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How to Improve your indoor air quality and enhance home comfort

Woman sitting in comfortable living room with plants


Did you ever stop to think about how much time you live indoors? Most of us spend 60 to 90% of our lifetime inside. What’s problematic is that according to the EPA, indoor air quality can be two to five times worse for us than outdoor air. We think of our homes as safe and comfortable places to be and raise our families. But what if the air we breathe, right in our homes, is causing allergies, asthma and severe disease? The good news is there are several steps you can take to improve your air quality, home comfort and health by removing airborne contaminants and air pollution. First let’s talk about what’s causing poor indoor air quality.


Causes and symptoms of indoor air pollution.

Ever noticed all those floating bits in a sunbeam or too much condensation on your windows? These can
be a sign of poor ventilation, reducing your home’s air quality, and impact your family’s health.


1. Dust mites, dander and pollen grains. All can cause mild to severe allergies resulting in a sore throat, runny nose and relentless coughing. Unlike their cousin, the common cold, these symptoms never wane and only get better with medication or when the season passes. For those that suffer from asthma, dust mites and pollen can also bring on attacks.


2. Volatile organic compounds. These chemicals are off gases from everyday products like paint, furniture, beauty and cleaner products, and cooking oils. Common symptoms include headaches, poor sleep, lethargy and an overall lack of wellness.


3. Humidity. A house with too much moisture can create the perfect environment for mould creating more allergies. Whereas if there’s too little moisture you can run into problems with dry sinuses and itchy and dry skin.


4. Bacteria and viruses. Most illnesses are caused by these biological impurities that travel through the air. They hitch a ride on big dust particles. Removing dust in your house can help control bacteria and viruses, and their spread.


Try these tips to improve the environmental health of your home.


man holding dirty air filter


1) Change your filters

This comes up time and time again. Your filter’s job on both your furnace and your AC system is to remove dirt, dust and pollutants from the air passing through your HVAC system. If it’s dirty so is the air. A typical central HVAC system circulates over 1,000 cubic feet per minute of air through the filter. This equals the entire air volume of your house passing through the filter multiple times every day. It means those filters are working hard!


Clogged air filters will simply recirculate dirt and debris back into your home. If you have family members that suffer from allergies or asthma this will only make their respiratory health worse. Over time poor indoor air quality can result in poor health. By changing your HVAC filters regularly, you can prevent serious problems for both your family, and improve the energy efficiency and longevity of your system.


During the winter, furnace filters should be changed every other month. In the summer, your AC filter should be replaced monthly depending on how much you have the system turned on. Or you can simply follow the manufacturer's recommendations. 


Other household appliances have filters too. Vacuum cleaners, dryers, kitchen vents and bathroom exhaust fans can all get clogged. You should clean or replace these filters every few months to help remove indoor pollutants in your home.


2)Tap into the power of plants

Not only are plants pretty, add style and ambience to your home, they are nature’s air filters. Breathing in carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, they also filter out contaminants, cleaning the air.


Here are some good houseplants for your home:


Man sitting looking at snake plant


English Ivy – Easy to care for and rated by NASA as the best houseplant to filter air. English ivy is particularly good at removing formaldehyde.

Snake Plant – Want to add more oxygen? The snake plant releases oxygen during the night, while most other plants only release in the day. It also doesn't require much water or light.

Aloe Plant – With medicinal properties to treat cuts and burns, the aloe plant will also show brown spots on its leaves if there are a lot of harmful chemicals in the air, acting as a warning system to improve your indoor air quality.


Bamboo Palm – A pretty plant that is NASA approved as a great purifier, effective at removing both benzene and trichloroethylene from the air.

Rubber Tree – These trees clean the air, do well in cooler climates and poor lighting, and don’t take a lot of work. The added bonus? They efficiently remove toxins from the air.

Red-Edged Dracaena – Add some flair to your decor with this vibrant plant and clean toxins like xylene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde at the same time.


3)Maintain good ventilation

Ensuring a proper influx of fresh air is entering your home is important to create a healthy indoor environment. Older homes always had a built-in ventilation system, they had drafts! Gaps, cracks and holes in the building, combined with little or no insulation in the walls, allowed for fresh air to seep in. In today’s new builds, homes are almost airtight. While this allows newer homes to be more energy efficient it does exacerbate air quality. In the summer it’s easier to open the windows and doors and let the fresh air travel through your home. During the winter, not so much.


One way to increase ventilation, is to keep your furnace blower on which will bring in new filtered outdoor air and push stale unhealthy air out through your home’s ducting system. Through this process you’ll achieve a better balance, diluting indoor airborne contaminants and adding fresh air.


Woman sitting in humid living room


4)Reduce humidity

A humid house is a breeding ground for mold and mildew which can reduce the respiratory health of your family, causing allergies and asthma. As we know, new homes are sealed up tight, stopping the humidity you create in your home every day from escaping. Showers, cooking, your dishwasher and washing machine, all add moisture to your house. Never mind all the moisture in the air during rainy springs and summer thunderstorms.


