We’re sure you’ve taken every measure to keep your family safe and healthy over the years. Teaching your kids about numerous safety precautions, scheduling regular doctor’s appointments, and ensuring everyone in the family eats right and exercises are all important, but there may be something you’re leaving out — your indoor air quality. Most of the time, you’d assume that you’d have to protect them from outside factors, but what about the harmful factors inside your home?
Your home is supposed to be a safe place for you and your family, so it’s important to make sure the air you breathe is as clean as it can be.
Poor indoor air quality can cause short- and long-term health problems. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the concentration of air pollutants indoors can be as much as two to five times greater than the level outside. This is a real problem since we spend 90% of our time indoors. Ensuring that the air in your home is free from pollutants can help you protect your health and your family’s health.
Symptoms often linked to poor air quality
It is common for people to report one or more of the following symptoms:
• Dryness and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin
• Shortness of breath
• Hypersensitivity and allergies
• Sinus congestion
• Bloody Noses
• Coughing and sneezing
People generally notice their symptoms after several hours at work and feel better after they have left the building or when they have been away from the building for a weekend or a vacation.
Many of these symptoms may also be caused by other health conditions including common colds or the flu, and are not necessarily due to poor IAQ. This fact can make identifying and resolving IAQ problems more difficult.
Long-term exposure to poor indoor air quality can have permanent health effects such as:
• Accelerated aging of the lungs
• Loss of lung capacity and decreased lung function
• Development of diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and possibly cancer
• Shortened life span
Those most susceptible to severe health problems from poor indoor air quality are:
• Individuals with heart disease, coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure
• Individuals with lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
• Pregnant women
• Older adults and the elderly
• Children under age 14
Causes of poor indoor air quality
Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air are the primary cause of indoor air quality problems. Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the area. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants.
There are many sources of indoor air pollution. These can include:
• Fuel-burning combustion appliances
• Tobacco products
• Building materials and furnishings as diverse as:
-Deteriorated asbestos-containing insulation
-Newly installed flooring, upholstery or carpet
-Cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products
• Products for household cleaning and maintenance, personal care, or hobbies
• Central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices
• Excess moisture (biological growth like mold can form)
• Not enough moisture (Viruses die off faster in higher relative humidity)
• V.O.C.’s ( volatile organic compounds)
What are V.O.C.’s?
Volatile organic compounds are compounds that have a high vapor pressure and low water solubility. Many VOCs are human-made chemicals that are used and produced in the manufacture of paints, pharmaceuticals, and refrigerants. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects.
Examples include: paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.
Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products. Paints, candles, varnishes, and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products. Fuels are made up of organic chemicals. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.
Dangers of air fresheners
Air fresheners are a common staple in the American household. Homeowners often reach for aerosol sprays to cover unappealing scents in their house or as the final step after a deep clean. Air fresheners can come in many different scents and forms, but they all have one thing in common: they’re terrible for your indoor air quality.
We understand that air fresheners are a quick and easy solution to improving your home’s smell, but keep in mind that maintaining clean, non-toxic indoor air will be better for your health
Is air contamination the only cause of these symptoms?
No. Feelings of discomfort and illness may be related to any number of issues in the total indoor environment. Other common causes may include noise levels, thermal comfort (temperature, humidity, and air movement), lighting, and ergonomics. It is important that all possible causes be investigated when assessing complaints.
Don’t believe the hype
There are a lot of products on the market today being promoted with bold claims on their abilities to improve indoor air quality, most of which have no actual science to back up their claims. Not all solutions are created equally. Some products like ionizers, and electronic air cleaners emit small levels of ozone either as a primary function or a byproduct of its use. Ozone can be a huge irritant for people with asthma and other lung diseases.
What is Ozone?
Ozone is a molecule composed of three atoms of oxygen. Two atoms of oxygen form the basic oxygen molecule–the oxygen we breathe that is essential to life. The third oxygen atom can detach from the ozone molecule, and re-attach to molecules of other substances, thereby altering their chemical composition. It is this ability to react with other substances that forms the basis of manufacturers’ claims.
How is Ozone Harmful?
The same chemical properties that allow high concentrations of ozone to react with organic material outside the body give it the ability to react with similar organic material that makes up the body, and potentially cause harmful health consequences. When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs. Relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath and throat irritation. Ozone may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections. People vary widely in their susceptibility to ozone. Healthy people, as well as those with respiratory difficulty, can experience breathing problems when exposed to ozone. Exercise during exposure to ozone causes a greater amount of ozone to be inhaled, and increases the risk of harmful respiratory effects. Recovery from the harmful effects can occur following short-term exposure to low levels of ozone, but health effects may become more damaging and recovery less certain at higher levels or from longer exposures
Manufacturers and vendors of ozone devices often use misleading terms to describe ozone. Terms such as “energized oxygen” or “pure air” suggest that ozone is a healthy kind of oxygen. Ozone is a toxic gas with vastly different chemical and toxicological properties from oxygen. Several federal agencies have established health standards or recommendations to limit human exposure to ozone.
