It’s hard to assess the quality of your indoor air without professional help, but if you’re experiencing allergies, headaches, respiratory difficulties, or flulike symptoms, that’s a pretty clear sign you have indoor air quality problems.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consistently ranks indoor air quality (IAQ) among the top five environmental health risks. On average, Americans spend about 90 percent of their time indoors and for too many people, the air pollution indoors is a lot worse than outdoors. The EPA reports that concentrations of many pollutants are 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor concentrations. This is mostly due to the fact that contaminants have no place to go once they get inside. Your home becomes a pollutant trap.
Poor indoor air quality affects our health, comfort, productivity, and well-being. If you want a healthier home, fewer sick days, and higher productivity, let’s investigate some expected and not-so-expected indoor air quality solutions.
Clean Air Filter
In addition to compromising your system’s efficiency and reliability, dirty air filters also lead to poor indoor air quality and shortened equipment lifespan.
Make sure you are checking your air filter every month and changing or cleaning it as needed. For some homes, this means monthly air filter replacement; in other homes, it’s more like every 60 to 90 days.
The frequency of your air filter changes depends on the cleanliness of your home, the number of your household (including pets), air leaks, and how often you run the HVAC system. Set calendar reminders and write the date of replacement on the filter itself so you remember this important home maintenance task.
The higher the MERV rating, the more effective the air filter is at capturing small airborne particles. Keep in mind that filters with MERV ratings above 13 may not be able to fit into your existing air filter slot. Make sure you purchase the correct size. Learn more about choosing the right air filter.
For central air conditioners, filters are generally located somewhere along the return duct’s length. Common filter locations are in wall vents, ceiling vents, furnaces, or in the air conditioner itself. Room air conditioners have a filter mounted in the grill that faces into the room.
If improved indoor air isn’t incentive enough, keeping filters clean can also cut your utility bill by 5 to 15 percent. Repairs and utility bills will go down and indoor air quality will go up. Before you think about any other IAQ solution, check the air filter first.
One of the reasons why indoor environments tend to be more polluted than the outdoors is because pollutants get trapped inside with no ability to escape. The increased focus on air sealing and insulation for energy efficiency can exacerbate the problem. Proper ventilation will solve most of your home air problems.
The Problem with Exhaust Fans
Exhausting stale air and bringing in fresh air is a great way to improve indoor air quality, but what if the air that enters your home is too humid or dirty? When you run an exhaust fan, such as in your kitchen or bathroom, air only gets sent out. There is no separate fan that blows fresh air in, unless you have a balanced ventilation system (blows air into and out of a home).
Unfortunately, many homes have an exhaust-only ventilation system. This means that when air gets exhausted, negative pressure builds up inside and the house starts sucking in air from any leaks in your building envelope. Your home will always try to equalize the air inside. If air is entering the home from a moldy crawlspace, dirty attic, or attached garage, your exhaust-only ventilation system could actually be making the indoor air quality a lot worse.
Balanced ventilation is a much better ventilation strategy for improving indoor air quality.
4 Types of Balanced Ventilation
Open the Windows
For homes in mild climates, you can open up a window or two to prevent air being sucked in through cracks and gaps in dirty areas of the home, such as the attic or basement. This may work in mild climates that don’t require much air conditioning, but in more extreme climates, you’ll want mechanical ventilation. Additionally, opening a window doesn’t provide any opportunity for air filtration, which is especially concerning if the air outside your home is polluted (pesticides, smoke, smog, pollen, construction, and more).
Integrated Supply Fans
If you don’t want to open up windows every time you turn on the exhaust fan, you can upgrade your current HVAC system to complement the exhaust fan with an integrated supply system.
These supply ventilation systems bring in outdoor air while the HVAC unit is on. The outdoor air gets filtered and mixed in with the conditioned indoor air. Keep in mind that this system can be inefficient if you don’t have a variable speed blower.
Pair Supply Fan with Exhaust Fan
Instead of adding a supply system to your HVAC ductwork, you also have the option of installing a supply fan where your exhaust fan is, usually the bathroom. Some come with temperature and relative humidity sensors while others do not. The sensor will limit the supply ventilation if it is really hot, cold, or humid outside. Most, if not all, come with a small air filter slot to clean the air before it enters the home.
