarm will go off when it detects the CO level in your basement exceeded the OSHA limit of 50 parts per million (ppm). Without it, you’re at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning when exposed to a high concentration level of carbon monoxide above 150 to 200 ppm. One might experience headaches, fatigue, nausea, disorientation, unconsciousness, and even death in just minutes. A good telltale sign of carbon monoxide is flickering flame on the furnace, rusty vent pipe, and increase moisture around the windows.

We recommend installing a CO detector in every room especially near the fireplace for a more accurate reading. Also, remember to change the carbon monoxide detector’s batteries and check if the device is functioning properly.

10. Keep It Clean

Dust and other surface particles can become airborne when disturbed. Clean the basement every 3 days to reduce dust accumulation. Make sure all the air filters found in the HVAC, air purifier, and dehumidifier are properly maintained based on the suggested interval time. Avoid smoking and eating in the basement. Last but not least, wear a face mask and gloves when performing housekeeping to reduce direct contact with the contaminants.

11. Call For Help

If you tried all methods above and hast not come to fruition, it is time to call in the professional. The solutions range from installing gravels under the foundation, vapor barrier, waterproofing, extractor fan, to adding a sump pump, downsloping lot. Depending on the sources of pollutants, an HVAC specialist would solve most air quality issues in a basement. If is related to mustiness and mold issue, hiring a mold remediation expert will certainly help. Toxic fumes and gas leakage, reach out to a gas company for assistance. For an unfinished basement, opt for non-porous materials that mold cannot feed off. Choose metal foil insulation instead of paper film, metal studs over wood studs, ceramic tiles over laminate floor. While none of the professional solutions will quote you cheap, it is a small price to pay in exchange for your health.

What Pollutants Are Found In A Basement?

It is critical to learn what's plaguing your basement air to have a better perspective on what you're dealing. Here are the common air pollutant sources that you need to look out for.

  • Radon - Uranium breaks down that comes through cracks and gaps from the ceiling, tiles. floorings.
  • Carbon Monoxide - Furnace, faulty appliances, coal stoves, heaters.
  • Asbestos - Old homes before the 1970s. particleboards, insulations, adhesives, fire retardant foam.
  • Lead - Dust, old homes, and items from paint, toys, furniture, crafts, jewelry.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) - Composite wood products, aerosol products, paints, varnishing, household cleaners.
  • Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds (mVOCs) - mold spores, mildew, bacteria, viruses.
  • Particulate Matter - PM10 to PM2.5 e.g. dust, hair, dirt, fiber, lint, dust mite, smoke.

Final Thoughts

We hope you will find the above guide useful in making your basement more livable. With some effort, air quality in the basement can be improved to a healthy level. Keep an eye on mold, leakage, or nauseating smell that could quickly deteriorate the basement air quality. It is not a one-off job as routine maintenance is needed to ensure your basement remains clean, dry, and fresh for the rest of the year.

No surprise here, an air purifier is our top pick that can quickly and effectively clean the air at a reasonable cost. However, not all air cleaners are up to the task. Instead of you scrambling the net for the right model, we have reviewed, compared, and compiled the best air purifier for basement use here.

Max Fernandez

A loving father and a dedicated reviewer for airfuji.com with more than 1000 air purifiers under his belt. Max Fernandez is also one of the million patients currently suffering from asthma. Feel free to nudge him if you have any questions.
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