One of the topics that people hear all the time from energy auditors, HVAC contractors, and builders is about indoor air quality. When most people hear that phrase, they immediately think of particles floating through the air. While that is a big part of it, there are other factors to consider when it comes to indoor air quality (or IAQ as we call it in the industry). Allergens like dust, pollen, mold spores, and even smoke particles can have a great effect on people’s health, but as the year goes by, things like temperature and humidity also have a great effect on indoor air quality. If you suffer from asthma or emphysema, that slightest changes in air quality can greatly affect your immediate health. Let’s look at the different factors that affect indoor air quality.
Obviously the first is allergens. There are different types for every time of the year. Here in the Southeast we have that wonderful period of time during the spring when everything we own is covered in a thick coat of yellowish green pollen. Thanks to the pine, birch, sweetgum, and various other trees a visit to the carwash is a waste of time. If you have a leaky house, unfortunately you find a fine covering of the same wonderful pollen inside the house. Believe it or not, most of it doesn’t come in through the door (when it’s opened anyway), but through every nook, cranny, crevice, crack, and unsealed opening you can think of (and some you can’t). The funny thing is, this god awful covering usually isn’t the stuff that causes respiratory distress and the loads of mucus that accompany it. It is actually smaller unseen particles that travel along with them. So imagine that if you can see the larger tree pollen particles, how much more of the other stuff that’s present. In summer its grass and in fall its ragweed, goldenrod, and other weeds. Winter does not have as many outdoor allergens, but being stuck inside more has its own fun group.
The other two components of IAQ, temperature and humidity levels, kind of work hand and hand. Usually, in the summer the humidity is fairly high and in the winter the humidity is fairly low. According to health professionals, optimal indoor humidity is between 40% and 50%. If your house is leaky like most, on really humid days the humidity levels jump greater than 60%, which promotes the growth of mold, wood rot, and is an open invitation for insect breeding. Ever lifted up a rotting tree branch during a dry summer day find and half a billion critters under there? It’s because it’s one of the few places that still has moisture. Conversely, usually in the winter, the air is so dry you wake up with a nose bleed. The fact that cold air can’t hold very much moisture is compounded by the fact that we run our heaters all winter to keep us warm.
So how do most people combat these issues that nature so fondly delivers us? Why by treating the symptoms instead of the problems of course. Why do you think companies like Honeywell do so well? They provide these great products that purify the air, humidify the air, or dehumidify the air. We are so accustomed to paying for things that mask symptoms instead of treating the true problems that this has just become the norm. Now, they even have products that can be fitted directly to your HVAC system. Nothing like having a device that squirts water directly into your system. Yikes! The worst thing is that most homeowners are so under or misinformed that they don’t even know if these products actually help or cause more harm.
So what can be done to truly improve the indoor air quality in our homes short of tearing them down and starting over? In part 2 on this subject, I will explore both what steps can be taken to improve IAQ and why they are important to both you and your home. Remember “Don’t throw money at your problems, throw knowledge, it’s a lot cheaper”.