Indoor Air Quality (I.A.Q.) is something that is easily forgotten about or overlooked. During the fall and as winter approaches, when we begin to close
things up in our homes, it would do us well to think about I.A.Q. and pay some attention to it.
The U.S. EPA tells us that the air in our homes and businesses can get more polluted than outside air, and the source of the pollutants is varied. Some of the sources include:
- Second hand smoke
- Various Volatile Organic Compounds (V.O.C.), lead and/or asbestos from chemicals and building materials we live with and around.
- Carbon Monoxide
- Candles, incense, fireplaces
- Particle pollutants and mold and mildew and moisture from multiple sources; smoke from wild-fires, allergens, pollens, dust mites, pets, sea spray, cooking, poorly maintained central HVAC systems… just to name a few.
Above is a diagram from the U.S. EPA that shows the relative size of Particle Pollutants compared to a human hair and fine beach sand. Pollens and molds are about 10 microns in diameter (1 micron = 1 millionth of a meter) and are small enough to be inhaled through the mouth and nose and get into our lungs. ‘Fine’ particles, 2.5 microns in diameter and smaller, can penetrate deeper into the lungs and according to the EPA have been linked to heart and lung sicknesses and diseases, and with long exposure even linked to premature deaths in older adults or children.
What can we do about improving and protecting the indoor air we breathe? A few very simple practices can help a lot. Some examples are:
- Never allow smoking in your home or building (or vehicle). If there is smoke from wild-fires in the area, be sure to keep the building closed tightly and re-circulate the indoor air through the filtering system continually. However, it’s still necessary to vent to the outdoors when cooking or showering.
- When cooking or showering, use exhaust fans that vent to the outdoors and/or use a high quality portable air filter.
- Have all HVAC equipment maintained at least annually. Use high quality ‘medium’ style filters that are high capacity, and filter particles as small as the equipment manufacturer recommends. Clean your ductwork system as often as necessary, usually every 3 to 5 years. We normally do not recommend ozone-producing electronic air cleaners.
- In the U.S. an average of 4 people dies every week from carbon monoxide poisoning that has originated from fixed equipment or an appliance like water heaters and furnaces; that does not include the deaths from other sources (like vehicles, portable heaters, RV’s, boat suicides, etc.) Make sure you have good quality carbon monoxide detectors installed properly, and change the batteries twice a year. See the manufacturer’s recommendations on placement, but be sure to have one in the same room as the equipment that can produce C.O. We recommend one on each floor/level of the building and in homes, place one in the main sleeping bedroom that is a ‘low-level’ unit that will alarm down to 10ppm (parts per million). Standard C.O. detectors commonly available in retail outlets alarm at 60 to 80 ppm, and will ignore low level contamination.
- Normally, medium style air filters are designed to filter particulates or gasses; not both. If your indoor air needs filtration for both, you will likely have to have two filters in series, and will need to keep both changed regularly. This can be as often as monthly or as long as annually. It just depends on the premises’ location and how it’s used and occupied(in the city? Country? Children? Pets?)
- Most HVAC central air equipment normally ‘runs’ only when heating or cooling. However, most equipment can be made/programmed to run continually on its lowest setting when there is no ‘call’ for heating or cooling, and that will enable the system to constantly circulate and filter the indoor air.
- If your home or building doesn’t have a Central Air system for filtration, portable units can be used. It’s important to size the units properly for the room they serve, and to use good quality filters such as HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters.
Both the U.S. EPA and the California EPA have excellent information and guidelines on the Internet for how to improve Indoor Air Quality, and even they have recommendations on what portable air filters to use. A little time invested in what will help your situation will go a long way toward protecting you and your family’s health. If you need some help, a good HVAC contractor usually can make a site visit to do a survey and make recommendations.
Bruce Davis, Sr.
Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating Inc.
Licensed Journeyman Plumber, Licensed Electrician, HVAC/R, Electrical Administrator, HVAC/R
Certified WA State C.E.U. Instructor
Bruce Sr is president of Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating, a 60+ year old family owned and operated plumbing and heating business in Lynnwood,
Bruce can be contacted at Bruce@dayandnite.net