What is “sick house syndrome”?

If you have been in enough homes in your life, then chances are that you may have experienced “sick house syndrome”. This phenomenon is when a house can’t breathe and rid itself of indoor pollutants. This inadequate ventilation causes indoor pollutants to build up, resulting in poor air quality. The biggest concern with sick house syndrome is the potential health risks to the home’s occupants. In particular, young children, the elderly, and those with certain chronic illnesses are most susceptible to these effects. Even pets can experience health consequences as well.

Common causes of sick house syndrome

Not surprisingly, perhaps the most common indoor pollutant that can wreak havoc on a home’s indoor air quality is tobacco smoke. This is still the case even in situations where occupants only smoke outside the home as these pollutants remain on the individual’s and their clothing resulting in diminished air quality inside the home. In addition, certain carpeting, flooring materials, fireplaces, pressed wood cabinetry, and even some household cleaning products can contribute to sick house syndrome.

Of course, moisture build up can grow uncontrolled and undetected inside walls, attics, and crawlspaces leading to mold spores being released into the air. These mold spores can then travel throughout the air via the home’s duct work leading to poor air quality throughout the home.

Reducing indoor pollution

The good news is that sick house syndrome can be prevented or eliminated entirely when the proper measures are taken. Needless to say, the first step in remedying the situation is through source control or eliminating the main culprits. This can be through eliminating all tobacco products, replacing or removing carpeting, and even replacing HVAC duct work throughout the home.

Tobacco smoke, in particular, has an insidious way of affecting a home. Over time, this smoke can be absorbed by wall, floor and ceiling materials and may need to be professionally removed. For example, removing a popcorn ceiling texture from a home that has been smoked in can do wonders for air quality. Once these materials have been removed, it is critically important to apply a fresh coat of paint on all surfaces to properly seal the areas.

Newer homes, in particular, are known to be incredibly well sealed. This can lead to only a very limited amount of fresh air entering the home. In these situations, the use of attic or window fans, or even opening windows when the weather permits can go a long way in ventilating the home.


It is important to be aware of the signs of sick house syndrome as poor indoor air quality can lead to serious illnesses and health effects. Furthermore, poor ventilation and air quality can be a big deterrent when it comes time to sell a home. Although not often discussed, the initial scent of a home can be enough to lead a prospective home buyer to become uninterested in a home. It is imperative that home sellers pay attention to every detail when showcasing a home for sale. Even in a hot seller’s market, you would not want a factor such as poor indoor air quality to be the reason why your home does not sell.

Are you looking to buy or sell in South Florida? We can help. Contact Live South Florida Realty, Inc. today to discuss your real estate goals.

By natasha@livesouthfl.com

REALTOR® with Live South Florida Realty, Inc.