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Winter Indoor Air Quality, Why It Matters, and How to Improve It

by vscontent on January 5, 2018

How to Improve IAQ for WinterPoor indoor air quality (IAQ) is most evident during the winter months. Due to the drier air, our nasal passages dry out and are more susceptible to the airborne contaminants in our home. This results in increased rates of sickness and respiratory problems.

The EPA has deemed indoor air quality “among the top environmental problems facing the nation.”

The young, elderly, chronically sick, and those suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular disease are the most vulnerable to indoor air pollutants.

Indoor air is often much worse than the air outdoors for many reasons, especially inadequate ventilation and indoor pollution sources.

Poor Indoor Air Quality Warning Signs

It’s not just asthma and allergy sufferers that are prone to IAQ-related attacks. Another common sign of poor indoor air quality is a rise in cold and flu-like symptoms. Ask yourself if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms of poor IAQ:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Itchy eyes and skin
  • Fatigue and listlessness
  • Nausea and dizziness
  • Congestion
  • Headaches
  • Respiratory problems

Learn more about the symptoms and statistics surrounding poor indoor air quality.

How to Improve Indoor Air Quality for Winter

1. Exhaust Fans

The bathrooms and kitchens need working exhaust fans to expel unwanted moisture. When moisture builds up in these rooms, wallpaper and paint can peel, and rust, mold, and mildew will develop.

Ventilation is increasingly important as homes get more and more insulated. The V in HVAC stands for “ventilation” for a reason. The purpose of ventilating your home is to get rid of the odors, chemicals, pollutants, and humidity that gets trapped inside of the home.

In addition to having ventilation for your fuel-burning appliances, it’s also important to provide general ventilation for the rest of the home. A long time ago, home didn’t need to worry too much about ventilation since there were so many gaps, cracks, and holes in the building’s shell.

Now, with increase insulation and building materials that result in offgassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals, mechanical ventilation is becoming more and more necessary.

2. Supply-Only Ventilators

Exhaust fans are a great way to dispel air outdoors, but as the name implies, they only exhaust the indoor air, they don’t bring fresh air indoors. For that, you will want a supply-only ventilation system. As with other mechanical ventilation system, this is best left to the professionals.

One risk of supply ventilation is bringing in unwanted moisture into the home, where moisture and condensation problems could develop.

Usually, we recommend a balanced ventilation system which pulls in fresh air while exhausting stale air. Normally, the fresh air is brought into the main living spaces, such as living rooms and bedrooms, whereas the stale air is exhausted from chemical and moisture-laden areas, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and project areas.

3. Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV)

The solution may lie in a heat recovery ventilator (HRV). Newer homes, along with retrofitted older homes, suffer from two critical problems when they’re tightly sealed and insulated: poor air quality and a lack of ventilation. The HRV addresses both problems, while keeping efficiency at the forefront.

Working simultaneously, the HRV’s fan draws outside air into the home through the incoming vent while another fan pulls inside air through the system and out the exhaust vent. The two streams of air move through the core of the HRV, where the heat exchanger resides.

In the summer, the HRV doesn’t sacrifice energy efficiency. Instead of preheating the air, it uses the cool energy in the outgoing supply of air to pre-cool the incoming supply. Most HRVs can recover about 85 percent of the energy in the outgoing air, which reduces operating costs significantly. HRVs are a great way to introduce fresh air while minimizing the associated energy loss.

4. Whole-House Fans

Whole-house fans are normally installed in the attic, where they work to pull in fresh air while expelling stale air through attic vents. They can also help lower your energy costs during the hot summer months. This is normally accomplished by refreshing the indoor air with cool evening air at night, helping reduce the workload of your AC during the daytime.

Speak with a professional about whole-house attic fans, since they may create a negative-pressure situation, causing problems with your various combustion systems.

5. Natural Ventilation

In addition to mechanical ventilation, such as exhaust fans and heat recovery ventilators, don’t forget about good old natural ventilation. While, we strongly believe that all homes should have a working mechanical ventilation system, it can also be a good idea to open up a window or door every once in a while, especially when working on projects and cleaning the home.

While natural ventilation can help, it should never be a substitute for mechanical ventilation systems. Most people only open up windows and doors during the summer, if at all. And natural ventilation doesn’t have the greatest air exchange.

Nearly all homes require a balanced mechanical ventilation system to balance the intake and exhaust of air. Speak with professional about central ventilation systems for your home.

While a tight, energy-efficient home is something we highly encourage, we also need to keep in mind the necessity of a well-balanced ventilation system.

Professional Indoor Air Quality Solutions

Duct Cleaning

If you haven’t scheduled professional duct cleaning in the last 5 years, now may be the right time to do so. If you are unsure if dirty ducts are contributing to your indoor air qaulity problems, read Duct Hunt: Ductwork Problems and How to Fix Them.

Air Cleaner (Air Scrubber Plus)

Air cleaners, such as Air Scrubber Plus, can actually eliminate the indoor air pollutants in your home, rather than just trapping them.

Whole-Home Humidification

Humidity has a lot to do with the quality of your indoor air. Speak with a professional HVAC technician about whole-home humidification solutions.

Since Americans spend more than 90% of their time indoors, it’s highly recommended that your HVAC system is kept well-maintained. In addition to replacing air filters and keeping the entire system clean, your HVAC technician will also tell you about air purifiers, air cleaners, air filtration, duct cleaning, and other indoor air quality services.

For more information on indoor air quality, read our other articles on the subject:

Call Pacific Air Systems for an experienced technician to come service or replace your equipment today!

Since 1984, we’ve proudly served homeowners throughout Federal Way, Graham, Spanaway, University Place, Steilacoom, Sumner, Lakewood, Puyallup, Tacoma, and Gig Harbor.

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