Indoor Air Quality
According to weather experts, 2017 was not supposed to be a "wildfire year" for Canada.
But as it turned out, when you mix climate change leading to record-setting high temperatures, lightening strikes and dry air, this creates "perfect storm-like" conditions for wildfires to develop.
To further worsen the situation, many Western areas throughout North America, including both Canada and the United States, are burning, and the smoke that the combined wildfires are producing can be seen from space. As the smoke intensifies, airborne toxins spread farther and across the continent, affecting those who live hundreds or thousands of miles from the source.
With more than 500 wildfires reported just in British Columbia thus far, it is now clear this is one of the worst seasons for wildfires in recent history. In this article, we outline how to ensure your indoor air quality remains safe and healthy for you and your family during this dangerous time!
What Is In Airborne Smoke?
Smoke doesn't seem that threatening visually. It turns the air white or grey and often carries dust and fine debris.
Unfortunately, smoke and the debris it produces represent a toxic blend of airborne gases and particulate matter, including some of the deadliest known to science today.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) published the results of a study in Critical Reviews in Toxicology that named the major toxins present in airborne smoke as follows:
Halogens (inorganic chemical acids)
To further complicate matters, fire is a voracious consumer of oxygen, which leaves the resulting air very oxygen-poor. Instead of breathing in oxygen, you are now breathing in the toxic chemicals listed here plus copious quantities of carbon dioxide, which further depletes your body's oxygen reserves.
The combination of elevated smoke/fire-related airborne toxins plus the resultant oxygen depletion can reach fatal levels 10 percent faster than the presence of either danger on its own.
Health Dangers of Airborne Smoke
According to Air Now, a partnership between agencies throughout North America, smoke is a potent source of air pollution. While it may smell good when coming from your holiday fireplace or someone’s campfire outside, your lungs and heart are not enjoying it nearly as much as the rest of you.
And when the smoke is coming from what is now said to be one of the largest continuously burning banks of wildfires in recent history, the potential health impacts can range from mild to catastrophic.
Proximity and pre-existing health conditions combine to indicate who bears the greatest health risk from breathing in smoke-filled air.
If you or a loved one has any of these health conditions, it is critically important to ensure you have a continuous smoke-free source of indoor air to breathe:
Trying to conceive or currently pregnant
Also, very young and elderly individuals are more at-risk of experiencing more serious side effects from breathing in smoke-filled air.
The most commonly reported side effects arising from breathing in smoke-filled air include:
Respiratory symptoms: watering or itching eyes, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing, wheezing, phlegm, breathing issues, increased asthma attacks.
Cardiovascular symptoms: heart palpitations, chest pain or discomfort, fatigue, inability to breathe deeply.
How to Clean Your Indoor Air
The best time to clean your indoor air is before wildfire season even arrives. This preventative step ensures the least health impact from either airborne smoke-related toxins or oxygen depletion or both.
Happily, indoor air quality (IAQ) technology has made a giant leap forward in recent years, with the result that you have more efficient and more affordable IAQ options to choose from than at any other time in history.
As well, any technology you choose to implement will protect you not just during wildfire season, but year-round.
Here is a list of the major IAQ aids we recommend for our clients:
1. Heat Recovery Ventilator or Energy Recovery Ventilator
Both HRV and ERV systems ensure that fresh incoming air and stale outgoing air do not meet and mix. Both systems also filter out airborne toxins, boost HVAC and furnace efficiency, and balance humidity in your indoor air systems.
ERVs are generally recommended for warmer and more humid climates, while HRVs work well in more temperate climates with lower humidity.
2. HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filtration system
The HEPA filtration system is currently the "gold standard" for indoor air filtration. HEPA filters are often installed in hospital and laboratory settings, but today's HEPA options include residential filters as well. HEPA filters can filter out airborne particulate matter as small as 0.3 microns (the width of a single human hair!).
In addition to using HEPA-rated filters with your existing HVAC unit (if rated at a MERV 16+), you can retrofit any HVAC system with a HEPA whole-house filtration system that filters the air before it enters your ducts.
You can also purchase HEPA-rated vacuum cleaners for use on your floors and carpeting.
3. MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) furnace filters
A MERV-rated furnace filter of 16 or higher is the equivalent grade of a residential HEPA filter and can filter out even very tiny toxic particles in your indoor air.
4. Dehumidifiers and humidifiers
The amount of indoor air humidity can exacerbate or reduce the potential health impact of toxic airborne chemicals, gases, and particulate matter.
The ideal range is 30 to 50 percent humidity, which may mean using a combination of humidification and dehumidification to regulate your indoor air humidity levels.