Is There Such a Thing as “Good Ozone” and “Bad Ozone”?
The phrase “good up high – bad nearby” has been used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make the distinction between ozone in the upper and lower atmosphere. Ozone in the upper atmosphere–referred to as “stratospheric ozone”–helps filter out damaging ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Though ozone in the stratosphere is protective, ozone in the atmosphere – which is the air we breathe – can be harmful to the respiratory system.
Proven solutions for IAQ concerns
Just can’t seem to gain complete control over your home’s indoor air quality? Unfortunately, there is no easy, plug and play solution for IAQ. A well rounded approach is required to make a measurable difference. There are 8 areas we can target to fully gain control of our environment. Let’s begin with air sealing.
Reduce gaps and cracks to the attic and outdoors that pull unwanted, unfiltered air into the living space. A tighter home envelope reduces the amount of humidity, dust, pollen, and pests that can enter the home and helps improve indoor air quality. For a thorough and accurate measurement of air leakage in your home, hire a qualified technician to conduct an energy audit, particularly a blower door test. A blower door test, which depressurizes a home, can reveal the location of many leaks. A complete energy assessment will also help determine areas in your home that need more insulation.
Without a blower door test, there are ways to find some air leaks yourself. Look for gaps around pipes and wires, foundation seals, and mail slots. Check to see if the caulking and weather stripping are applied properly, leaving no gaps or cracks, and are in good condition. Check the exterior caulking around doors and windows, and see whether exterior storm doors and primary doors seal tightly.
Inspect windows and doors for air leaks. See if you can rattle them, since movement means possible air leaks. If you can see daylight around a door or window frame, then the door or window leaks. You can usually seal these leaks by caulking or weather-stripping them. Check the storm windows to see if they fit and are not broken. You may also wish to consider replacing your old windows and doors with newer, high-performance ones. If new factory-made doors or windows are too costly, you can install low-cost plastic sheets over the windows. If your home is newer, built after the 1970’s, this may not be as big of a concern due to building code requirements on air leakage.
Sealing ducts can also help improve the
indoor air quality by reducing the risks of pollutants entering ducts from dusty attics or musty crawlspaces and circulating through your home. Dust from insulation particles or smells from damp spaces could aggravate asthma
and allergy problems. Sealing and insulating ducts can help with common comfort problems, such as rooms that are too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. During normal operation, gas appliances such as water heaters, clothes dryers, and furnaces release combustion gases (like carbon monoxide) through their ventilation systems. Leaky ductwork in your heating and
cooling system may cause “back drafting,” where these gases are drawn back into the living space, rather than expelled to the outdoors. Sealing leaks can minimize this risk.
Look for a contractor that will:
✔ Inspect the whole duct system, including attic and basement or crawlspaces.
✔ Evaluate the system’s supply and return air balance. Many systems have air return ducts that are too small.
✔ Repair damaged and disconnected ducts and
straighten-out flexible ducts that are tangled or
✔ Seal all leaks and connections with mastic, metal tape, or an aerosol-based sealant.
✔ Seal all registers and grills tightly to the ducts.
✔ Insulate ducts in unconditioned areas (like attics, crawlspaces, and garages) with duct insulation that carries an R-value of 6 or higher.
✔ Include a new filter as part of any duct system improvement.
✔ The contractor should evaluate air flow after repairs are completed.
✔ Ensure there is no back drafting of gas or oil-burning appliances, and conduct a combustion safety test after ducts are sealed.
Now that your building envelope and ductwork is sealed correctly, you can now control and filter fresh air coming in. Houses built or “retrofit” to much higher standards of air tightness, need a mechanical ventilation system, as it is essential for maintaining proper air quality, removing contaminates (mold spores, VOCs, building material chemicals), and excess humidity from kitchens, bathrooms, and any other sources of water vapor or condensation. It is also important for air balancing. If your pulling air out through kitchen and bath fans, and have no mechanical ventilation, your building could be at a negative pressure. This will create a vacuum force around all your gaps and cracks that will pull unwanted air in at larger concentrations.
• HRV – Heat Recovery Ventilation: Uses the heat or temperature of the stale exhaust (outgoing) air to preheat or pre-condition the incoming fresh air. This reduces the energy required to bring outside air up to ambient room temperature.
