Indoor air quality, or IAQ as abbreviated by the EPA, has been a topic of much conversation since we started to figure out the effects of COVID-19 and the role of airborne virus particles on the transmission of the virus. We have learned more than we’d ever wanted to know about social distancing, masking, ventilation, and other tools to mitigate the spread of a respiratory virus. Now that it’s 2023, do we still need to concern ourselves with the health of our indoor air?
Is indoor air quality essential?
The quick answer is yes. Indoor air quality affects us all as the average American spends about 90% of their time inside, and often there are more pollutants in indoor environments (source). Even if the spread of a virus through airborne respiratory virus particles is less of a concern, many indoor air pollutants can still lead to health problems or exacerbate health issues already present.
The most common indoor air quality offenders are:
- dust mites and their waste,
- pet dander,
- excess moisture, and
- smoke from a fireplace, cooking, or cigarettes.
These allergens are ubiquitous and often contribute to symptoms of allergies or asthma. Dust mites and pet dander are some of the most common allergens in houses and often gather in piles along with regular house dust. The particles from dead dust mites’ waste, dried saliva, urine, and skin flakes from pets cause many allergic reactions in people. Pollen is tiny grains from trees, grass, and weeds that cause an allergic reaction when it gets into the eyes, nose, and lungs. Humidity mostly bothers the physical structure of your home when moisture gathers on surfaces, but it can cause mold and mold spores to begin to grow, also developing into allergy symptoms. Smoke emissions differ depending on what’s being burned, but these also cause similar allergic reactions in people.
More serious air contaminants or pollutants inside homes include:
- mold (black mold and other toxic molds),
- carbon monoxide,
- asbestos, and
- lead particles.
As we always caution, these are serious issues that need to be remedied beyond your typical HVAC use or air purifier use, as they can lead to serious health problems or even death if you are breathing in too much of these types of air pollutants. While less common than pet dander or pollen, ensuring your home is free of these contaminants is especially important.
Who needs clean air?
Another quick answer is everyone. Everyone needs clean indoor air. However, some people require clean air because health issues could worsen due to contaminants in the air. These groups of people include:
- those with heart disease or other heart issues,
- those with lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema, or COPD,
- pregnant women,
- seniors, and
- children under age 14.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we also became much more familiar with the term “immunocompromised,” which refers to those who are suffering from cancer or other illnesses compromising the immune system. If you or your family member is one of those individuals (including people who struggle with asthma or other respiratory problems), you already know how important air quality is for their health. Small dust particles, fumes from cooking or smoking, and excess humidity may not affect a healthy person but may make it difficult for someone with underlying conditions.
If you don’t find yourself or anyone in your family in those groups, it’s also true that poor indoor air quality can be the cause of new health issues. As noted earlier, Americans spend 90% of their time indoors. Even if you spend a lot of time outdoors and don’t think that statistic applies to how you live your life, at the very least, you sleep inside. With poor air quality in your home, you face an increased risk of:
- heart and lung illnesses,
- stress to the heart and lungs, which work harder in polluted environments,
- a damaged respiratory system & aging of the lungs,
- bronchitis, or
What role does your HVAC system play in keeping your air clean?
HVAC systems improve air quality by moving air through its filters and ducts throughout the house to remove particles and humidity from the air. Allergens get trapped in the filters, which you should clean or replace every 6 to 12 months.
It’s relatively simple, but the airflow and filtering do a big job of keeping the dust piles and particles in the air to a minimum. With a quality HVAC system, you are doing one of the best things you can do to improve your indoor air quality.
To help your HVAC do its job, add higher-rated filters or an air purifying system that works alongside your HVAC system. High-quality filters rated MERV 11 or higher, with the proper cleaning and replacement, can remove allergens like pollen from the air. You can also employ other methods of improving the air quality in your home, which in turn will only help your HVAC in doing its job of keeping air quality good.
Other methods of improving your HVAC air quality
Besides using your home’s HVAC system to improve the air quality, the EPA recommends ventilating indoor spaces with fresh outdoor air and using air purifiers as ways to improve indoor air quality. Most people are lucky to live in areas where ventilation with outdoor air is one helpful way to improve indoor air quality by introducing cleaner air and airflow.
Air purifiers can be practical tools in cleaning the air, although most air purifiers are limited in their capabilities depending on location, flow rate, run time, and other factors. While no air filter or purifier will be able to remove all particles or toxins in the air, and the jury is out on how much air filters do to reduce symptoms of allergies and asthma, the EPA maintains that these can be a good choice for those who suffer from respiratory issues and for those who want to breathe cleaner air.
To make the best decision possible on an air purifier, the EPA suggests looking into the clean air delivery rate (CADR), which refers to how many particles the air purifier can clean and how ample a space it can remove particles from. This information should be on the packaging. They also mention higher run times and higher fan speeds as the most effective at cleaning the air and choosing an air purifier that can remove gasses as well as particles, specifically those outfitted with an activated carbon filter. Examples of common gasses or VOCs you might have problems with are those emitted from paint, cleaning products, and air fresheners, to name a few. Lastly, cleaning or replacing the filters as often as necessary, at least every three months, is essential to get the most significant benefit out of your air purifier.
You can reference the EPA guide on air purifiers here.
Dehumidifiers are another tool for those struggling with things like dampness or mold in your home. While your HVAC system should be taking care of the humidity level, some areas in the home are more prone to humidity, and sometimes your HVAC is working well enough, yet not managing the humidity. Dehumidifiers remove water from the air, improving air quality by removing musty smells or mold/mildew growth.
To ensure you’re breathing healthy air and your HVAC is doing its job, call the professionals at Exxel Mechanical Services. An HVAC professional will be able to examine areas in your system that might be contributing to air pollutants and ensure that your HVAC system does its part in keeping your air clean.
Call or email us at Exxel Mechanical Services today at (443) 821-1040 or firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be our pleasure to see how we can help you.