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5 Steps to Better Indoor Air Quality This Winter

mother and daughter by window in winter

Winter has now arrived in earnest. It is not bitterly cold yet, but it is coming fast.

At the same time, with less daylight, less humidity and more holiday and end-of-year stress, you may be wondering how long it will be before a friend or family member comes down with a cold or the flu and you succumb as well.

While we can’t promise to keep cold and flu germs from ever crossing your path this winter season, we sure can give you some timely tools to help your immune system fight off germs as they arrive.

Here, we share our top five steps to improve your indoor air quality and your health this winter season!

Step 1: Have your indoor air tested

From formaldehyde to radon, volatile organic compounds to mould and mildew, there is only one way to know for sure what is floating around in your indoor air supply!

That way is to have your indoor air professionally tested. This silent 72-hour test will pinpoint your air quality issues and how to fix them.

Step 2: Schedule a professional indoor air duct cleaning

Imagine what your shelves or countertops might look like if you didn’t dust or clean them for a decade. They would probably be pretty dirty and dusty, right?

But this is unlikely to happen, since you see the surfaces in your home and workplace all the time and you know when it is time to clean them.

This is not the case for your air duct system—the same system you trust to transport your indoor air supply from room to room. While new air duct systems will stay clean for a long time, older ducts that have begun to sag, crack or leak become increasingly vulnerable to trapped debris and dust.

The only way out for this debris is if you manually remove it, which is precisely what a professional indoor air duct cleaning is designed to do.

Step 3: Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate

There is a reason contractors in our area are now required to install heat recovery ventilation systems in all new construction. They really do make a difference in the quality of your indoor air supply!

Ventilation is not new. In past decades, this was accomplished by simply opening a window or a door. As well, older homes and buildings typically provided organic ventilation through the myriad small leaks and cracks built into the structures themselves.

But today everything has changed. With new airtight construction standards, meant to help you save money on energy costs and conserve natural resources, we have inadvertently created a new problem to fix: stale indoor air.

Airtight construction offers no natural ventilation opportunities, and with Canada’s seasonal weather extremes, opening a door or window isn’t always safe or even possible.

Heat recovery ventilation systems fix this, and they can be retrofitted to work with any existing HVAC system. As a bonus, these systems also provide natural humidity balancing and assist with moving airborne toxins outside your home or workplace.

Step 4: Purify or filter

Unless your HVAC system is hospital-strength (HEPA-rated), there is truly only so much your filter can do to remove airborne pollutants from your indoor air at home or at work.

The vast majority of existing residential and most commercial HVAC equipment cannot handle HEPA filters, which do a great job filtering incoming air but place too much pressure on the blower motor.

But this doesn’t mean you have to live with sub-par indoor air quality during cold and flu season! The answer doesn’t necessarily lie in upgrading your HVAC system either, although that can help when the time comes.

The best approach is to retrofit your system to work with either a HEPA air filtration system or an ultraviolet air purification system.

HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air filtration, and it has been the gold standard since its development during World War II. HEPA filters are dense and powerful and are able to trap airborne particulates as small as 1/100th of a single human hair!

An ultraviolet air purification system uses the strongest band of ultraviolet light, band C, to zap toxins right out of the air. It neutralizes them by changing their basic chemical or DNA structure so they can neither replicate nor do any harm.

You don’t need to use both a HEPA filtration system and an ultraviolet air purification system. One or the other will do the job depending on the specific issues you face and the needs you have.

Step 5: Humidify

During the summer, few people give much thought to humidity indoors. Outside of individual issues with seasonal allergies or asthma, for most of us it is plenty humid enough during the hot season!

But in the winter, as things steadily dry out, our bodies become less well-equipped to fight off cold and flu germs, pollen and allergens, and environmental toxins.

You may not love nasal drainage or mucous (who does?) but it is an essential ally to help your immune system trap germs and transport them safely out of your body.

Humidity helps your body produce moisture to fight off illness, allergies and toxic exposure, which is why we recommend the use of portable or whole-home humidifiers in winter.

Get in Touch

Here at Clean Air Solutions Hamilton, we are dedicated to helping you stay healthy so you can enjoy this precious and fleeting holiday season! We specialize in providing creative and economical strategies for improving your indoor air quality at home and at work.

Right now and through December 31, 2018, save 10 percent on all three of our popular indoor air duct cleaning packages, whether you purchase a package for yourself or as a gift for a loved one!

Contact us online or give us a call at 905-544-2470 to learn more and schedule your service.

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What You Need to Know to Stay Healthy This Winter

dirty furnace filter

It can feel so good to step into your home after a long day out and about in the winter chill!

You wipe your feet, slip off your coat, hat, gloves and scarf, relax your shoulders and take a deep breath.

All is well. Or is it? It seems intuitive to trust the very air you are breathing inside your home to keep you healthy. You don’t smell anything weird. You look around and don’t see toxins or microbes or plumes of volatile organic compounds floating toward you. So there is nothing to worry about.

Unfortunately, according to multiple national agencies, this is a dangerous assumption to make.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a disturbing report about our indoor air quality here in North America. According to recent research, the indoor air we breathe is anywhere from two to five times more polluted than the air outside.

Many Canadian adults report that we spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors. So the quality of our indoor air really matters!

What can you do to protect your respiratory health now and in the future? Would you believe the HVAC air filters you choose have a huge role to play? They do—and that is what we will discuss in this blog!

What Is the Purpose of a Furnace Filter?

Furnace filters aren’t the most exciting or glamorous topic—at least until you begin to understand how they work and what a good one can do to improve your health!

