While summertime is often portrayed as the outdoor-living season, we know that the sweltering heat and humidity tends to drive us indoors, seeking shelter in the cool comfort of sweet air conditioning. But when we utilize our A/C units, we have to keep our windows and doors shut; and with no flow of fresh, clean air, pollutants run rampant. According to the federal EPA, indoor air is, on average, two to five times dirtier than the air just outside our front door. Thankfully, you don’t have to suffer from poor indoor air quality (IAQ) if you follow these tips.
Simple Tips to Improve Your Home’s IAQ
Keep fully-functioning CO detectors in your home.
If you heat your home with a combustion furnace or boiler, or you operate other gas-appliances and tools, it’s important to pay attention to your carbon monoxide risk. A leaky furnace or water heater vent, a corroded furnace heat exchanger, vehicles running in an attached garage, and even a gas grill operating near an open window, can all pose a risk of CO poisoning.
Make sure your gas-fueled furnace and water heater are correctly installed and maintained. Also, never run gas tools or appliances in enclosed spaces or near open windows. And outfit your home with working CO detectors.
Test for radon.
Potentially life-threatening radon may be infiltrating upward from the ground into your basement or crawlspace and your living space. You can test for this gas using a kit available from the Ohio Department of Health or home-improvement store, or you can contact Stack for a suggested radon specialist. And make sure you repair any cracks in your foundation or basement.
Take control of your contaminated air.
Various microorganisms such as mold spores, bacteria, and viruses may be littering your indoor air. Try a high-efficiency filter in your forced-air HVAC system, and consider installing an ultraviolet (UV) light system to treat air as it circulates through your ductwork. You may also consider installing a whole-house air purifying system to keep mold and bacteria growth at bay.
Taking the Room-by-Room Approach
Keeping the Kitchen and Bath Clean
- Repair any leaky pipes or dripping faucets. These add humidity to the air, encouraging mold and dust mites.
- Run the exhaust fan for 15 minutes after cooking and showering, and wipe down the tub and shower after use to further cut humidity. If you find mold anywhere, clean it up immediately before it can release harmful spores into the air.
- Keep food in tightly sealed containers to avoid attracting cockroaches, mice and other pests that leave lung-irritating debris behind.
Fresher Air in the Bedrooms and Living Room
- Reduce clutter and dust weekly with a microfiber cloth that picks up dirt instead just spreading it. This helps with improving indoor air quality in every room of your home.
- To cut down on dust mites, use allergy-proof pillow and mattress covers, and wash bedding weekly in water that’s at least 130 degrees.
- Place carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home and within 15 feet of every sleeping area. Keep them at least 5 feet from fuel-burning appliances and areas of high humidity such as the kitchen and bath.
- Use air filters of at least MERV 5, or if you have allergies or asthma, MERV 10 to 11. Also, check that your home has the right amount of ventilation for its size. A ventilation professional can help with this. Ventilation is your best defense against volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are harmful chemical gases produced by some carpets, upholstery, air fresheners and other materials used in construction.
Hidden Irritants Like Mold Can Wreak Havoc on Your IAQ
Mold is a fungus that serves an important purpose in nature but should be avoided indoors. Mold needs warmth, moisture, and food to grow. If your house has recently experienced water damage or has poor insulation or air circulation, you may have mold spores just waiting to bloom. Anywhere warm, moist air can meet a cool surface is a potential breeding ground. One of the most common places for mold to grow is your attic – the warm air that has risen from the bottom floors of the house meets with the cold surface of the interior roof.
Everyone has seen mold caked onto old food, but other things are feeding the mold spores that you might not think about. Certain paints, glues (such as wallpaper glue), papers, and wood products can be excellent food sources for mold. Indoors, the presence of mold is marked by a musty or earthy smell. Surfaces turn a dark green or black color, though if you see pink, that may mean a new bloom is starting to spread.