5. Portable air filters
For homes that are lacking a central duct system, portable air filters with a high CADR (central air delivery rate) rating can achieve a similar effect as the other aids listed here.
Humidity has become a hot-button topic in HVAC circles these days. As it turns out, it’s more than just the reason for “bad hair days” and prescription-strength antiperspirant.
Excessive humidity can also cause significant structural damage to your home or workplace and it has been implicated in many health issues.
However, too much humidity isn’t the sole perpetrator of poor health or home repairs: not enough humidity is just as guilty of causing health symptoms and home damage.
What can you do to balance out the humidity levels inside your home? Too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry—it can all seem like too much to manage!
In this article, we will explain how humidity affects you and your home or workplace and steps you can take to ensure year-round optimal humidity levels.
So what precisely is “humidity?” According to Canada’s Department of Environmental and Climate Change, humidity is a measure of how much water vapour is present in the air at any given time.
Meteorologists commonly use the term “relative humidity” to express how much humidity is in the air from one day to the next. They do this by comparing the amount of water vapour in the air on that day versus the amount of vapour that would be present if the humidity was at 100 percent.
The closer the percentage of relative humidity gets to 100 percent, the more likely you are to see rain, dew, mist, and/or fog forming. This is caused when the air releases excess water vapour.
Seasonal Humidity Explained
As you have no doubt noticed purely by experience, humidity tends to increase in the hot summer months. It also tends to decrease during the cold winter months.
However, thanks in large part to our increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, this model does not always hold firm.
There can be times, for instance, when the weather is quite hot yet the humidity is very low (if you have ever been to Arizona in the United States, you already know how hot, dry weather can feel!).
And there can be times when winter gets really damp, especially when a cold front hasn’t quite blown through yet and it is raining and sort of muggy. During these times, you might feel like you can never completely dry off or warm up.
However, as the Ontario Lung Association (OLA) points out, there are some guidelines that can help you sort out the humidity levels inside your home, even if you can’t control what is going on outside your four walls.
The recommended range for humidity indoors is between 30 and 50 percent. In the summer, the level will likely hover closer to the 50 percent mark. In the winter, you are more apt to see humidity levels around the 30 percent mark.
But if humidity climbs higher than 50 percent or drops lower than 30 percent, this is when you will see issues begin to crop up on both health and structural levels.
The Dangers of Too Much Humidity
Perhaps the best-known and most publicized danger of too-high humidity levels is mould and mildew growth.
Optimal conditions for mould and mildew growth are warm and damp, but they will propagate quite happily when it is cool and damp as well.
Many homes see mould and mildew growing sporadically in naturally damp, humid rooms such as the bathroom, laundry room, kitchen, or the basement. At humidity levels above 50 percent, however, there is the risk that small mould or mildew colonies will send out spores that will settle and replicate in other areas of your home as well.
Mould and mildew aren’t just expensive to clean up. They are also toxic when you breathe in the spores. Living in very humid conditions can also cause heat exhaustion and heat stroke and increased risk of bacterial and fungal infection and illness.
The Dangers of Too Little Humidity
Of course, just when you are fervently wishing for less humidity, the cold season arrives and the humidity index plunges. Now, instead of too much humidity, you are coping with too little humidity, which brings its own series of dangers with it.
As long as the humidity level in the air is at 30 percent or higher, you are unlikely to experience too much discomfort, especially because even in winter, humidity can fluctuate.
But when the humidity levels plunge lower than 30 percent, you may begin to notice your respiratory health deteriorating as your nasal membranes dry out. Your skin may crack and your lips may chap. If you catch a cold or the flu, you will likely get sicker because there isn’t enough mucus to send the airborne germs packing.
Anything made of wood, from flooring to furniture to cottages, will also experience stress during very low humidity conditions. Cracking, buckling, and separation are all common side effects of too little humidity.
How to Balance Your Indoor Air Humidity
You need three key components to keep your indoor air humidity balanced year-round:
Hygrometer. This simple, affordable device can be found at any local hardware store. It will measure the humidity level in your home.
Humidifier. These fabulous devices will add essential humidity to your indoor air supply during very low humidity conditions to keep your furnishings and your health in optimal condition.
Dehumidifier. These incredible devices will remove excess moisture (water vapour) from your indoor air and keep the humidity level within your desired range.
Give Us a Call
Are you having problems keeping your indoor humidity levels balanced, safe, and healthy? We can help! Give us a call at 705-687-3402 or 877-885-3403 or contact us online.
Canadian winters have a pretty daunting reputation. From heavy snowfall to ice, sleet, and rain, it isn't surprising most Canadians spend so much of the winter season indoors.
