When a new year begins, I always muse on ways to improve indoor air quality in my home. I look back and reflect on the things I didn’t accomplish the previous year or what insights I might have gleaned from all my time as an HVAC technician. I also research new approaches that I can use to make my home and those of my clients as comfortable and cozy as possible.
While conducting my research, I realized that there are a few and common tips that seem to be rehashed by various websites and media outlets out there. And since there’s no better time talk about this topic than now, I decided to run with it and create an exhaustive list.
You see, this is a time when most people are spending approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. And if you think about EPA pronouncement – that indoor air is at least 2 times contaminated than outdoor – it’s only prudent to start taking what you breathe inside your home very seriously.
So, this list should hopefully help you maintain a fresh and healthy air inside your home so you and your family can breathe easy.
Ways to improve indoor air quality: getting started
1. Schedule an indoor air quality home audit – the objective of an indoor air quality home audit is to:
- Inspect your home, identify possible pollutant sources, air quality problems, inspect the status of your air conditioning and mechanical ventilation (ACMV) system
- Collect all information and find out if there’s a connection between these problems and any reported health-related issues
- Interpret and analyze all the collated information to identify priority issues to address
- Provide tips on where and how to make adjustments that produce better indoor air quality
2. Know the pollutants that affect your house – various pollutants can contaminate the air inside your home. But we all know every home is different. Look for notorious contaminants and prioritize them first.
3. Test for indoor air pollutants – test for air quality if you already suspect a specific pollutant. Don’t target various pollutants at once as it will be expensive and overwhelming.
Ways to improve indoor air quality: cleaning tips
4. Use natural and eco-friendly cleaning products – if you can clean without chemical-based product, you’ll rest easy knowing you are protecting your health, your family’s, and that of the planet.
5. Remove carpeting if possible – because they are susceptible to various pollutants, it’s better to avoid them altogether.
6. Check the material used in new carpets – If you do want to carpet, make sure to choose natural materials like wool, which do not contain flame-retardants or stain-resistant chemicals.
7. Clean walls and ceilings – this will reduce the amount of dust floating around and make your home look better
8. Mop your floor and use door mats – to reduce filth and bacteria that might build-up over time. Use doormats at the entry door to keep the floor cleaner for longer. Also, ensure that shoes are clean or are taken off entirely before they enter your home.
9. Clean bedding in very hot water every week – not only to remove dirt, debris, and odor but to kill every last dust mite and mold that love your bedding more than you do.
10. Wipe down tops of doors, window frames and sills weekly – use a damp cloth to remove any environmental contaminants and make them sparkling clean
11. Vacuum often and use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum cleaner – to prevent accumulation of dust and other allergens. Use vacuum cleaners with disposable bags and microfiber cloths for surface dust removal.
12. Wash or change your vacuum filter regularly – If the filter is not clean or properly maintained, the vacuum has to work harder to absorb and eliminate dirt and allergens from your home
13. Detox your home – if you have any unused chemicals, paints or cleaning products. Also, remove all used cans that might contain chemicals that emit fumes.
14. Avoid synthetic air fresheners – they release toxins which can harmful to your baby and pets. Opt for 100% natural or home-made fresheners
15.-Use 100% natural or organic personal care products. They are safe for your health and the environment. Do not contain harmful chemicals and additives. They are less-expensive.
Ways to improve indoor air quality: insulation and ventilation
16. Open the windows as much as possible – to ensure there is a healthy and constant circulation of air, and to let the sun warm the room.
17. Install attic ventilation – improves comfort by facilitating the continual inflow of fresh air from the outside into the attic along with outflow of hot, stagnant air. It also prevents mold formation and ice dams and significantly lowers your energy bills.
18. Proper maintenance and routine inspection of attic ventilation system at least once per season – this is needed to ensure the space’s longevity and safety. Without proper care and maintenance, air and moisture is trapped and builds-up, making your room hot as well as decreasing the lifespan of your shingles.
19. Install positive input ventilation systems – using positive input ventilation systems could benefit your home if you experience mold and condensation across a number of rooms. These units continuously dilute, displace and replace contaminated, stale, moist air with clean, dry, filtered air.
20. Install mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system (MVHR) – if your building has good airtightness levels, it might just be the best solution. Apart from supplying fresh air to all rooms, it removes moist stale air, reusing the heat to pre-heat the fresh air entering the building.
21. Ventilate gas appliances – they require a certain amount of oxygen to burn correctly. Too little air causes incomplete combustion which produces carbon monoxide, which is a serious health hazard.
