One of the best ways to lower your energy bill and reduce your carbon footprint is by creating a tighter home envelope. This is accomplished by adding more insulation to your Metuchen, NJ home, sealing up air leaks around windows and doors, and taking other measures to prevent air loss. But what will this do to your indoor air quality (IAQ)? Contrary to what many believe, the air inside of residential buildings can actually contain far more allergens and contaminants than the air outside. Read on to find out why.

Understanding Your Home’s Air Exchange Rate

Your efforts to create a clean and fresh-smelling home could be impacting your IAQ more than you think. Many of the products that people regularly use to disinfect and deodorize their living spaces have a negative impact on human health. Fortunately, natural ventilation helps clean these and other contaminants out by bringing fresh air into the building and pushing airborne toxins outdoors.

When you open a window or door in your home to let fresh outside air flow in, this is known as natural ventilation, or natural air exchange. Unfortunately, with HVAC systems running almost year-round, natural ventilation isn’t a regular source of IAQ improvements. In homes that have slightly relaxed home envelopes, infiltration occurs as outdoor air seeps in through cracks and gaps in building materials. Wind and significant temperature differences between the indoor air and the outdoor air also support infiltration. While infiltration is a significantly less effective way of getting rid of airborne contaminants, it can contribute to a home’s air exchange rate.

For more effective removal of indoor contaminants, consumers are largely reliant upon mechanical ventilation. For instance, when you cook foods that produce smoke, smoke odors, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), you likely turn on your range hood fan. When showering, bathing, or cleaning your restrooms, you probably turn your overhead exhaust fans on, too. Although they aren’t incredibly powerful, these fans extract excess moisture and certain allergens and contaminants in ways that infiltration can’t.

The Tightness of Your Home Envelope and Your Health

While tightening your home’s envelope can cut your energy costs and reduce your household’s collective carbon footprint, it can also create a number of surprising health concerns. When homeowners add insulation, seal up air leaks, and take other related measures on their own, there’s no easy way to assess when a home’s envelope has become too tight. This becomes especially problematic in households that rely on fuel-burning appliances for hot water or heat.

As an example, if you use an oil-fired or gas-fired furnace to heat your New Jersey home, this unit is constantly producing harmful exhaust gases like carbon monoxide (CO) during operation. Although these gases are vented outdoors to prevent human exposure, having an excessively tight home envelope could create the perfect conditions for a dangerous backdraft. With backdrafts, CO and other exhaust gases are pulled back into the living space due to negative air pressure. Combined with little to no air filtration and insufficient natural ventilation, backdrafting exhaust can quickly prove deadly.

Building-Related Factors That Impact Your Indoor Air Quality

There are a host of things in your home that may constantly release toxins. For instance, if you have furnishings, cabinets, or other freestanding or built-in elements that are comprised of unsealed particle board, it may be worth knowing that particle board tends to off-gas formaldehyde and other harmful chemicals. In fact, many furnishings that are fashioned with adhesives or covered in paint release airborne toxins into your living space all of the time. Keep in mind that these chemicals cannot be picked up by your HVAC air filter.

The paint on your walls likely off-gases chemicals, too. When concentrations of off-gased contaminants become too high, people living in your home may experience headaches, confusion, fatigue, or nasal congestion, among other symptoms.

Other building-related factors that can impact your IAQ include:

  • Wood-burning fireplaces
  • Flooring adhesives
  • Allergens and contaminants trapped in carpeting and carpet padding

Your indoor air quality may be especially low if your HVAC system has a hard time regulating humidity. Having excess moisture in your home may create an environment that allows mold and mildew to flourish, which also impacts your IAQ.

Your HVAC System Helps Too

There’s also the air filters in your HVAC system. When your heating and cooling equipment is on, these components are constantly extracting airborne particulates, such as dirt, dander, pet hair, and pollen. However, basic HVAC air filters aren’t sophisticated enough to extract bacteria, mold spores, viruses, or VOCs with any measure of reliability. In fact, most of these micro-fine particulates pass right through standard air filters. One of the most important things to know about HVAC air filtration is that filters exist to protect heating and cooling equipment, not you. Thus, it’s a bad idea to rely too heavily on built-in HVAC air filtration to improve your IAQ.

Lifestyle Factors That Affect the Quality of Your Indoor Air

If one or more building residents smoke inside your home, your IAQ is almost guaranteed to be lower than the quality of the outdoor air. This is also true if one or more of your neighbors smoke near the building and secondhand smoke routinely enters your home via infiltration. Having indoor pets that shed or use dusty litter boxes is another major contributor to IAQ concerns.

In addition to the deodorizing and disinfecting agents that many people often use to clean their homes, other lifestyle-related contributors to low IAQ include:

  • Burning scented candles and incense sticks
  • Using plug-in wall fresheners
  • Applying perfumes, scented deodorants, and other self-care sprays

Surprisingly, even the process of preparing a healthy, home-cooked meal can have a negative impact on your IAQ. Heating fats and oils to high temperatures produces large amounts of volatile organic compounds and smoke. Moreover, many of the airborne contaminants that are released when frying or pan-searing foods aren’t removed from the building via range hood vent fans.

How to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

There are several things that you can to do raise the quality of your indoor air right away. For instance, you can start by thoroughly cleaning your exhaust fans. If the overhead fans in your bathrooms are riddled with gray, lint-like build-up, they probably aren’t ventilating these spaces as well as they should. Similarly, if the vent cover for your stove’s range hood is coated in thick, yellow grease, it should be taken down, soaked, wiped clean, and put back in place. Efforts to keep your mechanical ventilation clean functioning optimally are essential for protecting your IAQ.

Additionally, you should replace your HVAC air filters before they’re coated in gray, lint-like grime. These components should be inspected monthly and swapped out about once every 30 to 90 days. You can check your HVAC air vents and registers as well, and you can wipe these features down with a damp towel or clean them with your vacuum.

Scheduling annual tune-ups for your HVAC equipment is equally important for protecting your IAQ. During these visits, we can help you explore your options for upgraded HVAC air filters. Choosing an HVAC air filter with a higher Maximum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating is a great way to remove fine particulates from your indoor air.

Using Integrated HVAC Accessories to Boost Your Home’s IAQ

Finally, it might be in your best interests to take advantage of integrated HVAC accessories that are designed specifically for improving IAQ. These include:

  • Air purifiers
  • Air scrubbers
  • Media filters
  • Whole-house humidifiers/dehumidifiers

While standard HVAC air filters keep airborne particulates from coating the sensitive interior components of heating and cooling equipment, integrated HVAC accessories like these remove allergens and contaminants that pass right through most air filters.

Residents of Metuchen, NJ can always count on us for superior workmanship and service with a smile. We offer heating, plumbing, and air conditioning service. We also provide advanced indoor air quality solutions and preventative maintenance plans. If you’re ready to improve your home’s IAQ, we can help. Call First Choice Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning now to get started.

company icon