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What Is Toxic House Syndrome and How Can I Prevent It?

Modern homes have changed over the years.

Head back to the early 1900s, and most houses were heated by coal or wood. By the mid-1900s, modern heating systems, such as furnaces and boilers, were quickly being installed, with air-conditioning systems not far behind.

Today it’s hard to imagine having a home without the convenience of push-button technology. We have smart thermostats to track the inside temperature, learn our behaviors, and ensure the inside air matches our activity levels every hour of the day. Hybrid HVAC systems have pushed the envelope in what is possible with home efficiency.

All of that means a more comfortable home environment while paying the least on your utility bill each month.

It may also mean toxic house syndrome.

While the term was first coined in the 1970s, few statistics have been released to determine how widespread its impact. A World Health Organization study identified that up to 30 percent of all new and renovated buildings might be making occupants sick. A US report found that up to 24 percent of building occupants reported air quality problems, with up to 20 percent of them stating that it impacted the way they did their jobs.

What Is Toxic House Syndrome?

What Is Toxic House Syndrome and How Can I Prevent It

Toxic house syndrome is a condition inside the home where a buildup of chemicals, toxins, bacteria, and other harmful pollutants exist in the air supply. Because they are trapped inside the home, they continue to impact a person’s health. And as a nation, that’s a big problem because, for most people, they spend the majority of their time inside.

These toxins come from a variety of sources.


Your home is continuously impacted by day-to-day living. Pollen can be brought into your home by leaving windows open, opening up doors, or even attached to your clothing and shoes as you move inside and out. Pets can bring in hair, dander, and other pollutants. Mold spores exist everywhere—have you ever noticed the tiny spores building in the shower or forming along the edges of your window frames in the winter? You can even expose mold spores to your home environment if you leave food in your pantry for too long.


Most of us are aware of gases like carbon monoxide. It’s an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that can have a serious effect on a person’s health. That’s why most of us have installed carbon monoxide detectors inside our homes. Carbon monoxide can be created through many household activities, including:

  • Heating your home
  • Cooking
  • A clogged chimney
  • Wood-burning stoves
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Car fumes
  • Outdoor equipment

But carbon monoxide isn’t the only gas to be aware of. Radon gas is also prevalent in many homes. It’s a natural radioactive gas that is emitted up from the soil. It can enter the home through cracks in floors, construction joints, gaps around heating, plumbing, or electrical systems, or even seep up through cavities in the walls.

Household Materials

While everything we put into creating a warm and inviting home is designed to create a safe, comfortable home, they are also produced from materials that can increase the chances of toxic house syndrome. Wood can be pressure-treated with all kinds of chemicals. Paint can contain things like lead or formaldehyde. Asbestos is made up of tiny particles that can easily lodge in the air when disturbed, causing everything from respiratory problems to lung cancer.

Have you ever shopped for household goods and noticed “low or no VOCs”? VOC stands for volatile organic compound, which is a chemical compound known to trigger respiratory problems. VOCs can be found in paints and carpeting, for example. They are also included in cleaning agents, such as carpet cleaners, oven cleaners, furniture polish, or even air fresheners.

Wherever they come from, they are impacting your health.

What Are the Signs of Toxic House Syndrome?

Toxic house syndrome can show up in two different ways.

Within your home, you can watch for things like:

  • Mold growth
  • Condensation around windows and in high humidity areas such as bathrooms
  • Lingering condensation
  • Dampness that doesn’t seem to go away
  • Dust build up in your ventilation system

You can also watch for signs in your personal health:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Rashes
  • Dry, itchy skin

Be especially careful if any of these symptoms linger in any way. If you can’t point to any other causes, it may be your house that is making you sick.

How Can an HVAC Company Help?

Do you think your home has a problem? What do you do once you determine your house may be sick?

There are a few simple ways for you to improve your indoor air quality and reduce the impact toxic house syndrome can have on your family.

First, change your living habits. Take your shoes off as you enter your home. Place a rug by the door and encourage all who enter to leave their footwear in the entryway rather than tracking pollen, pesticides, and other pollutants through your home. You can also keep towels nearby and wipe down your pets’ feet as they come in from outside.

You should also become a more aware consumer. What chemicals are in your cleaning products? Are you making eco-friendly choices? Because of this growing problem, you will find many eco-friendly options on the market; spend some time reading the labels.

Don’t forget about bigger purchases too. When shopping for new flooring, talk with the sales associate to determine which choices offer the lowest VOC options. Wood flooring is a natural product that looks great and is easy to clean. Just be sure you ask about installation methods, as some glue options are high in VOCs.

Finally, one of the biggest changes you can make to your home is to ensure proper ventilation. A properly ventilated home ensures air travels through your home correctly, venting potentially harmful air outside and away from your home. If your ventilation system is working properly, you’ll limit the buildup of potentially harmful particles within your home.

One of the easiest ways to ensure your ventilation is operating properly is to maintain your HVAC system throughout the year. A regular maintenance visit will ensure dirty filters are changed, coils and fans are properly conditioned, and airflow moves through your home easily. Maintaining your HVAC equipment is the easiest way to ensure a long life for your equipment and a healthy lifestyle for you and your family.

When was the last time you had an HVAC technician in to evaluate your heating and cooling equipment?

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