What You Should Know About Indoor Air Quality

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Lane Dixon is the vice president of operations for Aire Serv Heating and Air Conditioning and has been in the HVAC and indoor air quality industry for 17 years. He has designed home comfort and indoor air quality systems for residential and light commercial applications, focusing mainly on filtration, UV technology, and duct cleaning and sanitation. Lane has also engaged with industry experts in indoor air quality to design training programs for both independent and franchise HVAC companies throughout North America.

Although Americans enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities, we still spend a lot of time indoors. In fact, according to the EPA, we spend approximately 90 percent of our time indoors. While headlines frequently caution us about air pollution outside, indoor air quality receives far less attention. With more people working from home than ever before, now is the time to pay more attention to the indoor air we’re breathing day in and day out. After all, the quality and cleanliness of our indoor air can have a serious impact on our well-being and long-term health. High-quality indoor air has many important benefits, including the prevention of infectious diseases, reduced allergy symptoms, and better quality sleep.

What Is Indoor Air Quality?

Indoor air quality — also known as indoor environmental quality — is the measure of pollutants in the air in our homes, businesses, and any other enclosed space. You might use caution when venturing outdoors by checking the smog report or wearing a mask following a forest fire, but you should monitor the air you breathe inside as well.

Indoor air quality is impacted by temperature, humidity, ventilation, chemical exposure, and other factors, such as water damage. Poor indoor air quality can disrupt a person’s comfort, health, sleep, and ability to function normally. 

You probably already handle some indoor air quality issues without thinking much about it. If you’ve ever cracked a window after cooking bacon or flipped on the exhaust fan following a steamy shower, you’ve manipulated the indoor air quality in your space. While minor issues like these can be mitigated fairly easily, more significant air quality problems warrant professional intervention. That’s especially true if you spend a lot of time at home.

Woman opening a large window while standing near a table with a lamp, vase, and decor

Factors That Affect Air Quality

Most of us want to believe that our home air quality is healthy and clean. Too often, though, air quality is not as safe as we might expect. These common factors can impact the air quality in your home:

  • Pets: Our four-legged family members shed fur and dander constantly. Despite widespread claims, no breed is truly hypoallergenic. If you have pets at home, their presence will inevitably impact the air quality in some way.
  • Humidity: Damp crawl spaces, water leaks, and moisture in the air can all add to an increase in indoor humidity levels. The ideal range for indoor spaces is between 40 and 50 percent. High humidity levels can lead to respiratory issues, mold growth, and other issues, while low levels may lead to skin irritation and dry eyes, among other things.
  • Dust: Pollen, dirt, clothing fibers, and dead skin cells swirl together to create a perfect storm for those dealing with asthma or allergies. While frequent cleaning and regularly changing filters can help keep the impact to a minimum, dust will always play some role in your indoor air quality.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds: New flooring, paint, and other household products can negatively impact indoor air quality. Try selecting products labeled VOC-free if you’re planning to use them indoors.

The effects of these factors can be mitigated with proper ventilation. Polluted air constantly recirculates in poorly ventilated homes. And with newer homes constructed to be more airtight to improve heating and cooling efficiency, pollen, dust, and other pollutants build up over time, impacting those with allergies and asthma. Fresh air can do wonders to help rid your space of contaminants, so don’t hesitate to throw open the windows on a nice day.

Related: 11 Cordless Vacuums [Cleaning Made Easy]

The Impact of HVAC Units on Air Quality

Many people may wonder how their HVAC system impacts their home’s air quality. When your heater and air conditioner are well maintained, they actually improve air quality, and offer increased comfort for residents. However, an older unit that is poorly designed and subject to subpar maintenance can actively harm air quality in your home or business. These systems can spread bacteria, allergens, dust, and other harmful substances throughout your home or business. They may heat or cool the air excessively, causing discomfort. An HVAC system may also cause air to feel too dry or too moist, leading to health issues. Moisture in the air can even lead to mold growth, which is a major cause for concern.

Improving HVAC performance often means focusing on automation measures or energy efficiency. Indoor air quality is just as — if not more — important. It has a direct impact on comfort, health, and productivity. If you notice drastic temperature variations, the air being blown at high speeds, or unpleasant odors emanating from your system, it may be time to call an HVAC professional for insight.

Related: 7 Portable Air Conditioners That Will Keep You Cool

Testing Your Indoor Air Quality

If you’re curious about your home’s indoor air quality, there are several tools you can use to test it, and while these devices can detect a concentration of particulates and indicate if they are at a hazardous level, they can’t distinguish what the particles are. This makes fixing the problem more difficult because you don’t know if your poor air quality is caused by pollen, mold, dust, pet dander, or other contaminants. The other option is to have a professional test the air quality in your home. A professional air quality test will reveal the following:

  • Humidity levels
  • Temperature
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Levels of particulate matter in the air, including carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide levels

After establishing a baseline air quality score, you may want to also track your health symptoms over the course of a few weeks. Note if your symptoms align with a particular room or time of day. For instance, if you experience migraines and respiratory problems only while at the office, your home air quality may not be to blame.

Hand holding an air quality testing device up in the air in a large wooden room

Improving IAQ at Home

We could all stand to improve our indoor air quality at home. If you’re hoping to add some freshness to your space, try opening your windows more often. An emphasis on energy efficiency has caused many of us to hermetically seal our homes, negatively impacting our indoor air quality overall. Circulating fresh air through your space is one of the fastest and easiest ways to improve air quality — so long as the pollen count outdoors isn’t too high!

Another great way to improve indoor air quality is to swap out your HVAC system’s air filters frequently. Most homes need their air filters changed at least every 60 days, but people often neglect to do so because filters are out of sight, out of mind. Regular vacuuming and dusting can also help reduce the number of indoor allergens that circulate and help your space feel fresh. 

You can also protect indoor air quality by placing your ducts in conditioned spaces (such as dropped ceilings) instead of unconditioned spaces (like attics) when using air conditioning vents in the ceiling.

If you’re really concerned about IAQ at home, investing in an air purifier can significantly improve the air quality in your home or business. These can be great additions to rooms like the kitchen or bathroom, where humidity levels and odors change frequently. Houseplants can also bolster air quality, as they naturally purify the air. Not only will they help you breathe a little easier, but they also add to the aesthetics of your home. 

Implement these tips around your space, and you’ll be breathing in the clean, fresh air in no time! To learn more about the best ways to improve the air quality in your home or business, or to schedule a professional indoor air quality test, contact your local Aire Serv today!  

You may also be interested in: The 13 Best Humidifiers For Dry Air

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