One of IET’s most frequently asked questions is, “How can I improve the indoor air quality in my home?” This is, of course, a very big topic but here is a basic overview of ways to improve indoor air quality in your home.
Please keep in mind that every building is unique. Thereby, the relative significance of the factors discussed do vary. Also keep in mind that changing one factor will often impact others. As a result, the whole process should be thought through in advance to prevent unintended negative consequences.
As you read through the comments below, it will quickly become obvious that many of the best practices of indoor air quality reinforce each other. For instance, one of the most efficient ways to control humidity also increases ventilation. This also ensures the home is kept under positive pressure.
Note: the term Indoor Environmental Quality is considered the technical term for indoor air related issues. However, for the sake of this discussion, we will consider the more common term, Indoor Air Quality.
1. Control humidity and moisture
In Florida’s climate, humidity and moisture is without doubt the most significant single cause of indoor air quality problems. To control humidity, one must be able to measure it. A thermo-hygrometer (temperature/humidity meter) is essential. They are available for $25 up as hand-held meters or battery powered weather stations. Available online or in many retail stores.
Humidity in Florida, surprisingly, can be more of a problem in homes during winter than summer. See article Controlling Humidity in Florida Homes Year Round.
If plumbing or envelope leaks occur, building materials must be quickly dried, in a maximum of just a few days. If not, significant indoor air quality problems will develop. Wet materials should be considered an emergency situation.
Controlling humidity in Florida throughout the year may require auxiliary dehumidification. IET has for decades specified Ultra-Aire systems. These systems provide both increased ventilation and excellent humidity control, thereby improving the indoor air quality in your home.
This part of improving indoor air quality in your home is accomplished bringing in a source of outside air, dehumidifying it and distributing it into the home. This can be done in a couple of ways: using an Ultra-Aire system or ducting it directly into the return air side of the system. This improves ventilation. In others words, air in envelope cavities (walls, attics and ceilings) is usually dry inside air rather than outside humid air. It makes the home much more resistant to minor envelope leaks, which are more likely to dry before they create problems. The most important point to remember is that this additional outside return air must be properly dehumidified at some point in the process. If not, humidity will climb and create problems of its own.
3. Regular Inspection of the HVAC system
Parts of the HVAC system are by definition wet or damp. If a food source for mold and other organisms is available because the system isn’t properly cleaned, these organisms will grow and create indoor air quality problems. Have the system regularly inspected and cleaned as necessary. Once the system is properly cleaned, increasing filtration on the return will help in keeping it clean. This will prevent debris from accumulating on the coils and other surfaces. However, keep in mind that more efficient filters may restrict air flow, if not properly engineered, which can impede the energy efficiency of the system and its ability to properly control humidity.
4. Maintain good housekeeping
Most of the contaminants in the home are just organic dust that accumulates. Examples include dust tracked-in, shed human/animal skin flakes, aerosolized particles from cooking, etc. Regular cleaning removes these particles. Use damp wiping, HEPA vacuuming or other methods that actually remove particles. Avoid “cleaning” methods such as a feather duster, which simply put the particles up into the air to settle out later. Vacuum cleaners should be either HEPA filtered or vented to the outside, as in a whole-house vac system.
5. Consider an air filtration unit in your home
Free-standing units can be quite effective in smaller spaces. A bedroom is ideal since this is where we spend the largest percentage of our time. Whole-house units combined into the AC system are also available. This would take the added filtration to an even higher level as discussed in the HVAC section above.
IET is a dealer for the IQAir® line of air filtration systems. This is for the simple reason that they are the most effective systems we’ve found. However, there are many good systems on the market. We recommend mechanical filtration systems, not those dependent on ionization, charged particles, etc. You want to remove contaminants from the air, not add or change them which many “air purifiers” claim they do.
6. Increase ventilation in the home
In recent decades, homes are being built to be more and more airtight. This is excellent for reducing energy usage. However, a tight home is by definition not well ventilated. This is of itself not a problem, as ventilation can simply be provided by controlled mechanical means. In fact, it ties right into IET’s #1 mantra for improving indoor air quality, “Build Tight and Ventilate Right and Use Healthy Materials!”
Unfortunately, many homes implement the first part of that advice and ignore the second two parts. The result is that contaminants (humidity, formaldehyde and other VOCs, particles, etc.) released into the indoor air may build up to concentrations capable of causing irritant or even toxic effects on occupants.
IET can test a home to determine how airtight it is and therefore how much ventilation needs to be provided mechanically to meet ASHRAE standards.
7. Have your home tested by an indoor air quality professional
An inspection by IET or another qualified indoor air quality professional firm can locate problems, if present, and provide recommendations for implementing the ideas above and/or other specific needs tailored for your home that will help to improve indoor air quality.
Note: Each of the seven headings in this article will be addressed in more detail in future posts.
Indoor Air Quality Testing Services
IET (Indoor Environmental Technologies) has been performing indoor air quality testing since 1992. We have worked with thousands of satisfied clients in the commercial, residential, health care and education field. We provide this service in the entire Tampa Bay area, including Clearwater, St. Pete, Sarasota and Lakeland and throughout Florida. Contact IET to schedule an assessment.