indoor air quality

Indoor air quality explained

We talk a lot about air quality but what does that mean exactly? Few of us think about air pollution within our homes but that’s exactly what we’re talking about here. Indoor allergens and other irritants come in from a variety of sources and most go undetected. Don’t take our word for it, see this from WebMD:

The air inside your home may be polluted by lead (in house dust), formaldehyde, fire-retardants, radon, even volatile chemicals from fragrances used in conventional cleaners. Some pollutants are tracked into the home. Some arrive via a new mattress or furniture, carpet cleaners, or a coat of paint on the walls.

In that mix, you’ll also find microscopic dust mites — a major allergen — plus mold and heaps of pet dander, says David Lang, MD, head of Allergy/Immunology at the Cleveland Clinic. “Even if you don’t have pets, you’ve probably got pet dander,” he tells WebMD. “It’s become what we call a community allergen. Pet owners carry it around on their clothes and shed it throughout the day. You can’t get away from it.”

The importance of indoor air quality has become a bigger concern now more than ever to homeowners. When a system provides the perfect indoor temperature but leaves the air dry, your eyes itchy, and your skin flaky, that’s not a comfortable environment.

This is where you need to hold your HVAC contractor accountable. Most people still think that the world of HVAC revolves around just heating and cooling, when it’s really an industry devoted to comfort. Your contractor can provide you with solutions like humidifiers or heat recovery ventilators (HRVs). If you or a family member have asthma or allergies, they can install better air filtration systems like UV or HEPA filters that will clean the finest irritants and allergens found in the average home.

The point is, it’s all about meeting the comfort needs of the homeowner, but when it comes to indoor air quality there may be some unknown factors, so let’s run through some of the big ones.

What Causes Poor Air Quality In Home?

The causes of a lot of issues surrounding poor indoor air quality are pretty apparent. Most dust in the home either falls off us, or is brought into the home on us. Owning pets who shed their fur or cats who use a litter box can contribute to the problem in a big way too. Smoking, indoors and outdoors, affects air quality too, as contaminants from the smoke cling to clothes and skin and can be brought back into the home environment. If you find the air in your home dry and stale, you may need a home ventilation system to exchange stale indoor air with fresh air from outside. If you live with someone allergic to airborne pollutants such as pollen, eliminating exposure to the allergen may not be entirely possible, so cleaning the air in home might be the only course of action. Furthermore, uncontrolled humidity levels can exacerbate things like bacterial and mould growth, respiratory infections as you can see from this chart from Health Canada:

relative humidity Health Canada

How To Test Your Air Quality

If you’re not sure whether or not you need to even concern yourself with any additional steps to clean your air, the simplest thing to do before investing in an expensive addition to your HVAC system is to buy an air quality monitor. Retailing for 130-200 dollars these devices can tell you the levels of humidity, dust, allergens and other pollutants in your home, and if you don’t like what you see, it may be time to think about what steps you can take to purify your air.

Some Options For Air Quality Control

So, you’ve decided that you need to improve your indoor air quality. But where to begin? What are your options? There’s no shortage of solutions:

High humidity
Usually this is only an issue in the summer months, but can contribute to breathing problems as well as encourage mold and bacterial growth. You can counter high humidity with a well-balanced air conditioning system. If not, a designated dehumidifier can help control the situation.

Low humidity
A powered humidifier is the best solution to this. If you have a humidifier already, make sure it works. Some older humidifiers such as drum or bypass style humidifiers are inefficient and the installation of a power humidifier can make big strides in improving your air quality and personal comfort.

Bacteria, Pollutants and Allergens
When it comes to these, filtration is key. A good filtration system can solve most of the woes associated with any of these. Airborne bacteria, mold and germs can be killed using ultraviolet light filters. HEPA filters can capture some of the finest particles in the air, such as dust, pollen, mold, even the contaminants from smoke. Some boast the ability to remove up to 97% of particles larger than 0.3 microns (which equals to 0.0003 of a single millimetre!).

Stale air
With today’s airtight home construction, indoor air needs to be regularly changed with fresh outdoor air, and heat recovery ventilators (HRVs) and energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) are the go-to solution. They bring fresh air in, while exhausting stale air from the home in a way that warms the incoming air to save on energy.

Air quality is tremendously important to the health of your family, not to mention the longevity of your home’s HVAC system. Start with the things you can do yourself to test your air quality, then get your local contractor to come in and provide some recommendations. A reliable, locally-owned and operated contractor will understand best the type of home you have, the climate you live in and your lifestyle.