Heaters and Indoor Air Quality

lungsEveryone wants clean air in their home. It’s important to us that we can believe that the air we breathe while we sleep and relax is of good quality and won’t cause us any issues either in the short term or down the line. But in order to be truly certain in this matter, one must first investigate and take precautions against polluted air in the home. The mere fact that there are doors, windows, and walls, separating the air inside from the air outside is not reason enough to be secure in the thought that your home is pollutant-free.

Heaters do a wonderful job of keeping us warm in the winter but they can inadvertently do a lot more than that. Depending on what kind of heater you’re talking about and its quality, heaters can either be a detractor from your indoor air quality or a benefiter, but rarely do they not affect your air quality at all. They’re not neutral on the matter. The purpose of this tip is to explore the ways that your heating in Austin and your indoor air quality are connected and ways that indoor air quality can be improved in the fall and wintertime.

Furnace Air Filters

For those with furnaces in your houses, which is most of you, you would be unwise to neglect the purpose and function of the furnace air filter. Of all the functions that your furnace has, moving and circulating the air in your home is one with the most far reaching effects. One of these effects is that pollutants in the air get strained out of the air when they come up to the air filter. Or at least, that’s the idea. The problem is that air filters get dirty and then become less effective at their job, and some air filters just don’t accomplish that much in the first place compared to others. If you have no idea when the last time you changed your air filter was, or you have no idea what kind of air filter you have, it is time to look into that.

For decades, many heating experts recommended changing, or at least inspecting, furnace filters monthly. The filters at from back then, like those that still come standard on many furnaces, were generally inch-thick fiberglass pads with so much space between fibers that you could almost see through to the other side. These filters do virtually nothing to stop the tiny particles that cause lung damage, but they are effective at blocking larger particles that could harm the furnace. This is the primary purpose of air filters, to remove from the air large particles like dust and dirt that could get into the furnace and degrade it. But as time went on, it was discovered that the air filter could also help the health of us humans.

We have more options today for the type of filter you use with your furnace than ever. The Health House program recommends high-efficiency pleated filters with a built-in electrostatic charge. Filtrete is the best-known brand of these filters, which look like felt pressed into a zigzag pattern. The folds add significantly to the filter's surface area, so a similar amount of air can flow through even though the filter medium is a much finer sieve. In laboratory tests, these filters remove up to 90 percent of mold spores and pet dander, which are in the range of 3 to 10 microns. (A human hair, by comparison, is about 70 microns in diameter.) The electrostatic charge, which is similar to the static cling in clothing fresh from a dryer, works like a magnet to grab even smaller particles, such as bacteria, the particles that carry viruses, and the soot in smoke and smog. These particles, under 3 microns, lodge deep in the lungs and cause the most health problems. Manufacturers typically recommend that the high-efficiency filters be changed every three months.

So, air filters can play an important role in increasing the quality of the air in your home. The two main takeaways here are that you should consider looking into a higher quality air filter if you want to increase your indoor air quality and you should be diligent about changing your air filters on a regular basis as prescribed by the manufacturers.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

This air quality threat is one that is unique to a furnace and not just any furnace, but specifically, any furnace that runs on propane, natural gas, or heating oil. Any of these combustion-style furnaces have inherently the risk of carbon monoxide leakage. If carbon monoxide starts contaminating the air in your house, the consequences can be dire.

Carbon monoxide is impossible to detect on your own. Being colorless and odorless, this gas is produced as a by-product of combustion. If not properly and adequately ventilated, its buildup in your home can be deadly. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea that can progress to mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscle coordination and consciousness, heart and brain damage, and ultimately death. If you have a combustion-style furnace, make sure you do what you can to prevent carbon monoxide buildup.

What does that entail? Firstly, it means that if you have a combustion-style furnace and you don’t have a carbon monoxide detector that should be remedied immediately. A carbon monoxide detector, placed near the furnace, is going to alert you as soon as a carbon monoxide leak occurs, giving you ample time to switch the furnace off, air the house out by opening the windows, and call a technician to come and repair the leak before any dangerous side effects of the gas can take place.

The next preventative measure you should take is making sure your furnace is inspected annually. This annual inspection is a good idea for many reasons, many of which we discussed in previous tips, but one reason is that there’s the chance that a fault will be recognized that could lead to carbon monoxide leakage before it does, like rust in the heat exchanger. This is an effective way of stopping carbon monoxide leakage before it even occurs.

