A Complete Guide to Improving Your Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air quality (IAQ) has always been a great concern for homeowners and workplaces alike, and even more so with the current pandemic enveloping the world. Frequent coughing, sneezing, and stuffy feeling are signs that your air quality is not up to par, and you might need to take a closer look at your HVAC systems and bring in some changes. Improved air quality not only ensures a happier environment but also can result in improved physical health. The question is, how to improve indoor air quality?
Even though there are no codified standards, workplace-related IAQ guidelines are published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). IAQ has been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as one of the top five urgent environmental risks to public health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the majority of American citizens spend 90% of their time indoors. This includes an approximately 40-hour workweek spent indoors. All this points out to the fact that IAQ has a great bearing on the well-being of a person, and according to some experts, it has a greater effect on your health than outdoor air quality.
It naturally follows then that indoor air quality should be an area of focus.
Effects of Poor Indoor Air Quality
You can be mistaken for attributing your frequent sneezing and coughing to season variations, but according to the EPA, indoor air can be 2 to 5 times more polluted than the outside environment. But this is still not a topic that is widely discussed among circles and can lead to negative effects later on.
Let us go over some quick facts:
- According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, almost 50% of all diseases are caused by low indoor air quality.
- Poor indoor air quality results in more sicknesses, leaves for employees, and higher insurance costs. The US Department of Energy estimates that these factors can cost businesses up to $168 billion annually.
- Studies have shown that an additional 6 sick days per year are caused per 10 workers due to poor indoor air quality.
- A study found that asthma cases can be reduced by up to 60% by controlling allergens and pollutants in indoor air.
All these facts point out the need to emphasize improved indoor air quality as a key component of employee health and workplace productivity. The same lessons can also be applied to a home environment so that it leads to a relaxing atmosphere.
Effects of HVAC on Indoor Air Quality
As said before, the majority of our time is spent indoors, either at home or at the workplace. This makes HVAC an integral part of our lives. But still, the emphasis with HVAC within the general public is usually on the cooling or air conditioning aspect of it, and not on the ventilation part. Circulating quality air throughout the interior space and maintaining a healthy temperature balance is an important part of an HVAC system, and cannot be overlooked.
An HVAC system brings in air from the outside and throws it inside the room after appropriate treatment. Air filters and ionizers are used to purify the air before it enters the indoor space. It is important to ensure that the filters and other associated systems remain in top condition so that outdoor pollutants do not come inside the room.
If your ventilation system isn’t in top shape, coupled with a poorly maintained filter, those contaminants can linger on inside your home or office and become a cause of your concern. That is why it is imperative to continuously maintain your HVAC system. Moreover, moisture can build up within your HVAC systems, and contribute to the growth of mold and fungus. This can serve as a host site for bacteria and viruses which are detrimental to health.
Indoor Air Quality Testing
Before you go about improving your IAQ, you need to have an idea of the present IAQ situation. For that, an Indoor Air Quality Testing kit is essential. There are different types of kits available, ranging from $80 to $200, depending on the type of contaminants they can detect. Some common parameters are humidity, carbon dioxide, chemical pollutants, and particulate matter. So be sure to write down your requirements and buy an indoor air quality testing kit.
Keeping your Indoor Air Quality Perfect
Source Ventilation Control
An integral part of HVAC systems, ventilation is critical in ensuring that the air you breathe is constantly recycled and purified of any contaminants. A buildup of stagnant air can cause common issues such as a stuffy room, and accumulation of odor, or much more serious problems such as excess levels of carbon dioxide. A good ventilation system is able to circulate fresh air throughout the room, purify it, and then remove it as well. Ducts and intakes have to be positioned so this purpose is achieved.
In more humid conditions, humidity control is also an important consideration. An HVAC system is also used to remove humidity from the air, and in normal conditions, this water is drained outdoors through a series of drain pipes. Over time though, these pipes can become clogged or damaged, resulting in blockage. This is when the moisture can spread throughout the HVAC system and become a breeding ground for mold and mildew, giving rise to bacteria which can then spread through the ductwork and be a cause of illnesses. Which is why it is recommended to routinely check up on your HVAC system.
Regular System Maintenance
For an HVAC system, filters are the first line of defense against outdoor pollutants. They are designed to capture pollutants and restrict them from entering the indoor space. Over time, they can become full of collected dust and dirt, and their efficiency is reduced. Now they are doing more damage than good. Hence, routine checkups and replacement of air filters are mandatory to prevent clogging of the air lines. For ductless systems, some smart controllers such as the Cielo Breez Plus can tell you when your filter replacement is due, so you won’t be caught on your heels.
There are other types of filters available as well which can remove finer particulate, called HEPA filters. These are recommended for people with allergies.
Similarly, for ducted systems, the ductwork needs to be frequently inspected. Rodents and even birds can sometimes take refuge within the ductwork, and be a source of bad odor.
Aftermarket Air Purifiers
An indoor air purifier is a must-have if you are looking to remove those micro-organisms from your air. The inbuilt air filter of an HVAC is only good for larger particles. A heavy-duty HEPA filter is good to trap particles of 0.3 microns and above. Meanwhile, electrostatic fields are used to capture microscopic particles like viruses.
Moreover, activated charcoal filters can also be used to capture large amounts of micron-sized particles and keep the indoor environment clean. A pound of activated charcoal can have a surface area of 100 acres, thus having an area large enough to effectively filter through the air.
Ultraviolet air purifiers are becoming a popular choice now within the industry. As the name suggests, UV air filters kill bacteria and viruses by blasting them with rays of ultraviolet light that kills them as they pass through it.
HVAC Maintenance is the Key for Good Air Quality
Maintenance is the most cost-effective solution to maintain a healthy indoor living environment. Always keep in mind the signs of your air conditioner needing a tune-up. If your HVAC system is not in proper condition, air quality will most definitely be compromised. Routine maintenance procedures include cleaning and replacement of air filters, and the evaporator coils is extremely important. If you have a smoker in the house, air filters can become clogged up with smoke particulate pretty quickly, and leave a characteristic smell that can sometimes overwhelm the occupants. There are more drawbacks to your indoor air quality brought about by smoking indoors, such as absorption in residual room dust, cross ventilation across the home, and seepage into walls and ceilings. Care should be taken to ensure that the drainage pipes are also clean and no mildew or mold is growing in there.
Another benefit of these checks is that you can quickly find out any suspected leaks within the refrigerant coils. They can be a source of harmful gases within your home and could lead to deadly Carbon Monoxide leaks.
We can now appreciate the importance of good indoor air quality for a healthy living. Not only does it keep your household safe, but as a workplace owner, it saves you on additional medical and insurance costs as well, resulting in greater employee productivity. Implementing all the above-mentioned measures will improve the indoor air quality of your space, and lead to a happier living!
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