22. Ensure cracks and crevices around window frames are patched – use a potty or sealer to ensure no warm air escapes the room. This can be important during winter.
23. Consider double glazing – another winter treat. Apart from reducing heat loss, it excludes external noise.
24. Build drywall over “cold wall” – if you have some “cold wall” in your home , usually concrete wall with no or with bad insulation, then taking this step will ensure no excess moisture and contaminants enter your home.
Ways to improve indoor air quality: heating and heating devices
25. Avoid using supplemental space heaters – including electric, kerosene, gas or propane models. They are not only inefficient and expensive to operate, but also dangerous.
26. Avoid wood burning appliances – they produce wood smoke that contains various hazardous pollutants, especially particulate matter that causes lung cancer.
27. Upgrade to a high efficiency heating system – choose heating systems with a higher AFUE rating to maximize efficiency as well as save some energy bills.
28. Have your heating system inspected regularly – proper care and maintenance will ensure your system delivers reliable performance and comfort all year round. It can also reduce your heating expenses.
29. Never use your oven to heat the house – leaving your oven open depletes the much-needed oxygen, and you run the risk of CO poisoning. It’s also less efficient as the oven has no mechanism of pushing the heat into your house.
30. Set your central heating timers accordingly – because a typical home takes 30 mins to heat up and the same time to cool down, set your heating to turn on 30 minutes before you get home or get up in the morning. Also, set it to switch off 30 mins before you go to bed or leaving your home
31. Warm your house up to a slightly higher temperature during the warmest part of the day, probably early to mid-afternoon – this is because heating devices especially heat pumps don’t work efficiently when the outside temperature is lower than the inside. The warm air is then circulated through the house, allowing you to coast through the chilly nights.
32. Bleed your radiators – to remove trapped air in the pipes and radiators. This will increase the efficiency of the system especially if it wasn’t properly working previously.
33. Set ceiling fans to rotate clockwise – and at low speed to pull cool air up and push warm air down, making the room feel warmer.
34. Never use kerosene or gas heaters in unvented areas – they produce carbon monoxide which can build-up. If it’s a must you have to use one, make sure your windows are open just enough to allow some fresh air.
35. Close your chimney’s flue and draft if it’s not in use – to minimize heat loss and stop cold drafts. However, if embers are remaining from the fire, leave the damper open to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
36. Use heavy curtains to stop heat escaping from your windows – they insulate your windows and help keep the warmth in.
37. Change or clean your furnace filter once a month. Dust and dirt can quickly clog vital parts, making your furnace run harder and eventually break down.
Ways to improve indoor air quality: cooling devices
38. Invest in whole house fans if your home can’t accommodate central air conditioning- they are the best for moderate climates. They push cool air down to the floor, creating a wind chill effect which makes you feel cooler. Also, they reduce power costs compared to air conditioners.
39. Switch your ceiling fan to rotate in a counter-clockwise direction – changing the direction of your ceiling fan in the summer makes it run at a higher speed, creating a wind-chill breeze effect that makes you feel cooler
40. Replace old or inefficient air conditioners -to keep your home cool and comfy any time you want as well as avoid constant break down
41. Buy and use a high-efficiency air conditioner – make sure the energy efficiency ratio (EER) rating is 10+ (for room air conditioners) and seasonal efficiency ratio (SEER) rating of 12+ for central air conditioners.
42. Take into account the size of your central air conditioner – if it is too small, it will constantly run without adequately cooling your house. If it is oversized, it will quickly over-cool the air in your home and shut off too soon, leaving other places hot..
43. Maintain your air conditioners properly to maximize efficiency – clean the outside compressor with a garden hose with low/no pressure to remove dirt, dust, leaves and other debris that might be stuck on the side.
44. Set the fan on your central air conditioner to “on” rather than “auto.” – this will circulate air continuously, keeping the temperature more even throughout the house and aiding in dehumidification.
45. Provide shade for your room A/C – or the outside half of your central A/C – this will increase the unit’s efficiency by 5-10 percent and reduce energy costs by as much as 50 percent
46. If you have an older central air conditioner, but not ready for a new one – consider replacing the outdoor compressor with a modern, high-efficiency unit. Make sure that it is properly matched to the indoor unit.
47. Use a dehumidifier together with your air conditioner – the dehumidifier will increase the cooling load and force the air conditioner to work harder
48. Install white window shades or mini-blinds – aside from adding decorating value, they reflect the solar heat back outside, maintaining the much needed coolness.
