Is your home making you sick?

April 17, 2015

How to improve indoor air quality for health and comfort

Research has shown that as people spend more of their time indoors, some elements within our home are increasingly becoming threats to our respiratory health. The most common pollutants are combustion products, biologicals (molds, pet dander, pollen), volatile organic compounds, lead dust, radon and asbestos. Your first instinct may be to go to the doctor when you're feeling sick, to treat the symptoms with medicine. Unfortunately, the root of the problem may be inefficiencies and problems inside your home. If you are constantly visiting your doctor with the same complaints, it might be time to consider and correct the causes of the problems rather than just the symptoms.

Why Indoor Air Quality impacts your health

Inadequate ventilation is one of the most common causes of indoor air pollution. In highly urbanized and industrial areas, lack of air conditioning and high levels of humidity can increase concentrations of pollutants inside. Other sources include gases from cooking and heating, chemicals from candles and household cleansers, mold and mildew and a host of toxins from building materials. Older homes can become unhealthy over time. Musty odors and mold growth, window condensation, structural rot, peeling paint, back-drafting appliances, damp basements and ice dams are often not repaired due to high utility costs, but they can be dangerous to your health. Structural rot within the walls and attic and around window framing from excess moisture can also cause indoor air pollution. Air leaks in the structure can also cause allergens and pollutants to unexpectedly enter your house and cause issues.

Get an energy audit to identify the real problem

Since ventilation, air leaks and moisture issues are at the root of indoor air issues, home performance upgrades are the best way to improve the comfort and health of your home. They can also help reduce energy costs as well. Having an experienced HVAC or home performance professional do a comprehensive energy audit before taking on any work is key to identifying the real problems with your home. Many of the issues with indoor air quality can't be easily seen. They live in the walls and the building structure. Many CaliforniaFIRST professionals do audits according to the whole home approach. This is a way of looking at your whole home as a series of systems that work together instead of one piece at a time. It helps pinpoint the real cause of serious issues instead of just performing expensive repairs to fix the symptoms of an underlying problem.

Best home performance upgrades to ensure improved indoor air quality

After a thorough audit of your home, your contractor will give you a specific list of the services that can help you drastically improve your home's indoor air quality. Some of the most common upgrades include:

Air Sealing

Sealing the cracks, holes and penetrations where air is leaking in and out of your home can drastically improve the indoor air quality and reduce monthly energy costs. Repairing air leaks in your basement and attic and other openings can be one of the easiest and most cost effective improvements for your home.

Duct Cleaning and Sealing

When allergens, chemicals, insulation particles and dust enter your home they are circulated and recirculated by the duct system, which can aggravate asthma and respiratory problems. Sealing and repairing your duct system can help improve indoor air quality.

Whole House Fans

A "whole house" fan system might be the right option for your home. It brings stale indoor air upwards and out the top of the house through attic vents. This fan system also provides a cost effective and energy-efficient alternative to air conditioning on moderately warm days.

Install a mini-split heat pump

Heat pumps are a great option for those who want to heat and cool one space at a time. They can improve indoor air quality because they don't rely on central air and ductwork to circulate fresh air. They also help manage and improve moisture problems.

Repair and replace problematic HVAC equipment

Out-dated furnaces, air conditioners and other mechanicals may be at the root of your indoor air problem. Many homes have equipment that is too big or too small or not working properly and could be causing significant problems. A professional contractor will be able to easily identify these issues while doing a comprehensive energy audit. CaliforniaFIRST works closely with these professionals to offer financing to help support you as you replace your outdated equipment. The initial investment in upgrading will improve the health, comfort and efficiency of your home.

Improve insulation

Installing new insulation can drastically improve the indoor air quality in your home. Spray foam and cellulose are great choices for a healthier home. Improved insulation can help control moisture and prevent the growth of mold, which releases spores and mycotoxins into the air. Adding insulation where it's needed can keep out pollutants, including dust and dirt, mold and moisture, radon and carbon monoxide. Along with air sealing and proper ventilation, an upgrade to your insulation can make indoor air healthier than what you breathe outside.