We don’t usually think about our home’s HVAC systems until they break down, but they have more of an impact on our daily life than you might think. An improperly maintained HVAC system can be detrimental to your air quality and your health. How can you ensure that your home’s HVAC system isn’t hurting your air quality?
Spending Time Indoors
The average American spends upwards of 90% of their time indoors, between work and time spent at home, in shopping centers, and restaurants. The EPA calls poor air quality one of the top five public health risks, and not maintaining your interior air quality can cause a variety of health problems. Asthma, allergies, headaches, and other breathing problems have all been attributed to poor interior air quality.
In work and school settings, poor air quality encourages absenteeism. People don’t feel well when they’re breathing in dust, mold, mildew, pollution or volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) but if the quality of the air is just as bad at home, then they’re getting out of the frying pan and jumping right into the fire.
VOCs are found in a variety of household chemicals and cleaning supplies and emit gasses that linger in the atmosphere. Outdoors, they dissipate over time — which is why most products that contain VOCs tell you to use them in a well-ventilated area. Indoors, the VOCs accumulate until they reach harmful levels unless your interior ventilation moves them out of the home. You can reduce the number of VOCs in your home by removing products that contain them, but that doesn’t help with the gasses that have already accumulated in your home.
This is why it’s so important to ensure that your HVAC system isn’t harming your interior air quality. Now let’s take a look at how you can make sure that your HVAC system isn’t hurting you instead of helping you.
Leaky Ductwork = Higher Bills and Other Risks
Your ductwork carries the cold air from your air handler to the rest of your home. When sealed, it’s basically a closed system but time and damage can poke holes in the thin ducts, venting all of your cold air into the attic or basement of your home instead of where it can do the most good. This means your HVAC system is working harder which can lead to premature failure, but that’s not the only risk — especially if you live in a humid environment. Humidity can condense in your ducts and seep out into the surrounding insulation.
Wet insulation is a breeding ground for mold and mildew. Once they start growing in your insulation, they’ll release spores that can end up in your HVAC system, and come out through your vents. These spores can cause upper respiratory tract infections and exacerbate symptoms of asthma and other respiratory conditions, according to the CDC.
Have your ducts inspected regularly, especially if you find yourself fighting with allergies or respiratory problems in your home? This could be a sign that the ducts need to be cleaned, or that they’re leaking into your attic or crawlspace, growing mold and carrying the spores throughout your home.
Change Your Filter
The filter in your HVAC unit filters dust, dirt, pollen and skin cells out of the air to improve interior air quality. Forgetting to replace the filter could lead to some of these air contaminants being pulled into your home’s air. In addition to this, it can cause your HVAC unit to work harder, leading to higher power bills and premature failure.
Change your filter according to the manufacturer’s specification. Keeping up with this simple maintenance can improve your interior air quality and make your heating and cooling system more efficient, reducing your energy bill.
HVAC Maintenance Musts
Other than changing the filter and inspecting the ductwork, what else do you need to do to make your HVAC system work for you instead of against you?
You can equip your HVAC with UV lights to kill any mold or mildew spores that end up in the system. Ideally, you want to prevent problems like leaky ductwork from creating an environment where mold or mildew can thrive, but you won’t always be able to avoid spores coming in from outside. UV lights provide an extra layer of protection to keep these problematic particles out of your lungs.
Cleaning out your ducts annually can also help reduce the amount of junk that ends up in your home and keep your air cleaner, especially if you’ve got the windows and doors closed because it’s hot in the summer or frigid in the winter. Hire someone to do this for you, or you risk damaging the ductwork as you attempt to clean it.
Take care to maintain an optimal level of humidity in your home. You should keep your home at less than 50% relative humidity — or less than that in the winter if the humidity is causing condensation on the windows. A low relative humidity prevents mold, mildew, and dust mite infestations and keeps VOCs from emitting harmful gasses that can also lower interior air quality. Keep a humidifier or dehumidifier in the home and use them as needed to raise or lower the humidity.
Finally, have your HVAC system inspected annually by a professional to ensure that it’s working properly and that there aren’t any small problems creeping up that might cause the system to fail when you need it the most.
Protect Your Air Quality and Your Health
Interior air quality problems aren’t something that you should take lightly. They can negatively affect your health, increase your power bill, lower the HVAC’s efficiency, and even lead to premature equipment failure if enough dust and dirt accumulate on the equipment or the filter. Take the time to maintain your HVAC equipment and it will take care of you. Neglecting regular maintenance like changing the filter can cause a lot of expensive problems in the long run, not including the danger to your health. HVAC systems are designed to keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter, but it’s up to the homeowner to make sure that it’s not making you sick too.