Q: How can I be sure I have healthy air as I seal air leaks in my home?
A: Sealing air leaks is one of the best ways to make your home more energy efficient. There are steps you can take to ensure your home has an adequate amount of healthy, fresh air.
The average home loses about half of its air volume every hour, so it can be sealed considerably—often at a low cost—and still have more than enough healthy air.
Pollutants are the main cause of poor indoor air quality, and the most dangerous pollutant is carbon monoxide. It can come from furnaces, water heaters or stoves that burn natural gas, propane or wood. The problem usually occurs in devices that are old, in need of repair, or installed or operated in a manner that prevents clear, unobstructed supply and exhaust of combustion air.
Excessive moisture in the air can also be considered an indoor pollutant because mold and dust mites thrive when relative humidity is above 60%. One sign your home is sealed too tight is window condensation, which can happen if moist air doesn’t exit the home at an adequate rate.
Pollutants can cause physical reactions such as coughing or sneezing, but carbon monoxide causes more severe reactions, such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision or loss of consciousness.
What can you do to ensure healthy indoor air as you increase your home’s energy efficiency?
The first strategy, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is to eliminate or reduce the source of pollution. Eliminate carbon monoxide first. If you have a combustion furnace, it should be inspected and serviced regularly by a professional. If you have any combustion appliances, it is critical CO detectors are installed and replaced every five to seven years.
If you live in an area with radon, keep it out of your home. It is the second-leading cause of lung cancer. Radon tests are not expensive. Your local health authority can provide more information. If radon levels are too high, you will need to hire a professional to install a system to divert radon gas to the outside of your home.
Here are a few additional pollutant reduction measures to consider:
- Never smoke tobacco inside.
- Run bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans after use.
- Store toxic cleaning and painting products outside.
- Never idle a vehicle in an attached garage.
The second strategy is ventilation. Your home probably has more than enough natural ventilation from outside air leaking into the home. The best way to know for sure is to hire an energy auditor to do a blower door test.
Many experts recommend sealing the home as tight as possible and using mechanical ventilation to ensure a consistent and adequate supply of outside air. The most energy-efficient ventilation system is a heat recovery ventilator, which pulls in fresh air from outside and captures the heat from indoor air before it is exhausted to the outside.
The third and final strategy is to clean the air. The easiest step is to simply change your furnace filter at least once every three months, and keep your furnace supply and return air registers free of obstructions. If any rooms do not have an air return, keep the doors open.
There are several home air-cleaning systems available. Some are effective, and some are not. The EPA offers a handy online guide: epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/air-cleaners-and-air-filters-home.