But too much time spent indoors can be hazardous to your health in a way you may not realize. Today, the air we breathe indoors is often more toxic than the outside air. Wintertime indoor air can become especially toxic because we don't want to open windows and doors to ventilate.
In this post, learn what to do to freshen and purify your indoor air in winter.
What Makes Your Indoor Air Toxic in Winter?
As any Canadian knows, there isn't anything you can do about winter weather conditions. Storms come and go, snow falls and thaws, and you wait for warmer days to return.
In the meantime, you are running your furnace or stoking your fireplace or woodstove and perhaps using space heaters as well.
You are also likely burning candles, spraying air fresheners, using common cleaning products, and perhaps enjoying a cigarette or two indoors to avoid the cold.
Unfortunately, each of these activities releases toxins into your indoor air supply.
And if you are living or working in a new build, your home or office is built to be airtight. No air gets in or out, which is good for energy efficiency but bad for air quality.
According to the Canadian Lung Association, some of the most common winter toxins found in Canadian homes and offices are these:
Toxic gases Ozone, radon, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, particulates, tobacco fumes.
Allergens Dust mites, dust-borne lead particles, pet dander, mould spores, pesticides, soot and ash, fungi, bacteria, viruses, pollen.
Chemicals Candle scents, air fresheners, cleaning products, craft glues and adhesives, personal care products.
Here, it is important to understand that this list of chemicals won't change measurably during the other seasons, except when you are no longer using a wood-fired stove or fireplace.
However, it is the decreased amount of two key air purifiers that contributes to the increasing toxicity of winter-time indoor air. These two air purification tools are ventilation and filtration.
Ventilation and Filtration
"Ventilation" is a term that refers to keeping air fresh by continually moving stale indoor air out of the space and replacing it with fresh incoming air.
"Filtration" refers to keeping indoor air fresh by filtering out, or removing, airborne toxins.
Together, ventilation and filtration can work wonders to purify and detoxify indoor air at any time of year and especially during the winter season.
Unless you happen to work in the HVAC or air quality industry, you may not realize that just opening a window or turning on a fan isn't the best way to ventilate indoor air. Both of these techniques are good, of course, but neither is particularly likely to happen in winter, when it is freezing outside!
The very best way to ventilate your indoor air during winter (and when it gets very hot outside in summer) is by installing an appliance called a heat recovery (or energy recovery) ventilator.
This appliance is a little miracle device that ensures a steady supply of fresh, oxygenated outdoor air to purify your indoor air at home or work. It can actually precisely calibrate how much new fresh air to pull in based on how frequently you run your heater or furnace.
Best of all, a heat/energy recovery ventilator will use the heat from the outgoing stale air to warm the fresh incoming air, which makes it a model of energy efficiency that can help you save valuable cash on energy bills.
Other options to ventilate your indoor air in winter:
Try micro-ventilation. Here, you don't open up a window all the way, but just crack open one window in each room to permit a bit of fresh air to enter.
Switch ceiling fans to "winter" mode. Most ceiling fans have a switch on the side of the fan mechanism that reverses the blade direction. This reversal pulls the cold air up and pushes the warm air downwards.
Run bathroom and kitchen fans. When showering, run the bathroom fan to avoid excess humidity accumulating and turning into mould and mildew. When cooking, run the kitchen exhaust fan to exhume potentially toxic stove and oven fumes.
Air Filtration Options
The primary goal of any air filter is to clean and purify the air by removing airborne toxins, allergens, and irritants.
This can be accomplished in a number of different ways:
Installing MERV- or HEPA-rated central HVAC filters. With ratings between 1 and 20, higher-rated filters will filter more of the smaller particulate matter out of the air.
Cleaning or replacing filters regularly. This should be done at least every 30 days.
Using non-ozone-producing electric air filters. These filters use an electric charge to filter and clean the air. Be sure the filter you select does NOT produce ozone.
Using CADR-rated portable room-size air filters. CADR (clean air delivery rate) filters can filter and clean the air in smaller spaces. These can be good choices if someone in your family is particularly allergic or suffers from asthma.
Humidification. Adding a room-sized humidifier in winter can help further.
Contact Gravenhurst Plumbing for Help
If you notice you are struggling to stay healthy and allergy-free in cold weather, your indoor air could be the culprit.
We can help you design a custom air ventilation and filtration plan to clean and purify your indoor air at home and work. Call us at 877.885.3403 or contact us online.
Most Canadians today spend nearly all of their daily time indoors. This wouldn't be so bad if our indoor air was safe to breathe.
