Is your energy-efficient home making you sick? It could very well be. When cold weather comes, we seal up drafty windows and turn on the heat. Maybe even light a fire, which is idyllic around the holidays. Yet there are a variety of winter holiday air pollutants circulating in the air supply throughout the winter season. And there are a number of holiday sources that affect indoor air quality, perhaps more than you might think. So what are these air pollutants, how do they affect indoor air quality and what can you do to improve your IAQ?
How Do Winter Holiday Air Pollutants Lower IAQ?
There are a few big reasons why the winter holiday season lowers air quality indoors. Modern home construction has created more airtight homes. This is great for energy efficiency, and the lower utility bills which are often worth the price of construction. However, the lack of natural fresh air (which is present in older builds!) leaves homes exposed to pollutants circulating in the air longer.
Keeping warm air in and cold air out may leave you comfortable in the winter, but the air you breathe is the same air, recirculated over and over again. A comfortable and healthy environment is a delicate balance between ventilation and insulation.
Common Winter Holiday Air Pollutants
There are a number of pollutants to be aware of that worsen during the holidays or actually stem from holiday celebrations.
Cooking and baking are huge detriments to indoor air quality. Whatever feast or celebration you have planned for holiday gatherings, the effect on air quality will be the same. The cooking style, temperature and even layout of the kitchen are all factors that determine how exactly it will affect your home.
Fireplaces and Candles
Burning items like fireplaces and candles also have a significant impact on indoor air quality. While both are nice to create a cozy atmosphere during the winter holidays, they have a negative effect on air quality.
Wood-burning fireplaces in particular emit hazardous gases and particles that worsen indoor and outdoor air quality alike. There is a plethora of potential ill-health effects caused by wood smoke. The pollutants even travel far enough that your home’s air quality is impacted by whether or not neighbors are using wood-burning fireplaces.
Candles are common in both Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations. They’re also generally more popular throughout the colder weather months. In addition to candles increasing smoke in the home, scented candles have shown to release harmful VOCs.
The important thing to keep in mind about decorations is where they’re coming from. For most, we store decorations away in the dark, damp, possibly even moldy areas of our home. Boxes of decorations, and maybe even the decorations themselves, might be covered in dust. It’s important to ventilate the space as you unearth holiday decorations. Consider switching from cardboard boxes to plastic containers that can better keep out dust and mold pollutants.
Depending on the winter holiday you’re celebrating,Christmas trees can also negatively impact indoor air quality. While they are beautiful and smell amazing, it’s important to properly maintain the tree. Studies have shown mold growth and an increase in allergies and asthma symptoms caused by christmas trees. This is why tree upkeep is crucial.
You should also keep in mind what gatherings do to indoor air quality. More people simply occupying a space has a negative effect on air quality. When others enter your home, they bring pollutants with them. The necessary acts of breathing and speaking releases carbon dioxide. While this does not worsen global or large-scale CO2 levels, it does mean rates easily rise when there are more people in an indoor space.
Common Air Pollutants
The key takeaway for why even the common everyday pollutants are worse during the winter? Poor ventilation and more time spent indoors. Dust, dust mites, mold spores, viruses, and bacteria are all found in the air inside your home. Airtight construction may keep you warm in the winter, but it also provides the perfect habitat for these things to collect and multiply. Compared to dust, viruses and bacteria are too small to see with the naked eye and present a legitimate concern. Winter is the prime flu season, and one of the main causes is uncirculated air. This is where indoor air quality solutions come in.
How Can You Improve Indoor Air Quality?
Source control is the most effective way to improve IAQ. This is why it’s necessary to have an awareness of the likely sources and factors impacting your home’s indoor air quality. And when it comes to winter holiday air pollutants, there are a number of steps to take to ensure good air quality this holiday season.
Adjusting things like the furnace or gas heaters to lower emissions is one example. These emissions include carbon monoxide, radon gas and more. Annual tune-ups and HVAC maintenance are important to keep these contaminants in check, and run more efficiently.
Dust and dirt are the most obvious pollutants because you can see them with the naked eye. Cleaning surfaces helps, but the best thing you can do is change air filters on a regular basis. Average filters last anywhere from 30-90 days before they no longer work as efficiently. Check them every month and if they don’t pass the eye test, change them.
Or, better yet, upgrade your home’s air filters. Upgrading to a MERV-13 is ideal for residential use because MERV-13 filters capture pollutants at the highest MERV level, yet fit into average residential HVAC systems. You also don’t have to change MERV-13 filters as often, saving you money and maintenance in the long-run.
Cleaning surfaces is important, but there are other ways to help reduce the threat of viruses, bacteria and other pollutants. Ultraviolet lights that are installed in the A/C unit as part of a purification system is a helpful tool. Studies show that UV lights can kill or deactivate these threats. The active air scrubbers and UV light combination of a whole-home purification system drastically improves indoor air. When it comes to purifiers, you’re looking for an air cleaner with a high-efficiency rate. This indicates it catches a high number of pollutants.
Ventilation systems are another way to improve indoor air quality. This is particularly key during the winter. Of course, the simplest ventilation technique is to open windows and doors. This will naturally introduce fresh air, but it will impact your indoor temperature. Therefore, we suggest whole-home ventilation systems that provide fresh air as long as the HVAC system fan is running.
One example is a heat recovery ventilator that helps circulate air without sacrificing the actual heat you’ve generated to keep you warm. They work by introducing fresh air into the home while at the same time extracting the heat from the stale air within. The heat is then reintroduced into that fresh, but cold, air coming in. There are also energy recovery ventilators that work the same way, except that they can move moisture as well as heat. ERVs are great if your home is suffering from poor humidity regulation too. It removes excess moisture with the stale air or adds moisture to the fresh air coming in.
Take Control of Your IAQ
Improving your home’s IAQ might seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. The holiday season is a crucial time to stay on top of good indoor air quality and ensure a healthy celebratory season for you and your family. We’re here to help you address all potential winter holiday air pollutants and help you find solutions. Contact us today to improve your IAQ and start breathing easier.