Air Cleaning Options

Though it is true that with a clean and high-quality air filter, your furnace will help increase your air quality as air circulates around and flies through the filter, that isn’t the limit of what you can do to increase your indoor air quality as you heat your home. Another proven way to improve your home's air quality is with the use of air cleaning products that work with or separately from your furnace system. These are devices like mechanical air cleaners that are designed specifically with the job of cleaning up your indoor air in mind.

Mechanical air filters usually use fiberglass fibers that trap dust and pollutant particles. They block the dust particles and then lodge them at the surface of the fibers. These air filters, however, are not popular in many homes due to their limitation of blocking too much air. If you want a mechanical air cleaner, go for one that traps dust and pollutants, but doesn’t block too much air.

UV light air cleaners are another interesting option. They consist of a plastic base that mounts on the ductwork, wiring for the power supply from a 120-volt outlet, an indicator light and a UV tube. The back of the base has a flexible gasket to keep harmful UV light from leaking out. The two light probes we used are similarly built, but they have different functions. The longer probe, installed in the return duct, is designed to kill airborne bacteria in the system. The other, installed in the plenum, focuses on the slimy molds that grow on air-conditioner evaporator coils. These molds can generate allergic reactions and they’re responsible for the “dirty sock” odor common to air conditioners. While the lights last three to four years, they lose about 10 percent of their effectiveness per month, so you’ll need to replace the bulbs about once a year.

The more popular electronic air cleaners are not really filters but use an electric field to purify the air. The cleaner ionizes dust particles passing through the electric field that is created in the cleaner. The ionized pollutant particles are trapped in a pair of plates. This cleaner runs on electrical power and it can remove some of the smallest particles that mechanical filters cannot filter.

The use of air-purifying devices such as these can have a wide range of beneficial effects. For one, they can reduce odors. Air cleaning devices have been found to reduce anything from chemical odors to those of pets and smoking. Also, of course, with pollutants and dust particles eliminated, you can be assured of reduced health effects. Common cold symptoms can be avoided and other factors that aggravate health conditions will be reduced as well.

Furnace Humidifiers

Humidity is a factor in air quality that many of us don’t consider often enough. It’s also a tricky part of air quality because either extreme can be detrimental to your health. Too much humidity in the air in your home can cause mold and fungi to grow and that presents unique threats to your health. But too little humidity is an issue too and is much more likely to be an issue in the winter because your furnace is going to be drying your air out with all the heating it does.

Most of the tissue in the body is composed of water. If it loses the water, the tissue dries up. Its elasticity goes, and with it function declines. Besides dry skin, the symptoms of dehydration include chronic joint and muscle pain, raspy throat, sore eyes and lack of mental concentration. Inadequate humidification during cold weather is one of the major causes of respiratory infections. The heating seasons cause people to begin having repeated attacks of winter colds. Winter is blamed for these problems, but the actual cause is dryness, which develops in the membranes of the nose, throat and bronchial tubes. Relative humidity also has a significant effect on controlling the occurrence of airborne infections. There are two ways to combat dehydration, and both are essential; drink a lot of water, and maintain the relative humidity in the home and office at comfortable levels with the use of a furnace humidifier.

Furnace humidifiers do the job of battling the humidity loss caused by the furnace well. They are usually attached to the furnace but you could also use a standalone humidifier and achieve the same effect. A humidifier is a simple device that has the sole purpose of putting some humidity back into the air in your home that your heater may be removing to a detrimental degree during the fall and winter.

Indoor Air Quality and Heating Repair in Austin

Air quality is a big issue and there are things you can do right now to improve it so that your home is as healthy a place to be as possible. One thing you might not realize can have a big effect on your air quality is any fault or malfunction with your heater. Not only can a broken heater cause things like carbon monoxide poisoning, it can also have more minor but still serious effects like an increase in the number of pollutants in your air.

That’s why it is a good idea to get your heater repair in Austin from experienced and trusted professionals like those at AC Express. AC Express is an Austin heater repair company that operates all over the area, from Cedar Park and Georgetown to Lago Vista and Lakeway. If you’re ever in the need of Austin heating repair, call today!