There was a time when the average homeowner believed that their home protected them from air pollution. Modern science has revealed that this is not the case. In fact, without some form of air purification, your home air is at best as polluted as the air outdoors. The unfortunate truth is that indoor air pollution levels are often higher. Modern homes have a tight seal, and if the mechanical ventilation system is inadequate, the indoor air pollution becomes more concentrated over time. In response, the EPA introduced its first IAQ guidelines in the 1980s, and it has continued to update and refine those guidelines as new information becomes available. The guidelines are now quite robust. That’s why we’ve presented a streamlined version of that advice that homeowners can more easily put into practice.
Indoor Air Pollution Sources
Outdoor air pollution may be beyond your control, but many homeowners inadvertently exacerbate the problem by introducing indoor pollution sources. Cigarette smoke is an obvious no-no, but many other sources can diminish IAQ that are not so apparent. These include household cleaners, overwatering houseplants, paints and furniture that contain volatile organic compounds and radon.
Dust should be your biggest concern because not only can it contain dead skin, pet dander, mold and dust mites but can actually trap pollutants and continue to emit them over time. For this reason, the EPA recommends dusting your home top to bottom at least once a week. That deep dusting should be followed with vacuuming all carpets and rugs using a vacuum with a HEPA filter bag.
Outdoor Air Pollution Sources
Homes have two kinds of ventilation: natural and mechanical. Examples of natural ventilation include opening a window and air seeping in through a crack in the foundation. In a home with a central air system, mechanical ventilation involves an air handler, a duct system and perhaps dampers. As mentioned in the introduction, new homes have a tight seal. This is preferable to unintended natural ventilation. It also means you rely heavily on your mechanical ventilation to exhaust used air and replenish it with fresh air. The EPA recommends a seasonal inspection of both your heating and cooling systems to ensure proper ventilation. You may also want to consider scheduling duct cleaning every several years or so to remove the dust that will inevitably accumulate in your ducts.
Air purifiers, air filters and air cleaners are terms used interchangeably to refer to air filtration systems. While there can be nuance to these terms, usage varies from manufacturer to manufacture. That’s why we recommended that you not rely on the chosen term to inform you. The only way to achieve an indoor pollution level lower than the outdoor pollution level is through filtration. While your AC/Heat system does have some integrated filtration, it is there to protect the unit from dust rather than clean your air.
There are portable air purifiers that you can move from room to room. You can also opt for a whole-house solution. While they cost more up front, they are often more effective and efficient over the long run. Furthermore, whole-house solutions give you more options in terms of technologies and scope. The EPA warns that most air cleaners are designed to filter particulates or gas but not both. If you opt for a whole-house system, your unit can comprise multiple stages that filter your air for different purposes. Whichever route you choose, the EPA advises replacing or cleaning your filter media on a regular basis.
Dehumidification and Humidification
Many people think of relative humidity in terms of comfort, but humidity can have a real impact on indoor air quality as well. In the winter, air is dryer and heating it exacerbates that issue. If the RH drops too low, it can dry out the skin, irritate your eyes and sinuses and trigger breathing issues. In the winter, air is more saturated. Your AC unit does control humidity to some degree, but this may not be enough in all homes. If the RH remains too high, it can contribute to mildew and mold. Portable humidifiers and dehumidifiers are available. You can also opt for whole-house systems to control humidity levels.
Gases Present in the Home
Gases fall under indoor air pollution sources, but the EPA dedicates a section just to them due to how prevalent the problem is. If your home uses natural gas, then you should inspect that system regularly and schedule a professional inspection annually. It is also recommended that you have carbon monoxide detectors strategically positioned throughout your home. The EPA also recommends testing for radon, which is present in many homes and can lead to a wide range of health complications.
The EPA recommends testing a residence for radon before moving in. If you have never tested your current home for radon, then you should do so as soon as possible. Once tested, the EPA recommends testing every two years. It is also advised that you schedule your testing at different points in the year. This is because even if a radon source is present, levels can actually fluctuate throughout the year.
Many AC/Heat companies now specialize in indoor air quality. They can test your home for radon but also all of the other potential contaminants. You should consider a comprehensive IAQ test if you have never had such an inspection performed. Moving forward, how often you should test will depend on how concerned you are based on those initial findings. Conducting a full IAQ every two years is not a bad idea, and you should consider sticking with the same company or at least having the previous data available to the new tester. That comparison can add a great deal of context to the new data.
Building an Indoor airPLUS Home
Indoor airPLUS is an EPA program that establishes construction guidelines for new homes to ensure the cleanest air possible. If you are building a new home, you can hire a builder that participates in this program and is willing to adhere to the guidelines. If you are purchasing a new or newer home, you can limit your search to homes that have the Indoor airPLUS label. These guidelines also provide recommendations for upgrading your current home to these higher standards.
Helping You Maintain Healthy Indoor Air
Rite Way Heating, Cooling & Plumbing is proud to serve Tucson and the neighboring communities. Our company was established in 1959 and has now been serving this region for more than six decades. We’re fully licensed and insured in addition to being a Trane Comfort Dealer and Lennox Premier Dealer. Rite Way has earned the Daily Star Best in Tucson award and been approved by Tucson Electric Power for its Efficient Home Program. Our services related to indoor air quality include duct cleaning and repair and the installation, maintenance and repair of air filtration and dehumidification systems. We also provide a range of heating and cooling services.
Call or contact us online today with any questions or to schedule your appointment.