When it’s cold outside it’s easy to focus on keeping the air indoors comfortably warm and cozy. But it’s also important to consider air quality inside.
The same construction standards that made older homes drafty and hard to heat did one thing right — ventilation. Poorly sealed windows and doors allowed warm air to escape outside and often sent heating bills through the roof during the cold season, but it did circulate stagnant air and reduce indoor pollution.
Today’s construction standards tightened the home envelope to reduce or even eliminate air leakage. These changes mean better temperature regulation and lower utility bills year round but put the onus of proper ventilation on mechanical systems like exhaust fans and heating system air filters to clear indoor pollution.
Some pollutants are obvious, like strong odors or visible dust in the air. But invisible pollution can still cause breathing issues, itching skin, allergies or eye irritation.
During mild weather, opening windows and getting the air moving inside can help clear out any lingering irritants. But doing that during winter can send a heating system into overdrive and can cause energy bills to spike. Fortunately, with regular maintenance, most home heating and cooling systems are set up to keep indoor air clean and safe.
Furnace air filters are the primary way modern home designs clean indoor air, and these filters should be changed or cleaned regularly. A heating and cooling professional can provide a recommendation for filter maintenance during a regular service visit, but when in doubt check the filter monthly to determine when it needs to be replaced.
Common filters range from 1-nch pleated paper filters up to about 4 inches thick. When the filter looks dirty, replace it. Other types can be washable and reusable, but may require maintenance more often than disposable filters.
In addition to improving indoor air quality, changing furnace filters regularly can improve energy efficiency by ensuring the system works no harder than necessary to move air through the filter. A clean filter can help keep energy costs down while optimizing comfort and safety.
For homes in need of some extra filtration, portable air purifiers and even some DIY box fan and furnace filter combinations can work.
The second line of air quality defense inside a home is the exhaust fan. These fans, often combined with a light fixture in bathrooms, laundry rooms and kitchens are the unsung heroes of a healthy home. Running an exhaust fan while bathing, cooking, doing laundry or anything else that produces moisture has multiple benefits. Not only do these fans have filters that help remove pollutants from the air, they are also critical for preventing mold and mildew.
The mild climate in the Pacific Northwest has many benefits — lower energy costs and increased comfort throughout the seasons. But high levels of moisture can make it easy for mold to grow if surfaces are left damp. So always run the exhaust fan when there’s water vapor in the air or condensation on surfaces, and keep the fan running until all the humidity is cleared.
If mold takes hold, professional removal may be required, so prevention is key.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to email@example.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98688.