• ERV – Energy Recovery Ventilation: Basically the same function as HRV, plus it allows moisture transfer across the air streams (retention or removal of humidity based on season) – from kitchens, bathrooms, etc. An ERV is not a dehumidifier per se, but can greatly balance or reduce humidity levels in the home.
The best option between an ERV and an HRV depends on your climate and specific needs. If your house is too humid in winter (above 60% RH) then an HRV is the better choice, as it would surely get rid of excess humidity while an ERV would tend to keep it at a high level.
If the opposite is true and your house is too dry in winter, then an ERV would be a better choice as it helps retain humidity, eliminating the need (and cost) for you to generate it through other means.
Whichever you chose, you would be bringing in filtered, fresh air to dilute chemicals and other pollutants. Ever hear of the old phrase “the solution to pollution is dilution” ?
The efficacy of proper indoor filtration is tried and true. There have been many studies that prove the efficiency of proper filtration on indoor air quality concerns. Whole home indoor air filtration can be provided by whole house filtration via the home’s heating, ventilation, or air conditioning system.
The key attribute of any air filter, is a balance of the following:
• Air flow to assure adequate ventilation
• Efficiency to filter out a range of small particle sizes, and
• Capacity to allow for reasonable cost-effective maintenance schedules without adversely affecting airflow and efficiency.
Filtration is not only important the longevity of system components, its vital to our health and quality of life. A properly designed HVAC system should be able to run an allergy filter without a problem. Unfortunately, many systems have been installed and are being installed that have inadequate return air. At the very minimum we recommend a high surface area ( the smaller the surface area of the filter the more restrictive to air flow it can be. Bigger is better in this case), high MERV rating (the higher the MERV rating, the more efficient the filter is of removing particulates in the air ) , 4″ pleated air filter,
This improves indoor air quality without an impact on the air flow of an HVAC system. 4-inch filters have larger pleats. That means they have more surface area to catch particles, making them last 3–5 times longer than 1-inch filters. A thinner 1-inch filter with a high MERV rating would clog very quickly (compared to a 4-inch pleated filter) since there is less surface area available to trap contaminants. Most HVAC technicians recommend changing 1-inch air filters every 30 days, while 4-inch filters can be changed every 3–6 months. Some 4-inch filters can even last up to a year.
The use of HEPA filters traditionally used in hospitals, has indeed been a significant inclusion to home air purifiers. A HEPA filter uses mechanical filtration to remove airborne particles. HEPA filters are the gold standard for filtration because they remove not only inorganic dust, but microorganisms such as mold spores, bacteria, pollen, dust mites, odor, microscopic allergens and many viruses. The downside to these filters in residential applications is they’re very restrictive to airflow, for this reason, this application would have to run in a bypass configuration. Meaning that, not all the air being moved will be filtered through the HEPA filter at the same time, rather a continuous filtration across a percentage of the return air.
We believe once all other previous considerations have been made, now would be the time to consider different IAQ technologies. Most of these products aren’t backed by science and some emit small amounts of ozone, which could have harmful effects. Two proven technology that shows alot of promise is UV-C lights and activated carbon.
Ultraviolet-C (UV-C) is a short-wavelength, ultraviolet light that breaks apart germ DNA, leaving it unable to function or reproduce. In other words, UV-C light is germicidal (UV-A and UV-B light are not). UV-C can even neutralize “super-bugs” that have developed a resistance to antibiotics. The UV-C light breaks the bonds between DNA and RNA chains inactivating them so that they cannot develop, reproduce, or function. By destroying the organism’s ability to reproduce, it becomes harmless since it cannot colonize. After UV-C exposure, the organism dies off leaving no offspring, and the population of the microorganism diminishes rapidly.
Ultraviolet germicidal lamps provide a much more powerful and concentrated effect of ultraviolet energy than can be found naturally. Germicidal UV provides a highly effective method of destroying microorganisms. One study Trusted Source, published in the journal Scientific Reports, explored using far-UVC light to kill two types of human coronaviruses in the air. These two coronaviruses, 229E and OC43, can cause the common cold in humans. Based off their results with these viruses, researchers estimated that, when applied to current regulatory standards, far-UVC light could kill 99.9 percent of airborne coronaviruses in about 25 minutes. They believe that these findings would extend to SARS-CoV-2 as well.
Another proven technology is activated carbon. Made of activated carbon, also called activated charcoal, carbon air filters can help trap odors. In addition to helping remove odors caused by pets, cooking and mildew, each of our carbon filters captures airborne particles such as dust, pet dander and more. Anyone can benefit from using a carbon filter in their home, but there are some homeowners who might find them particularly helpful, including smokers or those who live with smokers and pet owners.
