We’re all spending lots of time at home this year, likely more than usual. And we can expect to spend even more time indoors as the temperatures drop and winter weather moves in. Improving and monitoring indoor air quality is especially important in the winter because the amount of pollutants increases. Plus, there is less natural ventilation as we shut ourselves inside. Learn how winter affects indoor air quality and the solutions available to improve it this season.
What is Indoor Air Quality?
Indoor air quality has to do with the health and comfort of the air inside your home or space. According to the EPA, there are a number of dangerous health effects that impact people who live or work in poor air quality spaces.
In fact, there are actual official terms for illnesses caused by indoor air. Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a condition that most often occurs in office buildings. In the short term, sufferers might experience dizziness or shortness of breath. In the long term, respiratory disease, heart disease and even cancer are potential results of long-term exposure. That includes exposure to things like chemicals, off-gassing of hazardous materials and poor ventilation.
Speaking of off-gassing, materials like paint, sealants and adhesives used in homes all emit gases. This creates volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which then build up in your environment and drastically reduce air quality. This is definitely something to be wary of when choosing paint or even buying common items like furniture, rugs and cleaning supplies. If you are bringing in a new piece of furniture or decor this winter, be sure to have windows open, a mask on and adequate ventilation.
Why Winter Affects Indoor Air Quality
For many, winter is a love-hate season. Either way, in most places, winter means lower temperatures (whether an extreme or mild change) and more time inside.
Believe it or not, just the changing of the seasons has a huge impact on the air quality of your home. Considering the number of factors that impact indoor air quality, perhaps it’s not surprising at all. Here are a few ways winter affects indoor air quality, that you should be mindful of.
Too Much Insulation
Can you over-insulate your home? There is certainly a point where insulation does more harm than good. Too much insulation means moisture is trapped inside and there is not enough fresh air moving through the space.
In an effort to stay warm throughout the cold weather, reduce heating costs and better serve the environment, modern construction is geared toward sealing homes as much as possible. While this is great for energy-efficiency purposes, sadly, these efforts have other ill effects. When homes are too insulated, it makes it difficult for allergens, molds and fungi to exit the home. Instead, they grow quickly inside the house, which can be damaging to those living there.
Excess insulation also makes the health impact more noticable. The dry cold weather and air causes dry skin, watery eyes and other cold and flu symptoms. To fix, it’s crucial to have a combination of good insulation and proper ventilation for a home to be warm and safe. Bringing in fresh air increases circulation. This will also help move out stale air and pollution from cooking, painting or other winter projects.
Increase in Pollutants
Because we spend more time indoors as it gets colder, it means we’re breathing in surrounding pollutants more often. Also, with less open doors and windows to ventilate the space, there are simply more pollutants present. Think about it this way. If a tobacco user smokes inside, that’s a huge air pollution risk for the rest of the home. The same goes for many types of pollutants. In the winter, pets are also inside more which means increased allergens and pet dander. Candles and certain fireplaces are other sources of worsened indoor air pollution. When they burn, many emit VOCs, which are dangerous to breathe in. Overall, there are quite a few winter activities and daily practices that hurt air quality.
How to Improve Indoor Air Quality
Luckily, there are ways to create a healthier indoor space this winter. Here are a few tips for staying warm and healthy, all year round!
Monitor and Track Indoor Air Quality
An air quality monitor provides valuable data to help you better understand the quality of your air and how it changes over time. To get a baseline understanding of what you’re up against, consider having one professionally installed. They provide real-time information, allowing homeowners to determine exactly what worsens and benefits their air quality.
Clear Air Paths for Grilles, Registers and Diffusers
Make sure the air vents in the space are clean, rust-free and able to open and close. This includes grilles, registers and diffusers throughout your home. If you notice they are old, or that the damper is stuck, replace them with quality products from TRUaire. These can be purchased either online or at most home and garden stores. Also, make sure carpets and furniture are moved away to help air properly circulate and filter in each room. Winter is not the time to be unprepared. This is especially true when it comes to the HVAC system you and your family will rely on. Choose to make upgrades early on in the season.
Upgraded Air Filtration for Homes
Filtration is the number one way to improve air quality. AKA–it’s the easiest and cheapest method. You can learn more about how air filters actually work and try to remember the last time your space upgraded filters. Changing air filters is often an afterthought for homeowners. Instead, set a schedule to change filters on a regular basis. That way, occupants are breathing only the cleanest air possible this winter. When it comes to the actual filter option, we recommend upgrading to the MERV 13 air filter.
Air Purification Systems
Go the extra mile and combat harmful pollutants by upgrading to an active air purification system. The systems are installed directly into the HVAC system, making it a low-maintenance upgrade. Not only do air purification systems make filtration and ventilation more efficient–they actively clean the air and surfaces in your home. Purifiers release “scrubbers” to create cleaner air to every corner of the room. A whole-home air purification system greatly reduces (or even eliminates) mold, pet dander, dust mites, VOCs and more indoor pollutants.
Easy Habits for Better Air Quality
Developing healthy habits that ensure cleaner air quality are simple. When cooking, turn on the fan above your stovetop. During and after a shower, flip on the fan in the bathroom. Even ceiling fans help circulate air a bit more. Also, stay on top of potential mold in your home. If you start to see any issues, such as a musty smell or black in the corners, call a professional to assess and treat the situation before your family is inhaling toxic air.
Swap out bleach and other harsh cleaning chemicals for white vinegar and essential oils. These are not as bad for air quality. Just be sure that if you have pets, you select essential oils that are safe to use around them!
Safer Air, Safer Winter
It’s important to keep in mind how winter affects indoor air quality. But if you take a few steps now, you can make improvements that will ensure better air quality that lasts the whole season. If you need more assistance, reach out to us for more information on how to breathe safer cleaner air this winter.