You are in a bind. You dust and clean regularly, but barely 48 hours passed, and a visible layer of dust re-appears.
These are dust problems new houses do not face.
Why are older houses dustier?
How to reduce dust in an old house, and can you eliminate dust entirely?
Do Old Houses Collect More Dust?
New build houses and apartments have their fair share of dust issues with different contributing factors.
Structures age, and residential buildings typically last 50 years (or shorter, depending on care and maintenance) before parts begin to deteriorate, so older houses suffer from more significant dust accumulation.
Plus, the external environment can exacerbate the problems of a dusty old home.
Why Are Old Houses So Dusty?
A house may be well past its glory days, but many factors can determine how much dust it gets and the dusting frequency.
Your old house may suffer from a combination of the following causes leading to a dusty indoor environment.
They are less likely to be the primary cause of dust in an old house, but air-sealing the external structure may be necessary if they play a role in your dusty home.
1. Surrounding Land Activities
Where is the old house located, and what activities surround it?
Before focusing on indoor factors, determine that land developments in the vicinity are not compounding the dust problems.
Potential dust contributors include:
- Agricultural activities – plowing and grazing destabilize the soil and contribute dirt to the air. Houses in farmlands cannot escape the dust that their supporting economic activity creates.
- Construction activities – building work at all stages generates a massive amount of dust. Construction sites adopt good housekeeping practices for a tidier working environment, but dust and tiny debris still fill the air and affect the buildings and residents around them.
- Industrial zones – emissions contain airborne chemicals and hazardous particles.
These activities can pollute the air, but poor air quality alone is unlikely the primary source of dust in an old house.
2. Proximity to Busy Streets
Old houses in mature estates typically enjoy a quieter environment.
But a new and busy road running along it can cause a dusty environment.
Vehicles traveling at speed create air turbulence that forces dust and dirt into nearby buildings.
Dust and dirt are harmless on the ground, but they become a nuisance and a health hazard when airborne.
3. Bare Lawn Patches
Do you have a lush lawn or one with bare patches?
Bare ground exposes the topsoil to wind erosion that potentially contributes to a dusty indoors.
Causes of bare spots in a lawn include:
- Compacted soil – heavy foot traffic, outdoor activities, and bulky lawn equipment compress the pore space in the earth.
- Insect infestation – munching and burrowing damage the turf.
- Pet urine – dog urine has a high concentration of nitrogen and salts due to its high-protein diet.
- Chemical burn – may require the removal of several inches of surface soil to remedy the condition.
The impact on a dusty home is minimal, but if you have a bare front lawn with strong wind and a busy street, the effects will be noticeable.
4. Lack of Wind Barriers or Windbreaks
Residential buildings in windy regions suffer from more severe dust issues, notably houses with unprotected sides.
The absence of windbreaks along the perimeter means the house is at the mercy of changing wind speeds through the day and between seasons.
5. Air Leaks
Old structures weaken over time.
Door and window hinges wear out and cause panels to misalign and be unable to close properly.
Equally, door and window frames can detach from the wall of different materials through years of repeated thermal expansion and contraction, creating gaps that allow wind and dust to enter.
The severity increases with the house’s age and subjects the home to the dusty conditions outside.
It is easy to underestimate a problem you cannot see, but wind finds its way in.
The following list begins with the most probable root cause.
6. Decaying Building Materials
If you are confident that external elements play no part in your dusty house, then the decaying floor, wall, or ceiling components are a likely cause.
Look out for deterioration in:
- Ceiling panels – wooden, fiberboard, or textured. Joint cracks and peeled surfaces release debris and dust. If the old house has a wooden second floor, foot traffic on the upper level creates constant movements between the floor members and the ceiling underneath. Gravity means you get an uninterrupted supply of dust to clean.
- Attic insulation – the attic’s exposure to extreme temperature changes means its insulation can degrade rapidly and turn into dust. The dust gets into the HVAC system and its ductwork. Plus, the dust falls through cracks and crevices in the ceiling underneath.
- Wall surfaces, materials, and baseboards – painted surfaces can flake from moisture exposure, and old paints dry and chalk after their designed lifespan. Insulation material within the wall starts to degrade into dusty particles about 20 years after installation. These particles fall out from loose and damaged baseboards.
- Wooden floor finishes – hardwood, engineered wood, or laminated floor has a protected coat that wears out with time. Unprotected wood surfaces suffer from wear and tear and can decompose.
Depending on the extent of the deteriorating parts or structural members, it could become a safety issue.
A falling ceiling panel may hurt, but a weakened floor rafter could collapse and turn life-threatening.
When safety is a concern, engage a building professional to assess the house’s structural integrity accurately.
7. Air Ducts, Vents, and Filters (Highly Probable)
Dust accumulates in hard-to-reach places, and the long ductwork for your cooling and heating system is the perfect place for dust to gather.
Further, old duct systems are typically leaky and, because air ducts usually lay in places you do not access, duct leaks suck in dust and cause the supply ducts to blow dust throughout the house.
Dust also cloaks air vents and filters. It hampers the system’s performance and causes dusty indoor air when the system switches on.
These areas are the most likely source of dust if you run a central air system throughout the seasons.
8. Water Damage
Water leaks are a common problem in all buildings – new and old.
Old houses typically suffer from weakened joints in the water and waste pipes, and broken gutters, causing water damage to wooden materials in the building.
Wood with worn-out protection is susceptible to mold growth and rot when exposed to too much moisture.
9. Pest Attack
Is the dust evenly distributed on a surface, or is it patchy?
Localized dust accumulation would suggest building material damages from pest infestations.
Termites attack wooden floors, cabinets, and furniture. Termites do not produce dust but excrement called termite frass when tunneling and eating wood.
Powderpost beetles also target wooden materials, and these wood-boring beetles can reduce wood to a fine powdery dust.
How to Keep Dust Down in an Old House?
Identifying the root cause(s) of a dusty old house is challenging, but once you locate the problem areas, applying the appropriate fix is straightforward with the right tools.
You can reduce dust in an old house when you:
- Clean the air ducts and vents – the vents and furnace filters are easier to maintain; you can engage professional cleaners for the hard-to-access ductwork. You need to clean the inside surfaces of the ducts and the hidden spaces where they run (because of the ductwork’s leaky nature explained earlier).
- Air-seal the house – you need to plug the air leaks through the holes and gaps in the doors, walls, and external building envelop. It is a two-pronged approach – address the internal and external dust sources.
- Run a water pipe audit – make sure that your house is free from potential and existing water damages.
- Repair the house – deteriorated and damaged parts need a replacement for renewed performance.
- Plant more and plant high – cover bare grounds with grass, and plant trees and shrubs as windbreaks along the house’s perimeter.