Indoor air quality is recognized by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as a health and safety matter. Indoor air pollution can affect your health immediately or years after your exposure to pollution.
Immediate symptoms are much like allergic reactions and include sneezing, headache, dizziness, fatigue, or irritation in the eyes, sinus, or throat. If you have asthma, the indoor pollutants can trigger an asthmatic reaction.
Short-term exposure is usually treatable by removing the pollutant or removing the person from the source. Over the longer term, however, repeated or prolonged exposure can present real health concerns. Some people can become desensitized to pollutants and show no symptoms. But after long exposures, health issues can crop up years later. It can result in respiratory diseases, digestive problems, heart disease, and cancer, which can be severely debilitating or fatal. Individual reactions to pollutants differ from person to person.
For these reasons, you should try to improve the indoor air quality in your home even if you detect no symptoms of a health issue. A reputable HVAC contractor can help you determine whether you have an indoor pollution problem and if so, how best to remedy it.
Indoor air pollutants come from a variety of sources. Many of them are the result of or compounded by inadequate ventilation. Some signs that you need to improve the ventilation in your home include:
- moisture condensation on windows or walls
- smelly or stuffy air
- dirty central heating and air cooling equipment
- areas where books, shoes, or other items become moldy
You can improve ventilation simply by opening windows or running fans when taking a shower, doing laundry, or running the dishwasher or stove. You can also consult with an HVAC contractor about whether your home would benefit from a new mechanical system that brings outdoor air into the home. Some of these new designs are relatively inexpensive and include energy-efficient heat recovery ventilators (also known as air-to-air heat exchangers). A licensed HVAC contractor will know about other whole house ventilation system options for your home.
Keep Your HVAC Filters Clean
A simple and inexpensive way to improve the indoor air quality is to change your air filters at least every three months. You can find any size filter at the local home supply stores. The filters range in filtration strength from basic to very high particulate control. Also, keeping your house clean will reduce the amount of particulate floating in the air and filtered through your HVAC system.
Air Duct Cleaning
Many homeowners wonder if cleaning their air ducts can improve the indoor air quality. Consult with a reputable HVAC contractor and have your air ducts inspected. A light amount of dust or particulates probably will not present a health issue. However, the EPA recommends cleaning the air ducts if:
- Substantial mold growth is visible inside sheet metal ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling system.
- Ducts are infested with vermin such as rodents or insects.
- Ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.
Common Indoor Air Pollutants and How to Remedy Them
Getting rid of all mold and mold spores indoors is impossible. Mold spores will be found floating through the air and in house dust. The mold spores will only grow if moisture is present. Indoor mold growth can and should be prevented or controlled by controlling moisture indoors. If you have had extensive water damage from flooding or prolonged humidity, you likely have a mold issue that will require a mold remediation expert to resolve.
If you suspect that the heating and air conditioning (HVAC) system may be contaminated with mold (perhaps it is part of an identified moisture problem, for instance, or there is mold near the intake to the system), consult an HVAC contractor about cleaning the air ducts in the home. The HVAC contractor will also clean your air conditioning drip pans clean and the drain lines. Keep them unobstructed and flowing properly to avoid mold developing there. Keep your filters clean by changing them every three months. Keep your indoor humidity low. Buy an inexpensive humidity meter, and if possible, keep indoor humidity below 60 percent (ideally between 30 and 50 percent) relative humidity.
Secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of lung cancer and responsible for an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths every year. Smoking affects non-smokers by exposing them to secondhand smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke can have serious consequences for children’s health, including asthma attacks, affecting the respiratory tract (bronchitis, pneumonia), and may cause ear infections.
Prohibiting smoking indoors is the only way to eliminate secondhand smoke from the indoor environment. Ventilation and filtration techniques can reduce, but not eliminate, secondhand smoke.
Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas. It is emitted by the soil under your home and seeps into the house. It is not detectable except with an inexpensive testing device. Exposure to radon causes lung cancer. Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, according to EPA estimates. Overall, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. The federal government recommends that you test your home for the presence of radon, especially if you live in areas of the country where radon is shown to be common. If radon levels exceed an acceptable level, you should take steps to eliminate it.
Eliminating radon requires a licensed radon mitigation contractor. It often requires the installation of a special ventilation system and fan, but the best system depends on the structure of your home and the level of radon.
Consult with an HVAC Professional
An experienced HVAC professional can help you improve your indoor air quality. Why not breathe better air?