Often air quality is overlooked, as long as the temperature and humidity of indoor air remains comfortable and consistent. The reality is that indoor air quality is complex, and it varies from location to location, and even home to home. Within a home, a host of complex systems are available to ensure air quality is safe, and within acceptable parameters. Air quality changes with the seasons, as humidity drops in winter months, and pollen increases in spring, summer and fall.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Indoor air quality (IAQ) in I-BEAM refers to the quality of the air inside buildings as represented by concentrations of pollutants and thermal (temperature and relative humidity) conditions that affect the health, comfort and performance of occupants. Other factors affecting occupants, such as light and noise, are important indoor environmental quality considerations, but are not treated in I-BEAM as core elements of indoor air quality.
So how can air quality be measured?
Air quality is measured in many different ways. Independent tests look for one factor within inside air, like carbon monoxide, radon gas or mold spores. Often when buying a new home, or inspecting a newly constructed one, these factors will be measured by both building inspectors and health department officials. On the market today are a host of air quality sensors that check for contaminants, such as radon, CO2 or carbon monoxide. Some of these can be connected to a mobile device (iOS and Android) or a home’s wireless network, giving the home owners 24/7 access to live air quality reports.
This includes the home’s temperature and humidity level, and often gives a parts per million (ppm) analysis of particles within a home’s air. This can include dust, pollutants such as pollen, cooking residue such as vaporized oils and other dissolved organic compounds in the home’s air. Often such sensors break air quality down into a normal-abnormal – or low to high scale – depending on the concentration of particles. Usually between 200-500 ppm is considered acceptable air quality, with anything higher considered abnormal, putting those with sensitive respiratory systems, or allergies at risk.
In addition to monitoring the concentration of particles within a home’s air, there are test kits that can detect certain contaminants. Major concerns, and conditions likely to make a home’s occupants sick, are high levels of CO2, carbon monoxide and radon gas. Smart smoke detectors often contain CO2/carbon monoxide sensors, that notify a homeowner if levels of gas rise within the home.
How can general home air quality be improved and maintained:
Stand-alone air purifiers have been popular for many years. These are units that stand upright, are easy to install and usually filter air through a HEPA filter, UV-C light or both. HEPA filters remove minute dust particles and other airborne contaminants and UV-C lights kill airborne viruses and bacteria. Often these units are the most economical way of adding air filtration to a home without an HV/AC system capable of filtering air. Often they can filter anywhere from 200-1,000 square feet of space, and require regular filter cleanings and changing.
Another option is selecting an HV/AC system that has on-board air filtration. This may come in the form of various HEPA filters which air passes over as it circulates duct-work, on up to a UV-C light, with enough wattage to sterilize the whole home’s air.
Some home HV/AC systems are equipped with an air-changer, or heat recovery ventilator (HRV). These devices bring a fresh supply of air into the home from outside, at pre-programmed intervals. While outside air is brought in, the HRV brings that air to the same temperature and humidity as the escaping indoor air. After the air’s parameters match that of the inside air, the unit passes the entering air over a HEPA filter, removing the majority of particles before it passes on into the furnace and is circulated throughout the house. As state and county building codes have adopted a tighter building envelope (which reduces the leakage of indoor conditioned air into the outside environment) HRV units have become a popular way of achieving appropriate air circulation, while maintaining the efficiency not constantly losing conditioned air. Many HV/AC systems can be retrofitted with an HRV unit, making them a possibility, even for home owners with an existing HV/AC system.
Like upright air purifiers, ionic air purifiers are stand-alone units, typically very easy to install and add to any room. These use a high voltage to ionise air, causing negatively charged ions (waste such as dust and particles) to adhere to a metallic plate. The plate is then removed at various intervals (usually once every 30 days) and cleaned. These units have become popular since they don’t require a filter, and the user can easily see the amount of particle waste pulled from the air during cleaning. Some air ionizers combine the ionizing coil with a UV-C light, making them capable of removing both particles and killing airborne mold, bacteria and viruses.
Ozone gas generators are also used to purify indoor air. Ozone (the same gas that makes up the ozone layer) is known as 03, an oxygen molecule with two additional oxygen molecules attacked. Rapidly 03 breaks up, oxidizing air borne pollutants, rendering them harmless or breaking them up. Ozone generators constantly create ozone at a pre-set amount, and are very effective at removing odors. Ozone gas must be used with caution, as too much can irritate the respiratory system of a home’s occupants, and high levels can be very dangerous. Most ozone generators intended for home air purification are designed not to emit enough ozone to be dangerous.
Schedule an air quality consultation:
At DCL HomeWorks, we can aid you in both measuring and improving your home’s indoor air quality. We have worked with home owners to mitigate unsafe levels of radon gas, monitor and mitigate CO2 within the home and monitor and improve general air quality. Feel free to contact us for more information.