The holiday season brings with it some of the special aromas we only really notice once a year – the smell of live Christmas trees, cookies baking in the oven, and of holiday meals simmering away on the stove. All of these smells are kept inside our homes thanks to modern technology and advances in building materials, but these advances also have a drawback – they don’t allow air to escape. And that can equal poor indoor air quality during the winter months.
Minimal Ventilation = Trapped Pollutants
Back in the good old days, home construction standards were, well, a little less rigorous than they are now. Heating came from your fireplace and blankets, while air conditioning came from open windows. Homes were built to keep you sheltered and relatively comfortable, but there were often issues with keeping out the elements.
Fast-forward to today. Homes now are built to keep out the elements no matter what. With the invention of heating and cooling systems, there is a rush towards efficiency, keeping all of that climate-controlled air inside our homes and reducing our energy costs. We have shifted to making our homes as air-tight as possible, so that none of the nasty stuff from the outside world can make its way indoors.
Unfortunately, we have also created the perfect storm for poor indoor air quality.
The good old days of construction meant that the air in our homes had a chance to escape. But that air was replaced with fresh air coming in from outside. This system of constant replacement meant that many indoor pollutants were able to leave the home. But now our homes have become so sealed off from the outside that we have inadvertently created a space where pollutants like dust, dirt, dander, and chemical pollutants have no means of escape.
This is especially true during the winter months. When cooler weather settles in, many of us shut our houses tight, and that keeps those nasty pollutants indoors. So when cold weather hits, you can naturally expect there to be a decrease in your home’s indoor air quality unless you are very careful.
Symptoms of Poor Air Quality
There are many symptoms experienced by household members exposed to air that is, well, less than clean. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Sneezing or coughing
- Dryness of nasal passages or throat
- Scratchy or sore throat
- Itchy eyes
- Sinus pain
- Allergic reactions or asthma issues
- Shortness of breath
If any of these symptoms are cropping up on a regular basis, then it is likely that there is some issue with the air quality of your home. Another big indicator of issues? The symptoms go away as soon as you have been outside for a while.
Carbon Monoxide Risks
Another major indoor air quality risk that can increase in winter is that of carbon monoxide poisoning. We recently posted information about this silent killer. If you have a gas furnace, know the risks and signs of potential carbon monoxide emergencies and invest in a quality monitor to keep you and your family safe during the winter months.
What Can You Do?
Ventilate, Ventilate, Ventilate: When winter rolls around, it is time to remember to use those exhaust fans. Whether you are in the kitchen or bathroom, it’s a good idea to turn on the exhaust and give polluted air a chance to escape. For other areas of the home, crack a window whenever possible to let some fresh air in.
For those who are really concerned about indoor air pollution issues, you may want to consult with a professional to see how you can add additional ventilation options to your home.
Do A Fall/Winter HVAC Check: We recommend that clients have an HVAC check in the spring and fall in order to make sure their air conditioning and heating systems are in good running order for the long heating or cooling seasons ahead. It is an especially good idea to have these checks before winter, so that any potential air quality issues can be identified before they become a problem. For those with gas furnaces, it also provides an opportunity for a professional to catch any issues that could lead to a carbon monoxide problem.
Clean Your Filters Regularly: Dirty filters in your forced-air heating system can be a huge source of indoor air pollutants, not to mention a major cause of heating system breakdowns. Be sure to check your filter once a month – if it’s dirty, then it’s time to get a new filter. Consider using a filter with a higher MERV rating, as it will catch smaller particulate matter in the air, leaving your home a little cleaner.
Wash Your Linens: Fabrics and upholstery are surprisingly efficient at collecting dust, then releasing it back into the air of your home the moment the fabric is disturbed. Make a special effort during the winter months to keep the fabrics in your home clean. Bedding should be washed and furniture should be vacuumed on a weekly basis. If you have drapery that can be washed, it’s a good idea to clean that on a regular basis as well.
Have A Regular Cleaning Schedule: Regularly dusting your home can go a long way towards improving indoor air quality. At least do a quick dust once a week, with a really thorough deep dust at least once a month. For those who are really ambitious, you can clean your vents!
Watch Those VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are found in cleaning products and home improvement supplies such as paint. These compounds can be toxic to humans and pets, which means it is not a good idea to have them hanging around in your home. One way to reduce the VOCs in your home is to use safer cleaning products. Another is to ensure proper ventilation during home improvement projects, to keep fumes out and clean air in.