5 Steps to Better Air Quality
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) surprised and upset homeowners a few years ago by reporting that indoor air in most homes is on average 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air. In many cases, it was much worse. Skeptics and those who think their home is an exception because they work at keeping their home especially clean will be disappointed to know that a thorough cleaning regimen alone will not provide good indoor air quality.
Most present-day residential construction results in an airtight structure so that the home is more efficient, keeping conditioned air in and unconditioned air out. While this is more cost effective, it’s not great for your breathing.
While an airtight home is keeping in conditioned air, it is also retaining all those airborne pollutants you’ve brought in, let in, or generated by allowing certain conditions to exist. The most common and significant sources of pollution in most homes are:
- Volatile organic chemicals, or VOCs, produced by such things as household cleaning chemicals, textiles, dry cleaning, and pressed wood
- Pet dander
- Insect particles (dust mites)
Pollutants such as these can cause a number of health problems, from triggering asthma attacks, to aggravating allergies and bronchial infections. They can cause headaches, dizziness, and eye and skin irritations also.
Fortunately, here are five tactics you can adopt to improve your indoor air quality and help ensure that the air in your home is less likely to compound or aggravate any health problems suffered by you or your family.
Attack Pollutants at the Source
Your best defense against poor indoor air quality is to prevent them from getting in, or you must put forth effort in containing them. Some ways to do this are:
- Air out products with VOCs before bringing them indoors. Whenever possible, buy natural products. Keep a tight lid on chemicals, or store them in the garage.
- Take off shoes at the door.
- Brush pets outdoors and bathe them at least once a week.
- Brush pollen off clothing, or change clothes quickly upon entering the home and put the clothing in a laundry bag until you can wash it.
- Maintain lower average humidity (under 50 %) in the home to control mold. If you find mold, take steps to get rid of it immediately. Chlorine bleach is not always effective in getting rid of mole, and it cannot be used on porous surfaces such as wood or drywall. Vinegar and water may be a better solution. The best option is to consult with a professional for advice if you find mold in your home.
- Vacuum rugs and upholstered furniture frequently to control dust mites, and wash linens weekly in hot water.
Improve Your Home’s Ventilation
With most modern homes today that is built airtight, very little fresh air seeps in the way it used to with older homes of looser construction. While opening a window now and then will let in some fresh air, the better solution is to install some sort of ventilation. There are four basic types of ventilation:
- Exhaust — Exhaust ventilation is usually installed in rooms where moisture collects, such as the kitchen or bathroom. This type of ventilation system removes polluted air from the home.
- Supply — Fresh air is pulled inside the home, typically through the ducts.
- Balanced — This type of ventilation adds fresh air equal to the amount of stale air removed.
- Heat or energy recovery — To reduce heating and cooling costs, these ventilation systems recover energy or heat while adding fresh air.
High humidity can pollute the air in your home because it can cause a number of problems, from making occupants feel warmer than they need to in the summer, which means you’ll need to set the thermostat down to feel comfortable, to the more hazardous potential of increasing the likelihood of mold, mildew, and fungus in your home. High humidity can also cause dust mites to flourish in carpets and textiles.
You should take steps to reduce the humidity in your home if it exceeds 50-55 percent. Exhaust ventilation in damp areas will help, and fixing leaks in the plumbing, roof, or ceiling as soon as you discover them is important in keeping the humidity low.
Use a Good Quality Air Filter
You can keep your system free of larger dirt particles when using a cheap fiberglass filter in your HVAC system. But these such filters should not be expected to contribute to better air quality in your home, as they are not effective in trapping very small particles that travel into the system with the return air.
Installing a good quality, pleated air filter will be much more beneficial to your indoor air quality. Air filters with a higher MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) will do a better job of filtering the air of all those microscopic pollutants. For best results, install an air filter with MERV 8-12. The denser filters will remove small particles of dirt, and will also capture pollen, pet dander, mold and viruses. Filters rated higher than MERV 12 can slow down the airflow and cause your system to work harder than it should to condition the air and should not be installed in most homes. It is important to find a filter that is the perfect density to filter the pollutants from the air but not as to overwork your system.
But if someone in your home has respiratory problems, such as asthma or chronic bronchial issues, you may want to look into having your HVAC system modified so that it can handle a filter with a higher MERV.
Install an Air Cleaner
Air cleaners go a step beyond air filtration. Mechanical air filters catch particles as they pass through with the HVAC system’s return air supply. Air cleaners, or purifiers, clean up the air in different ways so you will need to decide which type best meets your needs.
For example, if you have a mold issue, or you’re concerned about other living organisms such as fungus, viruses or bacteria, you may want to install UVGI, or ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, lights in your HVAC system. These devices kill organisms as they pass through your HVAC system in the air supply using the ultraviolet end of the light spectrum. These UVGI lights are usually installed in the ducts, or near the evaporator coils, where conditions are likely to be damp. They are only effective when the light is strong so the bulbs must be changed every year or so.
Other types of pollutants, such as pet dander or pollen, may be reduced using an electrostatic air filter, which is installed in the HVAC system. As the air passes through the system, these filters work by trapping the particles with a negative charge. These air cleaners last a long time and are considered permanent, but the plates must be cleaned periodically to be effective.
Another type of air cleaning is activated charcoal filtration that helps to remove cigarette smoke and other gas particles from the air.
Air cleaners may come in whole-house or portable models. Generally, whole-house models, those that are installed in your HVAC system, are more effective.
The road to improving your indoor air quality lies not in applying just one of the tactics detailed above, but in crafting an overall, whole-house strategy. Contact us today if you’d like more information on how to improve the air quality in your home.