In addition to humidity control, many whole-home dehumidifiers also provide air filtration and ventilation. They are more expensive to install, but the year-round ventilation and humidity control provides a much healthier and comfortable indoor environment. Most whole-home humidification systems automatically turn on when they sense a rise or fall in relative humidity.
If you want to keep pollutants out of your respiratory system, make regular cleaning a part of your daily routine. It should become a habit, so you can keep clutter, dust, and dirt to a minimum.
Here are some general cleaning tips to try:
- Make a cleaning kit that contains all the necessary items, such as rags, cleaners, sponges, and gloves.
- Use a good vacuum, preferably with HEPA filtration, to clean your floors, carpets, and furniture. Make sure you clean or replace the filter as directed.
- Scrub non-carpeted floors. Wet dusting and mopping is better than dry dusting and sweeping.
- Establish a no smoking policy in your home. Do not smoke, but if you must, take it outside and remember to wash your hands.
- Dispose of garbage and food waste promptly and properly.
- Routinely inspect your home for air leaks, water leaks, and any visible signs of moisture.
- It’s important to clean and dry any damp materials within 24 hours to prevent mold growth. Keep all areas clean and dry. If you notice mold growth in your home, contact a professional.
- Use dust mite covers for your pillows and mattresses.
- Regularly clean air vents and grilles. Make sure they are open and unobstructed for proper airflow.
Don’t Wear Shoes Indoors
You may want to think twice before wearing shoes inside the home. According to a 2016 study by the University of Arizona, new shoes that were worn for three months had, on average, 440,000 units of bacteria attached to the soles. The same study found that 90 percent of the time, the bacteria transferred to clean tiles on first contact.
It may be a hard habit to break, but nobody should be walking around the house with dirty shoes on. Keep a shoe rack in the foyer and remember to remove your shoes and change into indoor slippers when you enter the home. This will also cut down on the amount of time you spend cleaning.
Many common household cleaners, paints, and other products unleash a lot of chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your home. Harmful products should be avoided at all costs.
According to the EPA, “volatile organic compounds irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and cause headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Some of them can cause cancer.”
That’s why it’s so important to either use natural, homemade cleaners or carefully research the products you buy for your personal care, cleaning, and hobbies. Vinegar, baking soda, borax, and lemons make great nontoxic house cleaners. Look for low or zero-VOC furnishings and cleaning products. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Moisture can cause a lot of problems, including mold. Take the moisture away and mold won’t be able to survive. The ideal relative humidity of a home should be between 30 percent and 50 percent. You can measure relative humidity using a hygrometer.
If your indoor humidity is below 30 percent or above 50 percent, you can use humidifiers and dehumidifiers to adjust the humidity. Speak with a professional HVAC technician about installing a whole-home humidification system to keep the entire home at the ideal humidity level. Many models also offer ventilation and air filtration.
Leaky Air Ducts
If you have a lot of cracks, gaps, and kinks in your ductwork, pollutants can get sucked in and distributed throughout the home. This is especially concerning if you have ducts in dirty attics and crawl spaces. Your air filter may be doing its job, but if the duct system is pulling in air from a dirty basement or attic, it won’t matter much.
Ideally, you want no leaks at all in your duct system. Your air ducts are critical for maintaining healthy indoor air, so speak with the experts at Bell Brothers to seal your air ducts and make sure they are sized properly. Not only will this improve your air quality, you’ll also save money every month on your utility bills.
Improve Your Air with Bell Brothers
Building a healthy home takes time, but it’s easy to go down the wrong path without a professional’s help. The main strategies for combatting poor indoor air quality are: filtration, ventilation, and source control. Bell Brothers can help with all three strategies, pinpointing the main issues to address and how to solve them.
It’s not easy to keep track of all the different products and practices that lead to improved indoor air quality, lower utility costs, and great comfort. That’s why your first step should be to speak with a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning professional.
Contact Bell Brothers today to solve all your indoor air quality problems. Our commitment to quality and customer service ensures you will have lasting comfort, efficiency, and satisfaction.