During the long winter many of us end up huddled inside with the windows shut tight and the heater blasting. But while enjoying the protection from the elements, don't neglect to monitor your indoor air quality. Chemicals, heaters, pet dander and other irritants can cause respiratory and other health problems, and are especially important to avoid in a house with children or people who suffer from allergies. Just because you're stuck indoors doesn't mean you can't breathe fresh air.
The furnace is usually the biggest culprit for IAQ problems. The older your home is and the longer it's been since the heat ducts were cleaned, the more likely it is to have accumulated debris and grime, and no one wants to breathe desiccated heater particulates. Make sure your heater is in peak working condition:
- Have your heater serviced before the winter cold sets in. A professional can inspect the filtration system and clean out the duct work. Depending on what type of furnace you have, there may be filters that you should replace yourself periodically according to manufacturer instructions. Some should be changed as frequently as once a month, while others last up to a year.
- Know your filters. There are various options, including fiberglass, paper and electrostatic. Check out the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values (MERV) rating. The higher the number, the better the job they do. However, be sure to check out your furnace's specifications because filters that are too fine can actually block air flow.
- Install a carbon monoxide alarm. If your heater malfunctions the alarm will let you know if your home starts filling with the odorless, deadly gas, necessitating emergency repairs.
Aside from your furnace, look for other places to boost your air quality:
- Look into a supplemental filtration system. The best are high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) certified, which meet standards set down by the Department of Energy. HEPA filters are too dense to be used with your furnace but people especially sensitive to airborne irritants can have a separate system installed.
- Energy Recovery Ventilators are products that push out indoor air and bring in fresh air from the outside without causing heat loss like opening a window would.
- Use exhaust fans when cooking and cleaning to help draw any irritating fumes out of your air.
- Cut down on rugs and heavy curtains. All that thick fabric can capture dust that later wreaks havoc with your respiratory system.
- Watch your humidity. If levels in your house are consistently over 50 percent, it can make a great environment for mold and mildew to grow. Drop it below 35 percent to cut down on dust mites. However, if your humidity drops too low -- below 30 percent or so -- it can causing respiratory problems and other issues. In the winter, you may need to use a humidifier to keep the humidity level stable.
- You can also try electronic air filters, although their effectiveness has yet to be authoritatively measured, and the EPA questions their usefulness in removing large particles from the air.
- Remember to vacuum and dust regularly all year round to keep irritants like pet fur and dust mites from accumulating. You can also get HEPA-certified filters for your vacuum.
- Use cleaning supplies that are free from volatile organic compounds.
- And finally, perhaps the most important step you can take to protect your air quality: If you smoke, take it outside.
Your local One Hour Air Conditioning and Heating® technicians are always here to help. Give us a call to have your furnace inspected and your ducts cleaned to keep the air your family breathes clean this winter.