Improving Indoor Air Quality in Your Home
By: Danny Lipford
I often talk about the importance of “sealing the envelope” of your home. Improvements in building techniques and materials in recent years have resulted in homes today that are more tightly sealed than ever before. While these advancements are great for saving energy and reducing your heating and cooling bills, they can also trap stale, polluted air inside your home.
That’s why it’s critical that your home is also well ventilated, allowing fresh air into the house and exhausting contaminated air to the outside.
Check out the Clear the Air episode to see how we solved a young family’s indoor air quality issues. And, watch Clearing the Air With Spot and Whole-House Ventilation for more information on improving indoor air quality.
Sources of Indoor Air Pollution
Lack of proper air exchange can cause the air in your home to be up to five times more polluted than outside air. This can cause increased problems in those with asthma or allergies, and can result other serious health risks. Common sources of home indoor air pollution include:
- Dust, pet dander, and pollen
- Excess moisture from bathing and cooking
- Smoke and fumes from fireplaces, candles, tobacco, and gas appliances
- Harmful volatile organic compounds (VOC) released by some cleaners, adhesives, paints, and other products
- Radon gas that can be emitted naturally by the ground in certain areas
Whole-House Ventilation Systems
One of the biggest trends in creating healthy indoor air is whole-house ventilation. In fact, some states even require it, per indoor air quality building codes.
The new Fresh Air Systems from Broan offer one of the best solutions I’ve seen for creating and circulating clean air throughout the home. It runs both indoor and outdoor air through a core that filters impurities, and adjusts humidity and temperature. So no matter where your air is coming from, it’s constantly being purified, creating a healthier home and family.
There are two types of whole-house ventilation systems. Which one is right for your home depends on the climate where you live:
Heat Recovery Ventilators: HRV systems remove heat from the inside air before it’s exhausted to the outside, and use it to warm the incoming air. This makes them a good choice for colder climates.
Energy Recovery Ventilators: ERV systems manage both heat loss and the humidity in the air, making them ideal for warm, humid climates. An ERV system transfers some of the moisture in the humid air stream to the dryer air stream to recover the energy trapped in the moisture.
Spot Ventilation Solutions
Spot ventilation refers to localized exhaust fans, commonly used in kitchens and bathrooms.
Install a quality range hood vented to the outside with the recommended CFM (cubic feet per minute) air flow for your stove. Make sure to choose a range hood that’s both efficient and quiet, such as the 52000 series from Broan, which has a 370 CFM centrifugal blower and multispeed control. Run the fan whenever you cook to remove cooking fumes, smoke, carcinogens, grease and moisture.
You may be thinking, “But my microwave already has a fan. Why do I need a vent hood?” While over-the-range microwaves are convenient, they don’t extend far enough over the stove for proper venting, and they often aren’t vented to the outside. Watch Advantages of Kitchen Range Hoods Over Microwaves for Venting for more info on this topic.
The bathroom is the biggest source of moisture in the home. The best line of defense against moisture in the bathroom is a quality vent fan, such as the Ultra Green bath fan from Broan. Install one in each bathroom; and use them during and for 15-20 minutes after bathing to remove excess moisture that can cause mold and mildew.
And, like range hoods in the kitchen, it’s important that the bathroom vent exhausts all the way to the outside. If the vent stops in the attic, all that moisture and humidity is trapped in the attic, creating a breeding ground for mold and mildew. Watch How to Properly Vent a Bathroom Exhaust Fan in an Attic for details.
Other Tips for a Healthy Indoor Environment
- Install a high-quality air filter on your central heating/cooling system and replace it every one to three months to keep the system operating efficiently.
- Replace the air filter on your vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter, which captures much finer particles than standard vacuum cleaner filters. Another option is to install a central vacuum system that exhausts the air outside your home.
- Use only cleaners, paints, adhesives, and building materials that are low in VOCs or contain no VOCs.
- Make sure new cabinets, furniture, and building materials such as plywood, particle board, and oriented strand board (OSB) used in your home are not made with adhesives that contain formaldehyde.
- Some houseplants have been shown to actually absorb harmful VOCs from the air. Plants that provided the most benefit include philodendron, peace lily, snake plant, dracaena, and bamboo palm. Check out our article on Best Houseplants to Improve Indoor Air Quality to find out more.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Protect Indoor Air Quality in Your Home
- U.S. Department of Energy: Ventilation