Indoor Air Quality
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.