What to do?

Use your exhaust fans in the bathroom and kitchen and send that moist air packing before it has a chance to settle in.
Purchase a couple of dehumidifiers to help balance out the humidity and improve your home comfort. You can also run your air conditioner more to remove humidity during the hot months.
Health Canada recommends maintaining humidity levels between 30% and 50%. To measure the humidity, buy an inexpensive hygrometer.

It’s important to know that if your home’s humidity is continually sitting above 50% you are encouraging mold. Once it’s in your house it spreads fast. Growing mold can release airborne spores by the millions. If you can’t find the balance, talk to a HVAC specialist and look at installing a whole-house dehumidifier right inside your HVAC ductwork and take charge of your humidity control.

5)Suck up the dirt and dust

When it comes to dirt and dust mites your vacuum is your best friend. Research shows that dusting and vacuuming weekly substantially reduces allergens that pollute your home and your lungs. If you live with allergy and asthma sufferers, choose your vacuum with care and look for technology that uses special HEPA filters.


And it’s not just your carpets you should worry about. Dust mites can be in your bedding, pillows, drapes and couches.


Here’s a few strategies to keep those dust mites at bay:

  • Mites also like humidity giving you another reason to keep your home too dry for mites to thrive. Under 50% is best.

  • Dust mites love the dead skin you leave behind in your bed and pillow. Change and wash your sheets weekly in hot water. Look at purchasing allergen-impermeable covers for your mattress and pillows. Research shows these covers work!

  • Pick hardwood, tiles or vinyl flooring and get rid of that wall-to-wall carpeting. If you have throw rugs know they help trap the dust and should be vacuumed weekly.

  • Always use a damp cloth to dust so you remove it; a dry cloth just whirls the dust up into the air to only settle again later.


HVAC professional technician


Put your mind at ease and call a HVAC professional if you are worried about the air quality in your home. They can conduct indoor air quality testing and help determine if airborne pollutants are a problem and how to fix them. They will let you know if you need to up your game and look at adding a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or a energy recovery ventilator (ERV). Both an HRV and ERV system will replace stale indoor air with fresh outside air. You could also consider investing in portable air purifiers or a whole home air purification system.


As we have discovered, creating a healthy indoor environment is an ongoing process with many tips and tricks to try. Know that your efforts will improve your home comfort and benefit your entire family.


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What is Air Balancing and Why is it Necessary

Woman balancing on train track


Say what now? You may never have heard of air balancing, but chances are you’ve experienced the imbalance at some point. Ever noticed hot and cold spots in your home? And no matter how much you adjust the thermostat you can just never seem to get it right? This is a sign that your HVAC system is out of whack.


If your system is not distributing the heating and cooling evenly throughout your home or building it means you need air balancing.


What is Air Balancing?

Our HVAC system is made of up multiple elements like the furnace, AC system, ductwork, vents, and dampers. If they are not working in concert, the system will be out of balance. Air balancing works to ensure even airflow through the heating, cooling, and ventilation to produce the right temperature, humidity, and air quality ideal for your location.


When an HVAC system is new, installers calibrate everything to produce optimal building performance. But as time passes different things can impact the system and the airflow. This can happen if:

  • The dampers or vents have been changed.

  • You’ve changed the layout with a new addition.

  • Blocked airflow from adding or removing walls.

  • Damaged insulation or ductwork.

  • Reduced air coming from the outside due to updated windows and doors, changing the airflow needs.


"Balance is key. Balance is everything."

- Mr. Miyagi (Karate Kid)

So, what are the key signs that your building is experiencing an imbalance? Take note if:

  • Persistent hot or cold spots are in the same rooms. Caused by blocked air ducts or uneven airflow distribution.

  • Rising energy bills.

  • Vents that just don’t seem to work even with the vent damper completely open.

  • Vents that make a whistling sound when partially closed because they get too much airflow.

  • A temperature difference of more than two degrees between floors.

  • Too much dust, humidity, or airborne contaminants.

  • Musty or stale air in specific parts of the location.


Woman sitting in front of heater


Why is Air Balancing important?

HVAC systems work hard to evenly distribute conditioned air, whether hot or cold, to the entire residential building; larger more robust systems do the same for commercial buildings. A well-balanced system will:


Maintain optimal performance.

Proper air balancing means all the parts of your HVAC system are working together in harmony which ensures maximum efficiency, reducing energy costs. When the temperature isn’t quite right in one area, people tend to crank the heat or AC to try and fix it, wasting energy and increasing your bills.


"If whole life have balance. Everything be better. Understand?"
- Mr. Miyagi


Better Air quality

When your system is running at its best it will be better at removing excess humidity and air pollution from your home. Optimal airflow helps prevent air contaminants like pollen and mold spores from spreading. It also helps stop rooms from feeling stale and stuffy by properly injecting all spaces with fresh air.