Preventing Mold from Affecting Your IAQ
While mold isn’t always harmful, it can carry dangerous toxins and allergens that can cause severe allergic reactions in sensitive people. It’s impossible to remove mold from your home entirely, but you can prevent the spores from settling and growing.
- Eliminating all moisture from dark, enclosed spaces so that it cannot seep into porous materials is one method of preventing mold growth.
- Monitor any metal surfaces or single-paned windows, as they tend to gather condensation easily.
- Keep all the interior doors open when heating your house to assist with air circulation, and make sure to change the filters in your HVAC system regularly.
- Consider having a professional HVAC technician install a UV light system in your ducts or shining one on the evaporator coil of your A/C or heat pump. These systems kill microorganisms including mold.
A dehumidifier is a device used for reducing the level of humidity in the air, usually for reasons such as comfort, health, or to get rid of stuffy odors. Humid air causes discomfort, as well as damage to one’s home and furnishings because it promotes the growth of mold, mildew and dust mites. During these summer months, allergy sufferers are more susceptible to humid air, increasing the pain of allergy symptoms. This is when a dehumidifier comes in handy.
How Dehumidifiers Work
A dehumidifier is designed to draw damp air into the unit where it is cooled and the moisture condensed. The dehumidified air is then redistributed back into the air with the use of a fan.
Dehumidifiers work differently depending on the type and model used. Compressor-driven units use a fan to draw damp air over two sets of cool and warm coils filled with a refrigerant. The moisture from the humid air is wrung out into a water tank that is emptied after use. A desiccant dehumidifier contains material that absorbs moisture from the air and releases it into the water tank for draining.
They can also be grouped by size. In this case, there are portable, whole-home, and basement dehumidifiers.
Advantages of a Dehumidifier
A dehumidifier reduces humidity levels in the air to comfortable levels and reduces damages to furniture, walls, and clothing. This ensures that mold, mildew or dust mites can no longer grow and people have cleaner air for breathing. This prevents allergies and several other health issues including respiratory ailments like asthma.
What About Summertime Remodeling?
Renovating your home can introduce a slew of unhealthy contaminants into the air you breathe. Harmful substances already inside can be disturbed during construction, while others enter with new building materials and the remodeling process itself. It’s vital to make maintaining IAQ a priority to protect your family’s well-being.
What Degrades IAQ While Remodeling?
Various types of contaminants, allergens, and pollutants can enter your home’s air supply during a renovation, including:
- Lead particles and dust from paints produced before 1978;
- Asbestos fibers found in different types of insulation, plaster, caulking, glue, linoleum, floor and ceiling tiles, as well as numerous other products commonly used in residential construction;
- Volatile organic compounds (VOC) such as formaldehyde used in building products, plywood, flooring, sealants, paints, and adhesives; and
- Bacterial and viral contaminants, mold, mildew and various allergens lurking in wall cavities, ceilings, floors, and unfinished areas.
Tips to Maintain Good IAQ
Taking proper precautions before and during the renovation can help safeguard your home’s air quality. Following are some suggestions.
- Have testing done to uncover any existing problems such as asbestos, toxic mold, or lead paint. Take appropriate steps to get any identified issues resolved before remodeling begins.
- Seal the heating and cooling registers correctly so dust and debris can’t enter the ductwork and contaminate the HVAC system.
- Have an HVAC professional assess whether the home has sufficient ventilation. Adequate ventilation is a crucial aspect of maintaining air quality even after renovations are completed.
- Seal off every entry point between the work zone and living areas with heavy-duty plastic sheeting.
- Keep windows open in the construction area, and place fans strategically to help vent airborne construction dust directly outdoors.
- Opt for environmentally friendly and low-VOC building materials and products whenever possible. If products containing VOCs will be used, plan to have them applied outdoors or in an area with extra ventilation.
- Make sure the remodeling crew cleans up daily to keep dust and debris under control.
For more information on maintaining indoor air quality in your Cleveland home, please contact Stack Heating & Cooling.