The quality of the air in your New Britain, PA, home likely decreases in the winter. When the outside temperature plummets, most locals keep their windows and doors sealed tight. From using fuel-combusting appliances and wood-burning fireplaces to lighting scented candles, people are constantly adding airborne contaminants to their living spaces. Winter brings fast-spreading illnesses, a host of season-specific allergens, and many other pressing indoor air quality (IAQ) concerns. The following is everything you need to know about the importance of IAQ in the winter.
Ventilation Is a Top Priority
Ventilation moves fresh, outdoor air inside and routes stagnant, contaminant-laden air outside. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asserts that indoor air can be two to five times more contaminated than the air outside. In spring and summer, air exchange is a regular occurrence in most homes. There is a lesser need for HVAC system use, resulting in many residents keeping their windows open. This is hardly the case in winter.
Creating a tight home envelope is an essential part of optimizing the efficiency of your heating and cooling equipment. You certainly don’t want your heated air flowing outside because someone forgot to close a window. However, you also want to avoid heating losses that occur through building materials. Installing insulating materials with high R values, adding weatherstripping, and using caulk to seal up air leaks are just a few ways to tighten your home’s envelope. However, a tight home envelope usually results in less natural ventilation and lower indoor air quality.
Poor Ventilation, Fuel-Combusting Appliances, and Back-Drafting
Back-drafting is an important concern when tightening the envelope of any home with fuel-combusting appliances. If you have a gas-powered furnace, aggressive envelope tightening creates an increasing risk of negative air pressure. When a home develops negative air pressure, harmful exhaust gases like carbon monoxide are pulled back down venting systems and into living environments.
This happens because air is constantly being removed through venting systems, but no new air is entering through building materials to replace it. When back-drafting starts, it doesn’t stop until negative air pressure is corrected. Unfortunately, if your home’s envelope is too tight, even something as simple as turning your range hood fan or bathroom exhaust fan on could trigger back-drafting.
All homes have various forms of mechanical ventilation. Your bathroom exhaust fans and kitchen range hood fans are among the most basic of these. To keep them working effectively, set a schedule for cleaning them. If you cook often, you should clean the vent screen in your range hood vent monthly. You also should clean your bathroom exhaust fans every three to six months, as needed.
Before investing in any aggressive envelope-tightening measures, consult with an HVAC company. You can also ask about adding additional ventilation to your home for improved indoor air quality and backdraft prevention.
The Impact of Extreme Weather Events
According to the EPA, extreme weather events bring a slew of IAQ concerns:
- Increased indoor moisture
- Mold and mildew development
- The rapid spread of infectious agents
- An increased likelihood of pests
After a severe storm, your home could be impacted by newly formed roof leaks, sump pump failures, and saturated building materials. As per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it takes just 48 hours for mold spores to form after any indoor flood event. This proves especially problematic in winter when heavy snow loads or non-stop rain make it all but impossible to dry everything out and keep it that way.
You can address these risks by preparing your property for upcoming weather events. Trim back trees and bushes so they can’t cause damage to your home. Make sure your sump pump has a battery backup in case the power goes out.
How Wintertime Pest Infestations Impact Your IAQ
The cold weather drives pests to seek shelter in residential buildings. Animals and insects like rats, mice, raccoons, termites, ants, roaches, and mosquitoes often seek warmer places to reside in winter. You can’t eradicate all of these annoying and incredibly destructive critters, but you can and should deter them from congregating in your home.
Among the first and most effective forms of pest prevention is sealing up possible points of ingress. If local pests can’t easily find a way in, they’ll often set out in search of more accommodating locations. HVAC systems have many possible points of ingress. A professional can check all common points of entry and seal them up during annual maintenance services.
Pests that infest HVAC air ducts leave behind harmful debris. This can have a significant and direct impact on indoor air quality, especially if you’re prone to allergies or respiratory issues.
Pest infestations can also indirectly affect your IAQ by undermining the integrity of your air ducts. As critters scamper through your ductwork, various sections can detach, become crushed or perforated, or even collapse. Damaged ducting can draw in and distribute unfiltered air from your crawlspaces, attic, or basement. This leaves homes riddled with dust and other particulate matter, diminishes HVAC performance, and drives up heating and cooling costs. Not to mention, you can see a decrease in the quality of air inside your home.
Cold-Weather Humidity Challenges
Humidity problems are common in the winter. Most people spend more time at home during the cooler months. Throughout the holiday season, many households also welcome guests. With more people cooking, showering, bathing, doing laundry, and adding humidity to your home, you may see an increase in indoor humidity levels.
Excess humidity sets the stage for mold and mildew development. If your IAQ is affected, residents may contend with symptoms like:
- Chronic fatigue
- Recurring headaches
- Irritated nasal passages
- Frequent bouts of coughing, sneezing, and wheezing
- Recurring ear infections
Dry air is problematic as well. Forced-air heating systems can result in dry indoor air. This can be very irritating to the nasal passages; it can make your skin dry and even affect your eyes.
How Changes in Your Winter IAQ Could Impact Your Health
Winter is also the time when people frequently catch and spread communicable illnesses. Unfortunately, the bacteria and viruses responsible for these ailments slip right through the HVAC air filter mesh the majority of the time. Without additional IAQ support, your HVAC system could circulate the germs found in the aerosols of a sneeze.
Indoor Air Quality and Chronic Health Issues
Changes in your wintertime IAQ can be especially problematic for building residents with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), allergies, asthma, terminal illness, or compromised immunity. Aging adults and newborn babies are also vulnerable to the effects of diminished IAQ.
What You Can Do to Keep Your Winter IAQ High
You can protect and improve your winter IAQ by checking your HVAC air filter monthly. Most filters should be changed every one to three months. You should also schedule pre-season HVAC maintenance so a professional can clean your equipment, optimize its performance, and assess the cleanliness and integrity of your ducting.
Consider Installing Integrated IAQ Accessories
For increased IAQ support, consider upgrading to an HVAC air filter with a higher maximum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating or adding integrated HVAC accessories. System additions like air scrubbers, air purifiers, and whole-house dehumidifiers are installed as part of an HVAC system. These appliances address IAQ concerns, prevent and alleviate IAQ-related symptoms, and increase the lifespan of HVAC equipment.
Residents of New Britain and the surrounding communities can count on TCS Heating and Air Conditioning for cutting-edge IAQ solutions. We also provide top-notch heating and cooling installation, maintenance, and repair services. To find out about our preventative maintenance plans or to schedule an appointment, give TCS Heating and Air Conditioning a call!