Indoor Air Quality
Everything You Need to Know About Indoor Air Quality
Would you believe us if we told you that the air within our homes can be more polluted than the outdoor air in large, industrial cities? And, when you consider the amount of time we spend within the sanctuary of our homes, this could be a very serious problem.
We’ve read findings from the EPA that state indoor air can be 70 times more polluted than outdoor air. We’ve also published a statistic claiming 50% of all illnesses are caused by aggravated indoor air. These are astonishing facts, especially if we feel as though we keep our house and home quite tidy. So, what can we do to put up a forcefield to the invisible element of air? Well, it all boils down to indoor air quality, something that can be measured and tweaked.
Together, let’s remove ourselves from the ranks of people with unhealthy indoor air and give our families something healthy to breathe in deeply.We’ll discuss the contaminants that affect our indoor air quality, sniff out some of the warning signs of poor air quality, and walk through a series of steps that can improve the overall atmosphere in your home.
What Affects Indoor Air Quality?
There are many factors that affect indoor air quality. Some of the detriments come from the great outdoors, but many come from the activities we conduct within the confines of our home. Still, don’t let this upset you. Although there are many reasons for poor air quality, each one can be addressed and rectified with just a few minor tweaks.
Sometimes poor ventilation leads to poor indoor air quality. When there’s a lack of outside air flowing through the house, the indoor air will remain stagnant. The phrase “a breath of fresh air” doesn’t just do wonders for the human soul. It also does wonders for our indoor air quality.
There are a number of ways that the outdoor air makes its way into our indoor air. Mechanical ventilation is one of the top methods.
In our HVAC units, an air handling system uses fans and ductwork to continuously remove stagnant indoor air and replace it with filtered and conditioned outdoor air. (That’s why it’s important to regularly replace the air filter on your HVAC unit.)
Of course, we can also introduce outside air through natural ventilation when we open the windows and doors. The trouble there, however, is that we’re also inviting in pollen and other allergens. That’s why our HVAC systems are a thing of beauty.
Problems pertaining to the temperature will also negatively impact our indoor air. As we know, germs and other bacteria love to germinate in warm environments. So, when our homes and offices become too hot and humid, it’s a telltale sign that the air quality is being jeopardized.
Dust mites and mold particularly love moisture. The best way to keep them at bay is to maintain a humidity level somewhere between 30% and 50%. If you know you’re going over these numbers, a dehumidifier might serve you well. And, of course, this is one of the jobs of your HVAC unit in the hot summer months.
Renovation & Remodeling
The dirt, dust, soot, and sand put off by building materials will certainly diminish your indoor environmental quality. We hate to say it, but nearly everything about a remodel will make the indoor air suffer.
There’s the dirt and dust that gets kicked up. Then, when the job’s done, the chemicals in the cleaning supplies will jeopardize the air. This is not to say one should never renovate or remodel. It’s just a task that’s going to take some readjustments in the air quality when all is said and done.
This is an interesting one. Did you know traces of pet dander can even be found in the homes of people without pets? People who own pets travel around with dander on their clothes and transfer it wherever they go.
Sure, this won’t be the most detrimental element in the home of someone without pets, but it’s interesting to note that this may come up on a scan, along with those pesky allergens, dust mites, and harmful chemicals in the air.
Stovetop cooking seems so harmless, doesn’t it? Well, if you cook with a natural gas or propane stove, it’s emitting nitrogen dioxide when you cook. This is one of the most irritating gases that can really affect people with asthma and other breathing problems.
It’s wise to get your gas jets cleaned once a year because a technician can adjust the metering to allow the gas to burn cleanly. Also, when you’re cooking with a gas stove, opt to crack a nearby window or run the fan hood.
What Does Good Air Quality Look Like?
The average home should have at least .35 air changes per hour (ACH). There are a lot of calculations that go into this – pertaining to the volume, the surface area, and the air speed – but it’s something that can be measured with an anemometer.
Let’s say your home reads with an ACH of 1.0. That means the air in your home is changed once per hour. Sometimes, we’re surprised to see that even new, high-efficiency homes can have exchange rates as low as .05. That’s an abysmal reading that will lead to very poor indoor air quality.
If your reading comes back low, one option is to install an energy recovery ventilator (ERV). An ERV is connected to the ducts in your HVAC system and, by way of two fans, they draw clean, filtered air into the home. But, there are many ways to improve our indoor air quality and that’s what we’re going to take a look at in just a moment.
What Happens With Poor Indoor Air Quality?