Carbon filters trap odors through a process called adsorption, which occurs when molecules attach to the outside of a surface, rather than being soaked into it (that’s absorption). The more porous the activated carbon, the better, as this will increase the amount of surface space available for contaminants to latch onto when air passes through the filter. Find out more about HVAC system add ons and products here.
The use of this technology is not intended to take the place of reasonable precautions to prevent the transmission of pathogens. It is important to comply with all applicable public health laws and guidelines issued by federal, state, and local governments and health authorities as well as official guidance published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including but not limited to social distancing, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and the use of face masks.
You can’t improve what is not tracked. Use air quality monitors for cO2, VOC’s, PM 2.5, and CO monitors if you have any fuel burning appliances.
Levels under 1,000 ppm are often fine and are found in homes with good air exchange. When the level increases to 1,000 to 2,000 ppm, it can cause you to feel drowsy. At levels between 2,000 and 5,000 ppm, you can experience more severe symptoms.
Levels of airborne chemicals (VOCs)
The VOC contents in the air are low.
250 to 2000 ppb
Look for VOC sources if this average level persists for a month.
> 2000 ppb
The VOC contents are very high – consider taking action/ventilating right now.
Having good indoor air quality monitors could keep you informed as the real time conditions in your home. It’s also important to have CO monitors in your home in the appropriate locations when required. Levels of carbon monoxide exposure range from low to dangerous:
• Low level: 50 PPM and less
• Mid level: Between 51 PPM and 100 PPM
• High level: Greater than 101 PPM if no one is experiencing symptoms
• Dangerous level: Greater than 101 PPM if someone is experiencing symptoms
Homeowner Tips on Increasing Your Homes Indoor Air Quality
Add House Plants
One of the best ways to improve your indoor air quality is by adding fresh oxygen to your home. And the easiest way to do that? Add house plants. Although certain plants do a better job at this than others, all houseplants will pull carbon dioxide from your home and replace it with fresh oxygen.
Some of the best plants for this job are Aloe, Snake Plants, English Ivy, Bamboo Palm, and Rubber Tree.
Watch How You Clean
Not only do you need to clean your home regularly to get rid of dust and allergens; you also need to make sure you’re cleaning your home correctly.
• Use the Right Products: Watch what’s in your cleaning products, and try to use products that are more eco-friendly. The chemicals in traditional cleaning products can actually do more harm than good.
• Use the Right Tools: Forget the feather dusters and dry cloths — these just move dust and allergens around. Use microfiber cloths instead. They trap dust and actually get it out of your home.
• Vacuum More Often: Dust and allergens are easily trapped in carpet and rug fibers, so you should vacuum at least once a week — especially if you or a family member suffer from allergies.
Use Humidifiers and Vent Fans
The more humid your home is, the more likely you are to have mold growth — yuck! Rather than sit in an overly-humid home and risk your chance of mold-related health illnesses, invest in a few dehumidifying methods.
• In Your Bathroom: Whenever you take a shower, make sure to run your ventilation fan. This will help get rid of all the steam and moisture that would otherwise allow mold to grow in your bathroom.
• In Your Kitchen: All the steam, oil, and odors that enter your air when you cook is awful for your air quality, so always use your exhaust fan when you’re cooking to keep your kitchen’s air clean.
• In Your Home: If the outside temperatures cause your home’s air to feel humid and sticky, use a dehumidifier to keep your air at a healthy moisture level and your home comfortable.
Take Care of Your Pets
We’re sorry to tell you that your pets can actually have a negative impact on your indoor air quality. All the dander and fur they shed can seriously irritate your allergies. Not to mention, after running around outside, they can bring dirt, pollen, and more in your home via their fur. But not to worry! You can remedy this by:
• Cleaning Their Paws: After playtime outside, wipe off your dog’s paws so you get rid of any dirt and other grime in them before your dog comes inside.
• Bathe Them Regularly: While your pets don’t need to be bathed every week, you should be giving your pets a bath at least once a month to wash away any pollen, dust, etc. that may be lingering in their fur.
Invest in an Air Filtration System
If you’re really concerned about your indoor air quality — as you should be — you should seriously consider adding an air filtration system to your home. These systems filter out even the tiniest particles of dust, pollen, mold, and other debris that could be lurking in your home’s air.
When it’s time to address the quality of the air in your home, don’t take matters into your own hands. Instead, count on the skilled technicians at Air Treatment Company to help. We proudly offer indoor air quality services in Fairfax to make your home more comfortable for you and your family.
We hope this article serves as a guide to help you better understand your homes indoor air quality situation. Premier Heating and Cooling is dedicated to providing Worcester, MA and surrounding areas with indoor air quality products and solutions that work best for your home or business. Contact us today!