For some, winter is the most wonderful time of the year. For others it can be a miserable few months full of sneezing, congestion and other respiratory problems we may not typically face in the warmer seasons of the year. While some of these ailments may come from outside sources, several can come from (and be harbored in!) our appliances and systems which help heat, cool and ventilate our homes all year round. How does this happen and what can we do now to improve our indoor air quality this winter?
Our HVAC systems throughout the year can run and be set to a wide variety of settings and temperatures depending on the outside environment, energy use and cost concerns, and (of course), or own comfort inside. For this reason, some settings or entire components of air systems may not fully activate for months if not the greater part of the year. This time unused allows for dust, insects, and other contaminants to settle on the components. When these components are switched on during colder or warmer parts of the year, these particles may get pushed through the air system and throughout the air and ducts of your home. An unpleasant odor may be experienced when this happens, but will often go away with increased use.
This time of year people of all ages are more susceptible to catching respiratory illness such as influenza, RSV and even COVID-19, especially as we turn inwards as the mercury drops. Microscopic particles, bacteria and viruses can quickly move through an unfiltered ventilation system and spread illness even further than a conventional cough or sneeze can. Stopping these particles from getting into an air system in the first place can greatly reduce this effect.
Winter and Summer seasons are often when wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters can potentially add smoke, smog, mold, sand, dust and other irritants to the air entering and circulating through your home.
How can we Make Our Indoor Air Quality Better?
Change Your Furnace Filter and Air Filters As Recommended
Keeping the filter(s) in your air system clean and regularly changed is critical to the lifespan of your air system. It is recommended to change 1-2” pleated air filters every 60-90 days to reduce contaminant buildup on the filter and allow for proper air flow through the system. Ensuring that the air filter is installed in the right direction prevents damage to the machine.
For deeper pleat and cabinet air filters found on whole house systems sold by AirBear, AprilAire and Honeywell, we recommend replacing these filters once every 3-6 months to maintain peak heating and cooling performance in your home. The higher surface area of the deeper pleats allows for more contaminants to be removed from the air efficiently for longer.
You can find our full Whole House Filter Buying Guide here.
Consider a Higher Filtration Rating
Changing your filter to one with a higher filtration rating can help to filter out additional particles and contaminants that may be in your home’s air. Higher filtration rating filters have smaller pores for air to travel through and for particles to be trapped by, giving a higher degree of filtration. MERV 13 filters can remove microscopic organisms that can make us sick including mold spores, bacteria, and airborne viruses.
Upgrading the air filtration level of your system’s air filter is a quick and easy step to take to improve the air quality in your home. For an in-depth explanation and analysis of air filtration and MERV Rating, click here.
Other Steps To Take at Home
Planning your Day with IAQ in Mind: Consider showering after returning from outdoor activities to reduce the amount of foreign contaminants that can enter your home on your skin and clothing. Keeping informed on outside air quality can help us choose the best days to open windows and rely on breezes for home ventilation without filling the air with irritants.
Regular Home Cleaning and Maintenance: Regular dusting of your air vents, walls, flooring, and other surfaces can help reduce the buildup of particles that can be released into the air. Regular washing and vacuuming of soft surfaces such as bedding, sofas and chair cushions help keep these surfaces clean and free of contaminants and viruses/bacteria that can make us sick.Supplement your Air System: Using additional air quality appliances such as air purifiers and humidifiers/dehumidifiers can help further filter and condition the air to reduce sickness. Reducing the relative humidity at home can slow the growth of mold spores and other organisms while elevating the comfort of your home. Always regularly clean and maintain any air quality appliance according to the instruction manual to ensure appliance longevity and effectiveness.