Before we discuss how to improve poor air quality, let’s see if we can sniff out some telltale signs. Thankfully, the wonders of the human body never cease; it won’t take very long for your body to signal a problem with the very air you’re breathing.
The first sign will be an uptick in sneezing. You may feel stuffy all the time, coughing and sneezing regularly. Your ears, nose, and throat will also let you know what you’re ingesting is harmful. Your skin may start to feel dry or irritated. Shortness of breath and headaches may even begin.
We had a family friend who loved to burn her candles. Truthfully, they did create a wonderful ambiance. But, she neglected to change the air filter in her HVAC unit. After a few weeks, she started sneezing all the time, along with any friends and family members that came to visit.
When we pulled out her air filter, it was solid black. And what tipped us off was the outline of black around her air vents. While this was an extreme case (she definitely overdid it in the candle department), candles put off a lot of fumes, especially if they’re not natural.
So, how do you know if that coughing and sneezing is a symptom of poor air quality, allergies, or even the onset of a cold/flu? Well, people suffering in this manner seem to start to feel better once they leave the house.
While at work, they sneeze less. If they go away for a weekend, they might notice they hardly sneeze at all. These are some tell-tale signs that there’s an indoor air quality issue at hand.
How to Improve Indoor Air Quality
Now that we know the primary culprits and we know what a good reading looks like, let’s talk about how to boost your ACH.
Sure, there aren’t many of us who love to vacuum. It’s a great way to work up a sweat, and not everyone’s in the mood for that all the time. Still, it’s worth your while to put your headphones on, queue up your favorite playlist, and vacuum every two to three days.
Invest in a vacuum with a HEPA filter so you can pick up pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and even chemicals and other allergens. You also want it to have good, strong suction that will make sure dirt and dust don’t get kicked back out by the exhaust.
And, although you’re sure to hit those floors and high-traffic areas, don’t forget the walls, curtains, and upholstered furniture. This may be a worthwhile chore to pass on to one of your teenagers for a crisp twenty-dollar bill.
Here’s another evening activity that simply must be mustered up a few times a week. A sturdy vacuum will pick up most of your household’s contaminants but, as for the bits of dirt and dust that want to stick around a little longer, they’ll need a mop.
But, be careful that you’re not using any cleaners with harsh chemicals. Because, while you’re trying to do the right thing by mopping up contaminants, you’re introducing new ones into the air with unsafe chemicals.
Since the goal is merely to scoop up the dirt and dust that the vacuum missed, some plain ole’ water will do just fine. Microfiber materials are known to capture more dirt and dust than other fibers, so that would make for a good compromise if you’d like to forego the harsh chemicals.
Keep the Chemicals at Bay
Okay. We’ve mentioned chemicals a few times now. Let’s really roll up our sleeves and discuss this. Synthetic fragrances emit tons of chemicals into the air. And the list of products that we use with synthetic fragrances is long. Here’s a sampling:
- Kitchen cleaners
- Bathroom cleaners
- Carpet cleaners
- Laundry detergent
- Dryer sheets
- Air fresheners
- Reed diffusers
Here’s the trick of the trade. When we buy fragrances, candles, cleaners, and more, oftentimes the ingredients only list “fragrance.” Manufacturers aren’t required to list what, precisely, goes into the creation of that fragrance.
And, the truth of the matter is, there are some seriously harmful chemicals in there. So, try to look for “fragrance-free” cleaners. Of course, no one wants fragrance-free perfume or candles, but you can look for natural essential oils over things packed with that elusive “fragrance” ingredient that can mean anything.
Bring Some Greenery In
Having plants inside the house is like hiring a staff of cleaners who will do some of the work for you. A plant’s foliage and root system absorb pollutants in the air.
They’re kind of like our little protectors. They’re gobbling up some of the contaminants in the air, saving us from it. Ferns, spider plants, and aloe vera plants are great candidates for the job, acting as natural air purifiers.
Achieve Healthy Indoor Air Quality Today
You may start to walk around your house and look at things a little differently now, won’t you? Indoor air quality is so important, especially when you consider how much time we spend at home. Here at United Air Temp, we have an experienced team of Certified Climate Consultants who can help you measure your air quality and amplify it to the best-case scenario.
Our company was built in 1931, so it’s truly been our mission for nearly a century to improve the indoor air quality for thousands of families. Whether you need heating services, cooling services, plumbing services, or geothermal services, we’re here to keep your house clean and running in smooth order. Energy efficiency is always our goal, second to the clean air that we breathe.