When choosing an apartment, diligent renters pepper landlords and real-estate agents with questions about square footage, amenities and security deposits. However, few renters consider the air quality in potential apartments. Most of us don’t think about the quality of the air we breathe at all — until we begin to suspect that the air in our apartments might be making us sick. As we learn more about how air quality affects common diseases like asthma and with new concerns about “sick building syndrome” in office complexes, more and more people are starting to take air quality seriously.
Poor air quality can be caused by a number of different pollutants. In buildings with poor air filtration, common pollutants from outside industrial sites and automobile congestion can stagnate indoors and contribute to respiratory trouble. Carbon monoxide, which is deadly at high enough concentrations, can be produced when fuel-burning appliances malfunction. Radon, a radioactive gas that sometimes enters homes and apartments from the soil underneath the building, is one of the leading causes of lung cancer. Mold and mildew can contaminate air filtration systems and release spores into the air. Along with pollen and dust mites, molds and mildew are key causes of allergies and asthma. The list goes on and on and can make you feel sick just thinking it.
Testing Your Air
If you suspect a problem with the air quality in your apartment, there’s no shortage of products available in stores and online to help you determine which, if any, pollutants are present in your apartment. Several companies sell at-home testing kits that test for mold, some species of bacteria and fungal spores. Some companies will send inspectors to your apartment to test for mold, fungi and bacteria. If the general air quality in your apartment is poor, you can also buy self-contained air filtration units that span a wide range as far as price and quality. Of course, these filters, tests and kits can be quite expensive.
Unfortunately, you may not be able to rely on your landlord to cover the most of these costs. You’ll have more luck if you can argue that your landlord’s negligence or problems with building maintenance have led to the poor air quality in the apartment. A patch of mold and mildew in your ceiling might have been caused by a leaky pipe, one your landlord should have repaired. The terms of your lease may spell out the landlord’s responsibility for air quality obligations your landlord has to protect for the health of tenants in the building.
Your landlord may also be open to installing carbon monoxide monitors, which are quickly becoming almost as common as smoke detectors. Whether your landlord agrees to cover the cost or not, you should get one of these. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is can kill you before you’re even aware of its presence. You can find them for less than $20, which is definitely worth the peace of mind.
If your building is equipped with central air, your air conditioning system may require its own set of filters that need to be regularly changed, usually at least four times a year. Responsibilities regarding maintaining the HVAC system and its filters are often spelled out in the lease. Many tenants assume that changing the air filter is the responsibility of the landlord, but often the landlord is only responsible for maintaining the air conditioning system itself. Tenants may be expected to change the filters, a fact that landlords don’t always make clear when tenants sign the lease. A dirty air filter not only makes the apartment air dirty, it also makes the HVAC system work harder to cool the apartment, resulting in increased energy bills.
If you don’t have central air but want to improve air quality and circulation, you can purchase a self-contained air filtration unit or air purifier. These are often sold at home supply stores like Bed, Bath & Beyond, or specialty stores such as The Sharper Image. A wide range of apartment air-filtering systems is available, so it makes sense to do your research before you purchase anything.
Look for the CADR (Clean Air Delivery Rating) of the unit. The CADR is a standard rating of how well the unit functions, with a higher number indicating a stronger purification power. You can also look for HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters, which remove over 99 percent of airborne particles over .3 micrometers in size.
All of these purchases can make filtering the air in your apartment expensive. If you’re on a tight budget, a well-placed (and clean) window fan can make a big difference and improve your apartment airflow. Letting sunlight and fresh air in through the windows may not seem like a particularly effective remedy, but sunlight can actually help eliminate dust mites — one of the major bad-air culprits in many apartments.