IAQ: Here’s what you should know about improving your indoor air quality
Indoor air quality is a major concern here in the United States—especially as more of us start spending a majority of our time indoors at home. Poor IAQ can have a significant impact on our health and happiness in the home or office. In this article, we’ll review what indoor air quality is, why it’s such an issue here in Fresno, and what you can do to clear the air in your home and start breathing easier.
Is IAQ really that big of a problem?
What do you picture when you hear the words “air quality?” Maybe a smoggy Central Valley, or a congested freeway? A TV weatherman warning you about high levels of airborne particulate matter, ozone, or haze? Either way, chances are that you think of outdoor air first. Most people associate air quality with the outside world, and view the air they breathe inside as being clean or pure.
Unfortunately, this is actually a major misconception. While it’s true that outdoor air quality issues do plague Fresno and the Central Valley—in 2019, we were ranked as the nation’s worst city for air pollution—the inside of your home or office is no refuge. In fact, there’s a good chance that the air you breathe inside is just as polluted as the air you breathe outside. Considering the amount of time we all spend inside (especially lately!), that means your exposure to poor indoor air quality (or “IAQ”) could have a pronounced effect on your health and happiness.
Why is our indoor air quality so poor?
One of the reasons our indoor air quality is so poor is because today’s homes are built to better retain cooling and heating, which reduces airflow and drafts. While this is great news for your home’s efficiency and a key part of efficiency upgrades, it also means that pollutants and allergens can become trapped in your home without adequate ventilation to bring in fresh air or filtration to remove particulate matter.
One way to deal with some IAQ problems is through adequate ventilation: allowing outdoor air inside your home to refresh the air supply. Of course, this is nothing new: when someone says “it feels stuffy in here,” they reach for the window or door. Unfortunately, this strategy is often a seasonal one: during the hot summer months, no one wants outdoor air getting into their home. So, we close up our windows and doors, rarely allowing outdoor and indoor air to circulate.
Here’s what could be in your home’s air
Here are some of the potential pollutants that might be found in your home’s air:
— Allergens: Whether produced by trees and plants (pollen), caused by dust mites, or a byproduct of your home’s companions (dog and cat hair and dander), the impact of allergens can be more pronounced in an enclosed space.
— VOCs: Volatile organic compounds are a significant contributor to poor indoor air quality. These are produced by household cleaning products, pesticides, and wood paint. In sufficient quantities, VOCs can have negative health impacts for most people.
— Viruses & Bacteria: Airborne viruses and bacteria could be present in your home’s air, endlessly recirculating every time you turn on the air conditioner.
— Mold Particles: Mold can grow anywhere there is sufficient moisture and humidity. Airborne mold particles can make members of your household sick.
— Other: There are many other potential pollutants, including asbestos (found in older homes or furniture), carbon monoxide (make sure you have a CO sensor in your home), secondhand smoke, radon, lead, and more.
How does this impact me?
Honestly, this depends. Different people have different levels of sensitivity to different indoor air pollutants. Generally speaking, young children and the elderly are more susceptible to the negative health effects of degraded indoor air quality. However, a large enough air quality problem will eventually impact everyone in the health to some degree.
The experts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency divide the health effects of poor indoor air quality into two categories: immediate effects and long-term effects. Immediate effects include allergic reactions and symptoms like eye irritation, a runny or stuffy nose, headaches, fatigue, or a scratchy throat. Again, these symptoms are generally going to be more prevalent and pronounced in those with pre-existing health or breathing conditions, such as asthma. There’s even science to support the idea that poor air quality impacts our sleep!
It’s more difficult to draw a clear connection between poor indoor air quality and long-term health conditions, but scientists have identified some IAQ pollutants as a contributor to forms of cancer, respiratory disease, or heart disease. Context is important here: while common allergens are unlikely to contribute to severe long-term effects, prolonged and repeated exposure to VOCs, asbestos, or secondhand smoke almost certainly will. You need to know what you’re dealing with. This is why an indoor air quality test is so important.
What can I do about poor indoor air?
The first step is scheduling an indoor air quality test with an IAQ expert or trusted HVAC company in your area. A professional IAQ test captures samples of your home’s air in different rooms and spaces, and then has those samples lab-tested to determine what pollutants or contaminants are present in what quantities. This helps determine what needs to be done first to improve the air quality in the home.
Next, an IAQ expert will want to deal with the source of any critical issues. After all, before we worry about filtering out mold particles from your home’s air, we’re going to want to help you find the source of the mold in your home and clean it. The same thing goes for radon, carbon monoxide, and VOCs.
What is the difference between air filters and air purifiers?
Air filters work like this: they use a fan to draw in air, which is then forced through a physical filter. Particulates in the air get caught in this filter, and the air that is forced out the other side of the air filter is generally free of physical contaminants. This is the same principle that your HVAC air filter operates on: capturing physical particulate matter. You then clean or replace the filter at a later point.
However, this approach has an important limitation: anything too small to be caught in the filter—which includes most viruses, bacteria, and mold particles—will generally not be caught in an air filter. An air purifier is a better approach for this class of air contaminants. UV filters, for instance, use ultraviolet light to kill or deactivate viruses, bacteria, and mold, rendering them harmless.
Is there a better way forward?
For a best-of-both-worlds approach, we recommend a system that can handle both air purification and air filtration. Here at Allbritten, we install the APCO Whole-House Purifier. It uses UVC light with activated carbon cells to kill airborne contaminants while also filtering out particulate matter from your home’s air. Installed inside of your air ducts, it runs silently, protecting your home while staying out-of-sight and out-of-mind. The great thing about the APCO Whole-House Purifier is that it doesn’t create ozone as a byproduct of air purification. Considering that ozone itself is an IAQ contaminant, it’s a device with the right approach to air quality improvement.
What should I do next?
If you live in Fresno or the Central Valley, you need to call our team here at Allbritten. We offer a number of indoor air quality improvement services, including:
— Humidifier / Dehumidifier Installation
— Whole-Home Air Purification
— Air Filter Replacement
Our friendly team of experts can put your home or commercial building on the path to better air quality, better breathing, and a happier life indoors.