49. Set the thermostat at a higher temperature (about 78 degrees F (26 degrees C) when you are home – for adequate comfort and to save money on your energy bills
50. Unplug all unnecessary appliances or electronics when not in use – any device that is plugged into the socket produces heat. Unplugging devices that are not in use will help reduce the unnecessary heat.
51. Don’t cook indoor if you can – instead of turning on the oven or stoves – generates too much heat – fire up the grill or pre-plan your meals. You can also try and build the old-fashioned stand-alone summer kitchen.
52. Set up timers to run your fans a few hours before sunrise – if temperatures cool down substantially at night, you can program your timers to run fans to circulate that cool air through your house a few hours before you wake up. The fun soaks in the coolness and pushes it during the day when the temperatures are extremely high.
53. Cool down your house to slightly chilly first thing in the morning – because air conditioners don’t work great when the outside air temperature is higher than the inside. Cooling down your house during the cold morning allows the cool air to be circulated through the house. And when the temperature heats up, you’ll be able to coast through even without your A/C system. Works perfectly if you have a ceiling fan.
54. Open the windows at night and place fans in the windows – to suck the cool air in. Shut all the windows during the day as this will keep your house relatively cool for a majority of the day.
55. In hot climates, plant shade trees on the north side of the house – they prevent sunlight from striking the ground and reflecting into the house. Thus, they help maintain the cool air around the house.
Ways to improve indoor air quality: whole home tips
56. Get a house plant – to help suck up contaminants suspended in the air, whilst providing additional oxygen
57. Make your home smoke-free – to protect yourself and loved ones from secondhand smoke.
58. Use a humidifier – to help maintain the required humidity levels, which also helps with prevention of mold formation and allergens like dust mites. They also help with health problems such as sinusitis.
59. Use HEPA purifier – to reduce and eliminate various contaminants from the air.
60. Clean your humidifier regularly – to get the best out of it and to prevent the risk of spreading potentially harmful bacteria and mold into the air.
61. Fix water leaks – especially in your basement and bathroom.This will help prevent any hidden damages, mold growth, and maintain optimum humidity levels.
62. Test your home for radon – to identify if your home has elevated levels of radon. If the level is 4+, you need to take action.
63. Use carbon monoxide detectors – to be alerted when the levels of CO is too high so as to avoid CO poisoning.
64. Install smoke detector – not only to detect smoldering and fast-burning fires, but also against too much smoke produced by heating and cooking appliances.
65. Maintain your humidity levels between 30-50 – to prevent catching a cod when the moisture is too low and mold growth when the moisture is too high.
66. Don’t damage the paintings – especially if you suspect they are lead based paint. Just leave the wall paint undisturbed unless you want to renovate – in that case, hire professionals.
67. Bath or groom your pets – remember to give a thorough brushing to remove loose hair. Bath to remove unpleasant odor and dirt or contaminants that might have accumulated on their coats.
68. Install a programmable thermostat – they help maintain a perfect, consistent temperature throughout your home. You also get to reduce your energy usage.
69. Replace damaged or defective air ducts – to maximize your HVAC equipment’s efficiency and keep your home at a comfortable, even temperature
70. Install an air exchanger on your furnace – to push stale air out and bring fresh air into your home with minimal heat loss or without adversely impacting your pre-set temperature
71. Upgrade your furnace filter – the MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) number will show you how small of a particle your furnace can catch. If you upgrade to a higher MERV, you increase the performance of filter removing even smaller particles. Just make sure you don’t go higher than what your furnace filter fan is rated for.
72. Air out your dry cleaning – dry-the chemical used in dry cleaning, perchloroethylene (PERC), can linger on clothes hours or days after dry cleaning. This chemical is a probable carcinogen and can also affect your central nervous system. If you don’t use “green” dry cleaner that doesn’t use toxic chemicals, the next best option is air out your machine before bringing it indoors.
73. Keep dryer vents clean – clean lint trap after every load and dryer vents regularly to ensure there’s no build up contaminants and carbon monoxide during cleaning.
74. Replace your furnace filter regularly – over time, dust, dander, bacteria, and other particles can clog your furnace filter causing the air circulation in your home to degrade. If you can hire a professional to check it every month and change your furnace filter every 3 months, you prolong the life of your furnace and stand a high chance of maintaining a fresh and clean indoor air all year through.
