Most everyone is aware of the dangers of outdoor air pollution. From nitrogen oxide to ozone, emissions and toxic gases infiltrate every corner of the planet. Yet many are completely unaware of the many pollutants lurking in the air within their own home. Indoor air pollution is the world’s leading cause of premature death, killing 1.6 million people each year. It’s also one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues. HVAC systems, however, can play a vital role in reducing household pollutants, keeping your air clean and safe.
The air inside your home can be more toxic than the air outside. And, without opening a window or door every now and then, this buildup of polluted air can be detrimental to your health. But what causes indoor pollutants?
- Paint: Many paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These emit a variety of chemicals, and indoor concentrations can be 10 times higher than outdoors.
- Cleaning Products: Household cleaners and disinfectants can also contain VOCs and other harmful chemicals like ammonia and 2-butoxyethanol.
- Personal Care Products: Hairsprays, perfumes, aerosol deodorants and other personal products can collectively emit as many VOCs as motor vehicles.
- Smoke: Smoke from candles, incense, stoves and cigarettes can all emit toxic chemicals and ultrafine particulate matter, further polluting your indoor air.
- Moisture: Overly humid homes can cause mold, bacteria and mildew growth. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends a relative humidity of 35% to 50% to prevent these biological pollutants.
This list is by no means exhaustive and only includes some of the most common pollutants that affect indoor air quality. However, all of them are dependent on what you choose to use in your home and each one presents a number of potential health risks to both you and your family.
Potential Health Risks
If you constantly suffer congestion, itchy eyes, asthma attacks or a scratchy throat, you may be experiencing the effects of poor indoor air quality. An even more telling sign is if these symptoms disappear when you go to work or leave home for an extended period of time. This means your health issues probably aren’t due to a common cold or seasonal allergies. Moreover, you’ll likely notice them in children the elderly or those with asthma first.
Even if you and your family don’t experience these symptoms immediately, you may develop them later on. Furthermore, you may become less sensitive the longer you’re exposed, putting you at risk of developing more serious health issues as you grow older. For instance, living in reduced air quality for a number of years may result in respiratory diseases, lung cancer, heart disease and other long-term, life-threatening illnesses.
How Do HVAC Systems Help?
Some people want to put a number on how much time they can spend in an environment with indoor air pollution. However, scientists are unable to determine how long humans can live in such conditions before suffering the consequences. This is mainly due to the fact that air quality varies from home to home depending on what compounds, chemicals, smokes and other substances people emit. Luckily, an HVAC system can help alleviate health issues and improve indoor air quality.
Molds are present in every breath you take. Most of the time they are naturally-occurring and completely harmless. However, the kinds that may grow within your home can be toxic in high concentrations and negatively impact air quality. Often, molds grow in damp, dark places like your bathroom or laundry room. Although, they can also grow behind drywall, in air ducts or insulation and anywhere else moist air is present.
The spores this mold releases can irritate your nose, skin and eyes. They can also trigger asthma attacks, cause flu-like symptoms and even result in respiratory diseases and infections after long-term exposure. Since excess moisture is often to blame where mold is involved, the key to getting rid of and preventing it is to control indoor humidity levels and temperature.
An HVAC system can help accomplish this by ridding indoor air of excess moisture, keeping your home at ideal humidity levels. It also uses a heat exchanger made of copper or steel to cool your home and keep it at a lower temperature. Exhaust fans are also effective in sucking humidity and heat out of your home after hot showers. Purchase a system that operates based on both temperature and humidity readings to quickly and effectively improve air quality.
Smoke from cigarettes, vapes, candles and incense, as well as fumes from VOCs, can all negatively impact air quality. Bacteria, viruses, mold, and more also all can live on your walls, floors and furniture. When someone or something is emitting any of these smokes or fumes, it’s best to open doors and windows to naturally ventilate your home. This simple act can remove many harmful pollutants from your home. It can also bring fresh outdoor air into your home, unlike forced air heating and cooling systems.
You may be wary about letting in carbon and other outdoor pollutants through ventilation. However, as previously mentioned, indoor air quality is often worse than outdoor air. Plus, indoor air is more highly concentrated. Regularly ventilating your home reduces high concentrations of contaminants, allowing everyone to breathe easier.
You can also mechanically ventilate your home with an HVAC system. Often, exhaust fans aid in ventilation in specific areas of your home. However, a whole-house HVAC ventilation system would obviously be more effective in removing contaminants from every room.
Which System Is Best?
There are three types of whole-house HVAC systems. The most inexpensive option is a supply system. This particular system uses a fan to force air out of your home and introduce a fresh stream of outdoor air. This allows a good deal of ventilation however supply systems don’t regulate moisture or humidity levels so you may still struggle to ward off mold or mildew.
Balanced systems also don’t control humidity. However, they are more effective in ventilating your home. In most cases, a balanced system will introduce outdoor air to rooms where you spend most of your time, like the bedrooms and living rooms. At the same time, they extract air from high-traffic areas like the kitchen and bathroom.
Energy recovery or heat recovery ventilation systems are the most effective choice for both humidity and temperature control. These often share ductwork with your current HVAC system or may need ductwork of their own. Therefore, installation and maintenance may be costlier. However, they can save you money on your monthly gas bill and work to both heat and cool your home while ventilating it at the same time.
A System Is Only as Good as Its Filter
Regardless of the type of system you choose, you’ll still have to change its filter every few months. Most homeowners don’t remember to do this on a regular basis, which completely negates the purpose of installing an HVAC system in the first place. In fact, failing to change your filer may actually worsen your indoor air quality. Clogged filters and humidifier systems are prime locations for mold and bacteria growth which can travel throughout your home when you turn the system on.
Therefore, it’s good practice to replace your filter regularly to ensure your HVAC system runs effectively and continues to improve indoor air quality. Moreover, taking measures to reduce the amount of pollution and contaminants in your home can greatly reduce the number of substances your system has to filter out, making maintenance easier and the air in your home more breathable.