Your indoor air quality can have a big impact on your life. Though invisible to the naked eye, it’s foundational to the comfort of your home and the state of your health.

Improving your indoor air quality is easier than you might think. It’s also quite variable: It can range from simple lifestyle changes to full-scale renovations of your home’s HVAC system. Before you can get started, however, you’ll need to establish a baseline. This means testing your home’s air quality and figuring out where, when, and how to make improvements.

What Is Indoor Air Quality?

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is essentially the breathability of the air inside a building. Is it fresh or recycled? Does it contain any harmful pollutants on a microscopic level? Will it cause any health problems long-term?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that people spend 90% of their lives indoors, so indoor air quality is a concern in everything from homes to schools to office buildings.

Things That Can Affect Indoor Air Quality

There are a number of factors that can impact the air quality of your home. Here are just a few potential pollutants:

  • Smoke, dirt, and dust
  • Pollen and other allergens brought from the outdoors
  • Fumes from combustion sources (fireplaces, furnaces, household appliances)
  • Chemicals from cleaning products
  • Mold, mildew, lead, or asbestos in the walls
  • Pet dander

A phrase that you’ll commonly see mentioned in the context of air quality is “volatile organic compounds” or VOCs. These are things like formaldehyde that are commonly found in household materials and products.

Another common piece of lingo is “particulates.” This is something of a catch-all term for any small, invisible particles that could be bringing down your air quality. It’s usually only applied to solids and liquids. Gas pollutants refer to gases or fumes.

How Your HVAC System Impacts Your Air Quality

HVAC stands for “Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning.” In other words, it’s the operational system for your home’s heating and cooling units.

There are a lot of components to an HVAC system, but the short version is that everything’s connected to your air ducts, and these ducts are responsible for circulating air throughout your home.

If something’s wrong with your HVAC system, that could be a cause of poor indoor air quality. For example, if your furnace has dirty filters, those dirt and dust particles could be flowing through your ducts along with the clean air. Your HVAC system can also be an unintentional highway for pollutants or particulates that are coming from things like household cleaners, mold colonies, or gas-burning appliances.

Outdoor air quality can affect indoor air quality, too. Not only can you bring in allergens from other places on your clothes and skin, but certain components of your HVAC system connect to the outdoors. Units might be drawing in polluted outdoor air, or they might be improperly venting or filtering the air within their internal networks. All of these things can impact the breathability of your living space.

Signs of Poor Air Quality

You might or might not know when you’re breathing in bad air. Sometimes, it’s obvious: There’s visible smoke coming off that burned bacon. Other times, it’s more subtle: There are toxins embedded in your old wallpaper or fumes building up within your broken furnace.

Here are just a few red flags for poor indoor air quality:

  • Respiratory issues, such as coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing
  • Eye irritation or inflammation
  • Headaches
  • Dry throat
  • Dizziness
  • Sinus congestion
  • Fatigue

Another telltale sign is when your symptoms get worse while you’re at home. For example, your “allergies” might seem to be strangely fine while you’re outside, but they kick into high gear when you’re relaxing in the living room.

If you suspect that you have issues with your home’s air quality, you’ll want to act on them right away. This is especially true if you have symptoms of something serious like carbon monoxide poisoning. By the time you’re openly affected by your indoor air quality, the problem has most likely been building for years.

How to Check Your Indoor Air Quality

You don’t have to live with questionable air quality in your home. You can test and treat it.

You’ll want to start with an evaluation of your home’s air quality levels. The simplest solution is to purchase an indoor air quality monitor: These are small electronic devices designed to measure the amount of particulate matter (PM) in the air. Depending on the model, they might also be able to detect things like VOCs. If the monitor finds hazardous levels, it will let you know. Some high-tech models can also track things like humidity and temperature, making them good multipurpose appliances for the home.

Another option is checking for individual pollutants. For example, you can buy mold testing strips for a bathroom with black spots, or you can purchase carbon monoxide detectors to hang alongside your smoke detectors. You might also benefit from radon testing in older homes.

For the best, most accurate results in air quality testing, call in the professionals. Not only will they have more advanced equipment, but they’ll also be able to locate problem areas and arrange for solutions. For instance, if gases are coming from a malfunctioning heat pump connected to your furnace, an HVAC technician will be able to schedule furnace repair.

Tips for Improving Indoor Air Quality

The best defense is a good offense, so if you’re looking to maintain good air quality in your home, you’ll want to prevent it from reaching hazardous levels in the first place.

Some solutions are simple. If your cleaning products contain a lot of chemicals, you can switch to organic or all-natural products. If your air conditioner filters are easily clogged, you can implement a schedule for checking and replacing them. Close the windows if you’re concerned about pollen; open the windows if you want to air out the living room after a fresh coat of paint.

Other ideas are more unique, but they’re still effective. For example, studies have shown that certain types of houseplants have the ability to strip toxins from the air. They can purify your living space just by sitting on the windowsill.

Last but not least, you can take preventative measures to ensure that things like VOCs aren’t able to build up anymore. Consider the permanent installation of indoor air quality monitors. You can integrate some right into your home’s HVAC system, making them easy, long-term protection against air quality issues.

How to Ensure Clean Air in Your Home

Good air quality starts with a well-functioning HVAC system. This can range from air conditioners in the summer to furnaces in the winter. If you need help with your home’s HVAC units, reach out to us at Precision Heating & Air in Metro Atlanta. We offer a variety of heating and cooling services that include installation, repair, inspection, maintenance, and more!

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