If you’ve ever brought home groceries on a rainy day or lived through a major snowstorm, you know how convenient an attached garage can be. Garages can protect your car from bad weather, provide you with extra storage or work space, and even boost the value of your home. All good things, right? But, attached garages also come with a dark side that many people aren’t aware of.
What’s in your garage?
Garages seem like the ideal place to store things you wouldn’t want in your house. Paints, lubricants, and other household chemicals can be kept locked away in the garage where they seemingly can’t affect you. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case.
Both chemical products and vehicles (including lawnmowers) emit toxic gases that can seep into your home through doors, ducts, gaps around closed doors, and other wall and ceiling penetrations.
For instance, a Health Canada study showed that homes with attached garages have elevated levels of benzene. According to the CDC, short-term symptoms of benzene exposure include drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, tremors, and confusion. Long-Term exposure can cause blood disease, increased chance of infections, and cancer.
Other studies found significant evidence of carbon monoxide leaking into homes from attached garages. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is emitted from vehicles, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, portable generators, or furnaces.
Every year, around 20,000 people visit the emergency room, 4,000 others are hospitalized, and 400 lose their lives to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Attached garages are also a major source of volatile organic compound (VOC) exposure. VOCs are a combination of gases and odors emitted from a variety of everyday products. Short-term exposure to VOCs can cause headaches, respiratory irritation, nausea, lack of coordination, and excessive fatigue. The longer-term effects of VOCs in humans has not yet been fully studied, but VOCs have been found to cause cancer in animals.
How can you improve the air quality in your garage?
You can close the door to your garage, but you can’t keep the toxic chemicals from seeping indoors. Since your garage and your home are connected, it’s important to make sure that the air quality of your garage is safe. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to improve the air in your garage.
Finish Your Walls and Ceilings
Many new homes in the U.S have garages that aren’t finished. Leaving open walls or unfinished joints increases the amount of pollutants in the air. Make sure your garage walls and ceilings are completely covered with drywall and have the joints adequately sealed with tape and compound to prevent fumes from getting into your home.
Store things in an unattached shed.
While garages can seem like a convenient, accessible place to store things, there are some items that are better kept somewhere that isn’t attached to your home. Not only can chemicals seep into the house, but the higher temperatures of your home can accelerate the release of chemicals. The following items are particularly important to store in an outdoor shed:
- Gas-powered tools
- Gas cans
- Pool chemicals
Keep the car engine off
We’ve all done it before. It’s a cold morning and you don’t want to leave until your car is nice and toasty. Or, you just got home and you want to spend a few minutes listening to music in your car before heading indoors to a noisy house. As tempting as it can be to let your car idle in the garage, cars emit some of the most dangerous toxins into your garage and home…. Even with the garage door open.
If you need to let your car idle for any length of time, do so outside, with your exhaust as far away as possible from an open garage.
Don’t smoke or grill in the garage
When the weather gets cold, garage grilling may seem like a good idea. But besides the obvious danger of burning things near flammable materials, both charcoal and gas grills produce carbon monoxide.
Smoking in the garage is also not a good idea. While you may think that you’re protecting your family by not being indoors, smoking produces benzene which can seep into the house.
Air the garage out periodically
Even after your car is turned off, benzene and other gasses are still being released. Add that to the VOC’s that your other stored items may be emitting, and you have a toxic mix of chemicals. Opening the garage door and windows periodically helps keep your garage air cleaner. Use a fan for even more efficiency.
Better airflow helps improve air quality. Regularly organizing and decluttering your garage will make more space and keep old chemicals from polluting your air. Cleaning out dust and removing mold will also help keep your indoor air free of pollutants.
Cover your garbage cans
Your garbage is full of all sorts of things that you don’t want inside your home. Keep in mind that the air in your attached garage is connected to the air in the rest of your home. Closing garbage cans and removing trash bags as soon as possible will help keep prevent pollutants and odors from coming into your house.
Seal the gaps
While you can’t completely prevent garage air from leaking into your home, sealing up the gaps with supplies like weather-stripping, caulk, and spray some foam can help minimize how much air gets into your home. It’s also important to make sure that the door leading to your house from the garage is shut tightly and that your weather-stripping is updated.
Install a carbon monoxide monitor
No matter how careful you are, there will likely still be some carbon monoxide in your garage. Because of how toxic carbon monoxide is, you don’t want to take any chances of it entering your home. Installing a carbon monoxide monitor will give you an extra layer of insurance to make sure your family is safe.
Using an air purifier either inside the garage or right by the door that leads to your attached garage can be very helpful in improving your air quality. A high-quality air purifier with both a True HEPA filter and an activated charcoal filter will remove both particle pollutants and dangerous chemicals and gases from your indoor air.