Do you find it difficult to breathe? Not because of your health or your lungs, but because of all the viruses, droplets, and other nasty things we never thought about before? With the advent of Covid 19, we have been hearing more and more about how viruses spread and more and more about the health of our breathing air.
There is a growing interest in ensuring good indoor air quality in our homes and places of work (now many times one and the same.) According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend on average about 90% of their time indoors and the concentration of pollutants in the indoor air are two to five times higher than in outdoor air. This is because the indoor air is trapped by our walls, ceilings, and floors, so the pollutants found in the air concentrate into higher and higher levels.
While viruses are one pollutant we are worried about; there are other deadly pollutants in our indoor air as well. If there is anything that burns in your home, you have the opportunity for deadly carbon monoxide to concentrate. Gas stoves and ovens burn fossil fuels. Gas furnaces and water heaters do as well. Cigarettes, candles, and wood-burning or gas fireplaces release smoke that contains deadly chemicals including carbon monoxide. Cleaners and solvents and paints and even the materials used in our furnishings can off-gas chemicals and gasses that can make us sick and give us cancer. So, what can you do to breathe easier? There are three steps to take, eliminate, filtrate, and ventilate.
Eliminate items from your home that have a chemical smell (the human nose is a particularly good test tool.) Do not bring or build items into your home that can lead to poor indoor air quality. For example, use a closed cell foam pad under carpeting instead of a cheap carpet pad which will degrade over time, turn into dust, and enter your breathing air every time you walk across it. Use recycled glass or quartz countertops instead of granite to avoid off-gassing radon into your breathing air. Use low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paint and stains.
Filtrate using a good quality filter. The system that conditions your air includes a filter that it runs your indoor air through as it heats or cools that air. The filter protects the system, but it also protects your lungs. A higher MERV number on a filter provides more filtration. Be sure to have an HVAC professional review your system if you plan to increase your filtration. If it is harder to pull the air through the filter, you can cause issues with your space conditioning system, and that can be an expensive mistake. Adjustments can be made to tune your system to accommodate your new filter rating which will keep everything running smoothly and provide more filtration. It is most important to change the filter on a regular schedule. Once the filter gets clogged by the pollutants it is trapping; the system will try to pull the air around the filter instead of through it and you have lost all the benefits of having the filter in the first place. Replace your filter every month or two.
Ventilate to bring in fresh air and exhaust stale air. The fresh air will reduce the concentration of pollutants in your breathing air. This can be as simple as opening your windows when the weather allows. However, that is only a limited solution as there are times during the year when you do not want to open windows; and those with allergies may want to just keep them shut all year-round. There are several products available that can provide fresh air ventilation. There are exhaust systems, supply systems, and balanced systems. The most effective and least expensive to use are balanced systems which exhaust stale air and supply fresh air at the same rate at the same time. These systems can also recover the heating or cooling from the exhausting air and use it to pre-condition the incoming fresh air. Unfortunately, the purchase and installation cost of the balanced systems is more expensive up-front. They are well worth it, however, because they provide fresh, filtered, and pre-conditioned air from a known air source and do not cause pressure differences in the structure which could lead to structural durability issues, comfort issues, and additional indoor air quality issues.
Take some time to learn more about indoor air quality and the pollutants that might be present in your home. Think about how to eliminate, filtrate, and ventilate, so you can breathe easy.