But recent testing statistics have highlighted an alarming increase in the quantity and volume of toxins in indoor air nationwide.
In this article, learn how and why our indoor air has become so polluted and what you can do to purify your family's indoor air.
Airtight Homes Increase Indoor Toxicity
Over the last half-century, builders have become increasingly focused on building airtight, draft-free homes. While this can be good for energy bills and temperature control, it has not been good for overall indoor air purity.
The more airtight any space becomes, the less natural air circulation and ventilation occurs to keep air fresh and pure. The air becomes staler and increasingly more toxic.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average adult takes between 17,000 and 24,000 breaths daily.
When the air you are taking into your lungs and circulating to your cells is clean and pure, this is no cause for worry. But when the air you are breathing in becomes stale and laced with pollutants, your cells become sick and weak over time. This can open the door to lung disease, asthma, cancer, heart disease, and stroke, among other serious health issues.
What is Polluting Our Indoor Air Supply?
Here, you might naturally assume the answer lies in smog, carbon emissions, and other outdoor toxins that are seeping into your home from the outside.
But since homes have become evermore airtight, it has gotten harder for outside toxins to gain entry. Rather, we as homeowners have unwittingly been polluting our own air from within the home.
Here is a list of some of the most common indoor air pollutants found in the average Canadian home today:
Tobacco smoke and formaldehyde (a byproduct of burning tobacco)
Smoke from wood-burning stoves and fireplaces
Chemicals from cleaning products, air "fresheners," scented candles
Dust and dust mites
Allergens, pollen, mould, and mildew
Bacteria, viruses, and fungi
Craft and home improvement supplies (paint, glue, solvents, sprays)
Carbon monoxide (emitted from appliances)
Dirt and debris from clogged air ducts, vents, filters, and pipes
Radon (seeping up through the foundation of a home)
Pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides
Ozone (printers, copiers, and other home office equipment)
As you can see, this is a long and potent list of toxins and pollutants, many of which may already be circulating freely inside your home.
10 Tips to Clean Up Your Indoor Air
With these 10 tips, you can begin to clean and purify the air inside your home.
Tip 1: Bring in a professional for an air quality (IAQ) test
This test can tell you precisely which toxins and pollutants are present in what quantities in your home's indoor air. The test is fast and unobtrusive and can help you prioritize where to start with improving the air quality in your home.
Tip 2: Change out regular air filters and replace them with HEPA-rated filters
HEPA-rated filters continue to be the industry standard for filtering out 99.97 percent of airborne toxins. You can also upgrade to a HEPA-rated vacuum cleaner.
Tip 3: Have your indoor air ducts professionally cleaned
Over time, the duct system that carries temperature-controlled air from room to room can become clogged with debris, dust, dander, bacteria, and other toxins. Unless you clean the ducts out from time to time, they will just continue to accumulate more pollutants, which then get pushed back out into your home.
Having your air ducts cleaned is like pushing the air quality reset button for your home, so you start again with a fresh and clean HVAC system.
Tip 4: Have your dryer vents professionally cleaned
It is always a good idea to have your dryer vents cleaned at the same time you have your air ducts cleaned, since the deep vents inside your clothes dryer collects much of the same type of debris as what you will find inside your air ducts.
Tip 5: Do not smoke or burn wood inside the home
Burning tobacco or wood will emit formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and other by-products that can exacerbate allergies and asthma symptoms and build up over time to toxic levels.
Tip 6: Install a heat or energy recovery ventilator to freshen stale air
Tip 7: Regulate your home's humidity levels (aim for 30-50 percent)
Generally speaking, air tends to be more humid in warm weather and less humid in cold weather. At either end of the spectrum, conditions can be conducive to the spread of germs, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, mould, and mildew. Maintaining a humidity range of 30-50 percent lessens the chances of this occurring.
Tip 8: Use ventilation fans in bathrooms and kitchens, and ceiling or floor fans in main areas and bedrooms
Ventilation not only keeps air moving so it stays fresher and cleaner, but it also keeps humidity levels inside the home more balanced, so mould and mildew do not take root.
Tip 9: Clean only with natural, healthy products
Baking soda, lemon juice, coffee grounds, white vinegar, essential oils, and pure water are all amazingly effective cleaning and disinfecting tools. Even better, not a single one has toxic chemicals.
Tip 10: Open windows and doors on pleasant days to get air circulating
Air circulation is quite simply essential to keeping your indoor air more pure, clean, fresh, and safe to breathe.
Contact Gravenhurst For Help
We’re here to help. We have extensive experience with indoor air quality. If you have any questions or concerns about your home’s air quality, feel free to contact us by phone at 877.885.3403 or online.