Greater comfort 

The more balanced the airflow the more evenly distributed the temperature is across the building. It means consistent, reliable comfort no matter what room or floor. In your home, you’ll hear less complaints from the kid who has the hot room. At the office, employees will no longer have to bring that sweater, and the more comfortable people are the more productive they will be at work. Or at least one can dream.


Hiring a professional can help.


“Not everything is as looks, you know.”

- Mr. Miyagi


A technician can assess and help create air balancing. Professionals will measure the amount of air flowing through each part of your HVAC system – including the ductwork and vents. They will use anemometers, manometers, and smoke generators to perform diagnostic tests to determine where the issues lie and employ the necessary air balancing techniques and adjustments.

Air balancing hoods placed over the vents will measure the amount of air passing through. Manometers measure the air pressure and help locate blockages. A professional will also look at the unit’s fan speed, dampers, and even ductwork size. You may not realize but larger rooms will more than likely require more air volume. This could result in installing a larger vent and ductwork. Rooms that sit at the end of a duct line might need more air pressure, requiring smaller ductwork. Their solutions could include damper adjustments or installing dampers where none currently exist, changing the fan speed, replacing lines, or in some cases suggesting a change in the HVAC unit itself.

The findings from all these tests will compile a report, to help you understand the problems and the solutions. Some common issues are:


  • Damaged ducts causing air leakage.

  • Loose duct joints.

  • Collapsed flex ducts.

  • Design flaws in the ventilation system, common in multi-story buildings. Some examples include undersized ducts, duct runs that are too long or that have too many sharp turns.

  • Blocked ducts, often from old insulation or an object like and old air filter.


Pro hvac man servicing an AC


What does a pro cost?

On average a technician will charge $75-100 per opening. This can add up fast. A typical family home would cost $750- $2,000 depending on the number of vents and the design and accessibility of the HVAC system.


What you can do on your own


“Remember, best block no be there.”
- Mr. Miyagi

It’s recommended to call a technician in for their access to diagnostic tools and ability to fix identified issues, but you can still check off a few things on your own.


Here are 16 things you can DIY:

  1. Check for air leaks. Seal any openings and cracks to prevent air from escaping.

  2. Change your air filters regularly and according to the manufacturer's instructions. Clogged filters can reduce airflow.

  3. Inspect your ducts and vents. Blockages will reduce efficiency.

  4. Look at where your vents and furniture are located. If any vents are blocked rearrange.

  5. Get your air ducts cleaned.

  6. Adjust the temperature settings to accommodate the cold or hot spot, being mindful that without addressing the root cause you will increase your energy use.

  7. Adjust the vent covers according to the season. In the summer keep all vents open on the top floor and closed on the bottom to allow more cool air where its hottest. In the winter close the vents on the top floor and open the vents on the bottom floor as warm air will rise.

  8. Conduct a temperature test. Set your home to 23 degrees Celsius for 24 hours then check the temperature of each room in the house and compare it to the thermostat settings.

  9. Conduct an air pressure test. Turn on the fan and check each vent from room to room. Establish a scale of high, medium, or low based on feel, striving for medium at each register. You can also place a piece of paper over the vent. Hold the top edge and let the bottom of the paper float. Look at how far the paper blows from the wall. You can then get a good gauge of airflow.

  10. Set your thermostat fan to “on” so your furnace blower is constantly pushing air throughout the house.

  11. Never put electronic equipment near your thermostat. Electronics put off heat and if your thermostat picks this up it will not guide your HVAC system accurately, and in the summer will cause your AC to operate longer.

  12. Consider getting a magnetic air deflector to help redirect air coming from your ventilation system.

  13. Add window coverings and use them! 76% of sunlight coming into your house gets converted to heat. While welcome in the winter, you may not want additional heat on sweltering summer days. Know that your windows will have influence on the temperature of each room and can impact your air balancing.

  14. Use your ceiling fans to improve air circulation and energy efficiency. In warmer months ceiling fans should go counterclockwise to create a cool downward airflow. In the winter, fans should turn clockwise to distribute heat throughout the building.

  15. If you live in a region that has big seasonal temperature swings you might consistently adjust your dampers at the start of summer and winter. Homeowners can make it easy on themselves by writing summer and winter on the right side of the duct so it’s ready for the next time.

  16. Make sure the size of your HVAC system is the right size for your home. A unit too small will work harder using more energy. A unit too large will over condition, running short cycles and operate inefficiently. Neither will result in the best home comfort.


Woman practicing karate pose


Find the balance.


The answer is only important if you ask the right question.

- Mr. Miyagi


Air balancing is a crucial step to keep your HVAC system running efficiently. It will lower energy costs and maintain comfort with temperature consistency throughout your home. Proper air circulation also improves air quality, reducing stale air and indoor air pollution.


Try and make your own adjustments but recognize a professional technician will identify and fix many of the common issues for you.


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