75. Be careful of renovations – flooring materials and paints could release formaldehyde and lead. Make sure you choose low-formaldehyde products. After renovation, be sure you ventilate your home well by regularly opening windows until the “new” smell dissipates.
76. Check the material used in new furniture – glues, permanent press fabrics, paper product coatings, fiberboard and plywood can release formaldehyde and other toxic fumes. Make sure you choose low-formaldehyde products, including real wood furniture, or wood products made with phenol resin. You want to leave any furniture that produces odor outside or in your yard for some days before moving them into your house.
77. Replace blinds with drapes – drapes are reasonably easy to take down and wash in a washing machine to keep them allergen- and dust-free. Compare that to blinds that are much more difficult to clean, and some are also made with toxic materials.
78. If your home was built before 1978, have paint chips tested for lead paint – sounds scary. But it’s true, house build before 1978 may contain lead which can accumulate in the body and have adverse long-tern health effects.
79. Check for and clean mold – if you smell a musty odor, discover mold in one area of your house, notice symptoms of mold-related health problems or if your home was flooded.
80. Discard or replace drywall, ceiling tiles or wood materials if you notice mold growth – these materials can be very good breeding grounds for mold
81. Install a programmable thermostat – you can easily adjust the temperature and comfort levels in your home. Also, you will be able to save energy and cut costs on your power bill, all at the same time!
82. Keep Pets Out of the Bedroom – pet dander are serious contaminants that trigger sensitivity and cause allergy in vulnerable people. Keep pets out of your bedroom to minimize the amount of dander, thus reducing allergy symptoms and improve your sleep quality.
More ways to improve your indoor air quality
83. Wash new clothes before wearing them – this is quite obvious, but you might be doing it for another reason. In this case, the chemicals added to clothing throughout the production process can stay on clothes for several days and trigger allergic reactions in sensitive people.
84. Do monthly ozone shock treatments when nobody is home – this will zap any surface viruses, bacteria, mold, and kill the mites. Using ozone when no one’s home doesn’t pose serious risks.
85. – Keep trash covered to avoid attracting pests – trash attracts cockroaches, mites, ants and other insects. Their droppings, saliva, and shed body part can contaminate indoor air.
86 – Stay away from petroleum-based wax candles and scented candles – they put off chemicals that are considered just as dangerous as second-hand smoke.
87. Window Height – Installing windows that are at least 3.6 feet high helps indoor air movement and also reduces the heat load on ceilings.
88. Be Careful of toxic fuels and chemicals from cars – these fumes and chemicals can accumulate in your indoor environment if they are not properly handled. Try to limit car exhaust fumes in your garage.
89. Take immediate action against flood and water damage – that’s normal. But more importantly, dry and decontaminate to prevent mold growth and humidity issues.
90. Use your bathroom exhaust fan – exhaust fans help reduce the moisture levels in your bathroom, which can then reduce the chances of mold.
91. Place humidifiers and dehumidifiers away from walls and bulky furniture – ensure free air circulation to maximize these appliances efficiency. Be sure to clean the unit often to prevent unhealthy mold and bacteria from developing.
92. Place heavy furniture along exterior walls and use decorative quilts as wall hangings – if your home has no side wall, furniture likes bookshelves, armoires, and sofas will help block cold air.
93. Set the water heater temperature at 120 degrees – to keep unhealthy bacteria from growing and prevent scalding. Also to save some heating energy.
94. Instead of air-polluting and expensive charcoal or propane – try an electric or natural gas grill. You’ll reduce your risk of CO poisoning. They’re also more economical and more convenient
95. When you take a vacation, leave your air conditioner or heater running – the stable temperature means that these appliances won’t have to work as hard when you return compared to if you switch them off.
96. Investigate new technology carefully – there are many technologies in HVAC industry. Some like a heat pump that will keep a space cool without using any chemical refrigerants seems promising. However, make sure you choose a technology that fits your needs.
97. Don’t forget to ask about warranties – service contracts, and delivery and installation costs. In case of anything, you know you can be protected.
98. Be sure to choose a reputable and knowledgeable dealer – their products have proven to be efficient, and you’ll have piece of mind.They can also help you choose a heating and cooling systems suitable for your needs.
99. Choose a reputable company with the lowest prices – finding reputable dealers is a good idea. Choosing one with the lowest price will be a better idea.
100. Invest in an HVAC maintenance plan – all these appliances can get faulty when you least expect. With a maintenance plan, you’ll have them repaired immediately when you call your service company.