Indoor Air Quality for Your Dream Home

By Dotty Brothers | June 10, 2024
Indoor Air Quality for Your Dream Home

Homebuilding has evolved a great deal over the decades, to the point where the type of dream homes we build in the Brainerd Lakes area are now much more air-tight than houses used to be. To be clear, we’re not here to slander home builders of the past. They were skilled, too! But materials, tools, techniques, regulations, and a better understanding of the importance of insulating and sealing homes means that modern-built homes are much more air-tight than older homes.

Being that buttoned up can have a real impact on the indoor air quality (IAQ) of your home. Certainly older, leakier homes can suffer from these problems, too, but those leaks allowed more air in from outside. No matter what the age of our homes, their IAQ affects all of us 100% of the time we are inside of them, and that can impact our lives in significant ways.

Indoor Air Pollution and Health

There are lots of potential pollutants floating around in a home, from radon and volatile organic compounds to small particles suspended in the air, such as pollen, mold spores, and emissions from burning fuel (cooking with a gas stovetop, for instance).

Some of these can cause severe health problems (radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers in the United States). Others are minor or less well understood (maybe a few sneezes when the pollen count is really high).

Either way, the potential for these pollutants in your indoor air is significant, and is often beyond anyone’s control. Radon, for instance, is simply a result of soil geology. If it’s in the ground, it’ll want to get in your house.


The primary method of detection of poor IAQ (with a couple of exceptions we’ll get to shortly) is how you feel. If you have irritated eyes or a persistent cough or a wheeze—any kind of mild, irritated symptom that is worse when you’re in your home—it’s worth looking into what might be causing it. That’s the first step to improving your home’s IAQ.

The two main exceptions to this type of IAQ pollutant are carbon monoxide and radon gas, both famously odorless and tasteless. For the first, the law requires that you have carbon monoxide detectors installed in your home (and every home we build includes them. For the second, radon tests are relatively cheap and simple.

Carbon Monoxide

Before anything else, be sure you have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed in your home. The precise building code can vary on this, but Minnesota law (as of 2024, at least!) requires a smoke detector in each bedroom and one on each floor of a home.

If you’re installing a smoke detector, you might as well address carbon monoxide detection, too. There are lots of good combination smoke/CO detectors available at hardware stores or online retailers.

For other pollutants, there are other ways to prevent and mitigate. If you have a forced-air heating and cooling system, be sure your furnace filter has a MERV-13 rating, and change it regularly. How often depends on the filter type and the furnace, as well as your home and its occupants (pet hair can shorten a filter’s usable lifespan). A portable HEPA air cleaner that is appropriate for the size of the room can really help, too.

Radon Testing

Radon tests can be purchased at hardware stores but are sometimes distributed by local governments. The Minnesota Department of Health has a good explanation of where to get tests, how to use them, and how often to test. Even if your home has low levels of radon, the Department of Health recommends retesting every 2-5 years. High levels of radon require mitigation, which is typically a fan that draws radon up from below your home and vents it outdoors, where the gas is no longer concentrated (and also isn’t inside your home).

If attempts at improving your home’s IAQ don’t seem to make a difference, it might be time to call in a professional. Some good resources for identifying a reputable IAQ expert are:

The US Environmental Protection Agency has a home IAQ page full of information and resources that can help you protect and improve your home’s IAQ.

Fresh Air

One last suggestion, and it’s about as basic as they come. Remember above where we noted that modern homes are just better sealed up than older ones? You can remedy that by opening some windows or doors. That will go a long way toward freshening up the air in your home.

In Minnesota’s lake country, of course, that can be a great solution in May, September, maybe even some of June. But it’s harder to get on board with that plan in the dog days of summer or the dead of winter.

That’s where an air exchanger comes in. Included as part of your home heating/ventilating/air conditioning (HVAC) system, air exchangers are basically big fans that circulate indoor air out of your home and outdoor air in. This is a replacement for the general leakiness of older homes, and it allows you to manage that flow precisely. Air exchangers can be programmed to run at certain times, or turned on and off manually if you want to turn over the air in your home.

Indoor air quality is baked into our design/build process. It’s the HVAC professionals we hire, the systems they design, and the equipment they install. After all, our goal is to build custom dream homes our customers and their families can enjoy for decades, and it’s hard to enjoy your home if it’s making you sick! If you have questions about your home IAQ or want to talk about incorporating smart IAQ design into your dream home, contact us.

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