Improving Air Quality for Healthy Living
12 Nov 2015
POSTED BY: Admin | Comments: 0

By: Don Epp


With winter coming, doors and windows will be closed to preserve heat and energy. As heating and cooling costs have increased over the years, the focus has been on having air-tight houses.  Insulation, weather stripping, more efficient doors and windows have all been promoted and utilized to keep the outdoors out. While this approach has many benefits it can also lead to the deterioration of indoor air quality.


Maintaining good air quality in homes is very important. On average people spend more than 90% of their day indoors and take a breath about 20,000 times a day. Poor indoor air quality can negatively affect the health and quality of life of the people living in the home.


There are many factors that contribute to lowering the air quality in a house, and here are a few examples: 

  • People – The process of breathing lowers the oxygen levels and increases the carbon dioxide levels in the house.  As a result, people feel lethargic and have lower energy levels. The transmission of the flu and colds between people increases in houses with poor ventilation.
  • VOCs – Volatile organic compounds are vapors from household cleaning and air freshening products, as well as new flooring and furniture.  The off-gassing of products can cause health problems after long term exposure in high concentrations.
  • Mold – Mold is common in areas that have persistent dampness. Plumbing leaks, condensation on windows/bathrooms, and water leaking in from the outside are all examples of places you could find mold. Breathing spores from mold can cause respiratory discomfort and more serious health affects if inhaled in large concentrations. It is important to know that an area larger than a square foot of mold is considered serious.
  • Radon – Radon is a radioactive gas that is colorless, odorless and tasteless. It results from the natural decay of uranium. This decay takes place underground as a normal process.  The gas then seeps to the surface and can enter buildings through cracks and pipe penetrations in basement floors. Long term exposure to high concentration has made Radon the second leading cause of lung cancer.

(graphic found here)


Dealing with these factors in your home environment is like most problems, they are easier to solve while they are small. This means that they can be easily rectified with minimal risk, yet if allowed to grow out of control, fixing the issue becomes a major project.

The good news is that indoor air quality can be improved with a few simple solutions including:

  • Source control – Promptly repair any leaks, and clean up areas where mold can grow.
  • Use kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans when cooking and showering.
  • Make sure clothes dryers are properly vented to the outside.
  • Humidity in the house should be kept at or below 50% in the summer, and around 30-35% in the winter.
  • Mold can grow on fabrics, food, paper, wood and practically anything that holds moisture, so these items shouldn't be stored in damp areas.
  • Avoid using harsh cleaning solutions and strong fragrances.
  • Clean the house often, dust and mop regularly and consider using a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
  • Consider using household plants like the Boston Fern, English Ivy and Peace Lily among others to act as natural air purifiers. Not to mention they also look great in a home!

Perhaps the biggest solution to improving indoor air quality is improving ventilation.  Newer homes are equipped with an HRV (heat recovery ventilator) which heats incoming fresh air with outgoing exhaust air.  If you have an HRV, make sure the filters in the unit are cleaned and that it is balanced so that a little more air is coming into the house than is leaving.  This creates positive pressure in the house and prevents cold air and contaminants from entering the house through cracks. Newer homes also have all the pipe penetrations and basement floor joints sealed for Radon reduction.

If the house is older make sure your intake air vent is unclogged. This is usually found in the mechanical room.  This vent also supplies your furnace and hot water heater with enough air for combustion and provides fresh air to the house. 

You may also consider upgrading the furnace filter.  A MERV 8 filter will remove mold spores from the air and can be used in most furnaces.  A MERV 11 filter will trap more and smaller particles but will clog up sooner and need to be changed more frequently.  Consult the furnace’s owner’s manual before installing a high numbered MERV filter as these filters can also decrease the air flow through the furnace.

By following these few simple steps the indoor air quality does not need to be a concern and the individuals living in the homes will be healthy all winter long.

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