Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is a top environmental health risk, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It can also have a dramatic impact on your allergies. If your IAQ is poor, you’ll experience episodes more often, and your symptoms will be more severe. Let’s explore what you can do about IAQ so that you can breathe easier.

Avoid Introducing Pollutants into the Home

Watch that you’re not inadvertently introducing pollutants to your home. It’s all right to have houseplants, but take great care not to overwater them. Avoid household cleaners and deodorizers that contain toxic substances. If you do need some household chemical agents, store them outside your primary living areas. Also, be careful not to add furnishings and other items to your home that may off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Ensure Adequate Ventilation

Modern homes are very energy efficient. The potential negative trade-off is that there’s little to no natural ventilation. Many houses rely solely on passive ventilation in the attic, which often isn’t enough. What happens when you close up your home and run your HVAC is that pollutants and contaminants build up. They become more concentrated over time.

If you have a ventilation issue in your home, the solution is a whole-house fan. It will allow you to introduce ample fresh air into the home without also introducing pollen and other allergens. It can even help lower your reliance on your air conditioner. You also have the option of a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV). These are whole-house fans that also reclaim heat energy from vented air for improved energy efficiency. An ERV reclaims moisture that can improve air quality in winter, too.

Use the Most Effective HVAC Filter Possible

Forced-air systems can undermine the air quality in your home. Your HVAC system can also be a tool you use to your advantage. The first key is to keep the equipment as clean as possible. That begins with scheduling a cooling tune-up in spring and a heating tune-up in fall. The second key is to choose a high-quality HVAC filter that protects your HVAC equipment and your IAQ. All forced-air systems have at lease one supply vent. If you have a larger home, you may have two or more.

The industry uses the minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating to measure air filters. The higher the MERV rating, the more effective the filtration. But in some circumstances, a higher MERV means restricted airflow. This is important when discussing HVAC since you don’t want to restrict airflow too much. Doing so can lead to reduced comfort, higher energy bills and, eventually, damage to your equipment. Most modern HVAC systems support a MERV as high as 13, which is enough to trap most allergens.

Dust Often

Many people think of pollen as the main culprit when it comes to seasonal allergies. Dust is actually a bigger problem when it comes to indoor triggers. Dust is an amalgamation of allergens, including pollen. It also acts as a sponge that absorbs pollutants, extends their active lifespans and continues to rerelease them over time.

Controlling dust in your home is the most important step you can take to reduce allergies with better IAQ. The EPA recommends deep dusting your home at least once a week. You may want to do it more often if your allergies are particularly sensitive. Use a microfiber duster to dust each room from top to bottom. Then, vacuum all furnishings, carpets, rugs and floors. Ideally, your vacuum should have a high-efficiency particular air (HEPA) filter. This will trap the dust and prevent the vacuum from recirculating it.

Schedule Regular Duct Cleanings

Another issue with dust when it comes to forced-air systems is that it accumulates in the ducts over time. That buildup can potentially wreak havoc on your IAQ, trigger your allergies and make your symptoms more severe. The National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) recommends having your ducts inspected annually. You can schedule that inspection alongside either your spring or fall tune-up. The NADCA and EPA also recommend having your ducts professionally cleaned as needed. For a person with allergies, the right frequency can be as often as every other year.

Filter Out Particulate Matter

A high-quality HVAC filter is a good first step, but you may also want to consider an air purifier. An air purifier with a HEPA filter stage can trap 99.97% of allergens. If you want a whole-home solution, a HEPA air purifier in the ducts is usually the best option to avoid affecting air pressure on the supply side. Air changes per hour (ACH) is a factor to consider as well. The CDC recommends 5 ACH at a minimum. Many allergists recommend 6 ACH or even higher.

Deactivate Odors, Gases and Chemicals

You may also want to consider an air purifier with an activated carbon stage. Activated carbon neutralizes odors and many harmful chemicals and gases, including VOCs. You can opt for this filtration in the ducts with the HEPA filter. You can install a stand-alone solution on the supply side as well. Some HVAC filters have activated carbon woven into the filter material.

Dehumidify During the Warmer Months

Relative humidity (RH) measures airborne moisture within the context of temperature. When the air is warmer, it holds more water vapor, and when it’s cooler, it holds less. Many people underestimate the effect that high RH can have on allergies. Humid air holds more particulate matter. It also makes it more difficult to breathe and makes a person more sensitive to episodes. The solution is a whole-house dehumidifier. This is a supply-side system. It will extract moisture before the air gets to your AC, providing the additional benefit of making your AC more efficient.

Humidify During the Cooler Months

The EPA advises that the optimal RH range is between 30% and 50%. Find the setting that feels best to you within that range. It’s also important to maintain optimal RH in winter. Dry air can irritate your eyes, nose, mouth and throat. That inflammation can heighten allergy symptoms and trigger you more often. If you’re opting for a whole-house fan, an ERV may be enough of a solution. If not, consider a whole-house humidifier, a supply-side system that adds moisture to the air.

Use Allergy Filter Screens

If you want to open your windows on nice days, take care in doing so. Pay attention to the air quality index (AQI) for your area and local pollen counts. Also consider upgrading your window and door screens to those specifically designed to block pollen.

Your Local IAQ Experts in Garden City

Perfect, Plumbing Heating & Air has provided IAQ services throughout Garden City and the neighboring communities since 1984. They include cleaning air ducts and installing and servicing air filtration and humidity control equipment. Our HVAC technicians install and service electric and gas furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps and ductless mini-splits. We also have plumbers who perform camera inspections, clean drains and repair sewer lines. You can also count on them for piping, fixtures, water heaters, sump pumps, water filtration and softening and appliance hook-ups.

Contact Perfect, Plumbing Heating & Air today to learn more!

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