A furnace filter has two important jobs to do: protect you from the toxins floating around in your indoor air and protect the furnace blower motor from getting clogged with debris.

But here is what so many homeowners don’t know about furnace filters: Of these two jobs, the second one is actually the main purpose of most low-grade or off-the-shelf furnace filters, since a clogged furnace blower can quickly become a fire safety risk.

If you want any significant indoor air quality improvements as well, it is often necessary to upgrade the type of furnace filter you are using.

How Do Furnace Filters Work?

So let’s take a quick look at how a furnace filter fits into the bigger picture of your HVAC system, assuming you are using a traditional forced air furnace system.

The furnace process begins by drawing air in through the return air ducts. Next, the air is sent over a heat exchanger to warm it up. Then the blower propels that newly heated air out into your air ducts. As the blower blows, the heated air disperses into the channels of your air ducts and then out through the air registers in each room of your home or workspace.

This sounds simple enough, right? But the entire process you just read about assumes a relatively clean, functional furnace filter.

What happens when the furnace filter starts to get dirty? As you might imagine, as your furnace filter fills up with debris, it reaches its maximum capacity. Once your filter cannot hold any more debris, the excess can get blown back into the blower component of your furnace itself. Now your furnace is being forced to contain debris as it continues to heat and distribute air.

In extremely clogged conditions, the mechanism may either shut down or, worse, ignite as the trapped matter heats up and catches fire.

So how do you prevent this from occurring while also improving the quality of your indoor air?

Two Types of Furnace Filters: Disposable and Reusable

The first thing to know is that there are two basic types of furnace filters: disposable and reusable.

Reusable filters, as their name suggests, can be cleaned and reused either for a limited number of times or indefinitely.

Disposable filters can last from one to three months depending on a number of factors, the most important of which is how often you use your furnace.

Depending on the type of furnace system you own, you may or may not be able to use either type of filters with your system. The best way to know for sure is to contact the manufacturer or give us a call.

MERV Ratings for Furnace Filters

The ideal goal is to use a furnace filter that can do both of its jobs expertly: keep your blower motor clear of debris and clean your indoor air.

The MERV rating system is what tells you how much capacity your furnace filter has to do the latter job. The higher the MERV rating, the better that filter will be at cleaning your indoor air.

However, not all furnace systems can handle filters with higher MERV ratings, since these filters force your furnace to work harder to blow air through them in the interests of capturing more debris.

MERV filters with ratings of 1 to 4 are generally only used today in older furnace systems. MERV filters rated 5 to 8 are typical in many home systems today. MERV filters rated 9 to 12 can be used in many of the new energy efficient and Energy Star-rated furnaces. MERV filters rated 13 to 16 are generally used in hospital or laboratory settings to keep air squeaky clean.

A 9 to 12 rating is your ideal MERV filter for home or workplace use, if your furnace is rated to handle that level of filter.

Alternatives to a Higher MERV-Rated Filter

But what if your furnace can’t handle more than a MERV 8 filter? Are you just stuck breathing polluted indoor air?

Not by a long shot! Instead, you can choose to retrofit either an ultraviolet indoor air purification system or a HEPA air filtration system to work with your furnace.

For very clogged systems, we recommend scheduling an indoor air duct cleaning service before upgrading your furnace filter or retrofitting your system. Right now, save 10 percent on this service. Or give us a call at 905-544-2470!

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Upgrade Your Furnace and Improve Your Health This Winter!

little girl with cold

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, one of the best ways to enjoy cleaner, healthier indoor air this year is to remove indoor air pollutants right at their source.

In many cases, this can be accomplished with third-party appliances that can be retrofitted to work with your existing HVAC (air conditioning and heating) system.

But if you have an older air conditioner or furnace that is nearing or at the end of its useful life, this type of retrofitting may not be enough. It also may not make good cost sense in terms of wear and tear on your entire HVAC system.

The Energy Star program suggests it is time to begin thinking about replacement when your furnace or heating boiler has passed its 15th birthday. If you use a heat pump, the 10th birthday is the milestone to watch for.

Learn about how to know it is time to upgrade your furnace and how making this change can improve your indoor air quality for years to come!

Do Any of These Furnace Warning Signs Sound Familiar?

When a furnace is starting to dream of retirement, it often has a way of letting you know. However, unless you understand how your furnace communicates, you may not decode the message until one day it just stops working!

These are just a few of the many communication tools your furnace may use to try to get your attention.

Mysterious noises

Knocking. Banging. Scraping. Rattling. Clicking. Squealing. These are just a few of the many mysterious sounds a furnace can make.

Ideally, you want your furnace to be whisper quiet. Not all furnaces (especially older models) can pull this off. But at the very least, you don’t want the sound to be sufficiently loud and frequent that it becomes hard to ignore!

From expanding and contracting air ducts to broken parts to frayed belts, all parts are potential culprits when your furnace becomes more vocal.

Dust keeps piling up

Leaking ductwork, poorly sealed windows and doors, dirty filters and similar causes can create a continual influx of dust with each furnace cycle.

Too-warm and too-cold rooms—all in the same house

A furnace that is not heating evenly may or may not be your furnace’s fault. Poorly routed ductwork or degrading insulation are also possible suspects.

Your home is too humid

This can be especially notable in winter, when outdoor weather is typically dry. A poorly maintained or underpowered furnace combined with leaky ducts is often the root cause here.

Your energy bill keeps going up

If you can’t pin rising energy costs on local power costs or increased usage, it may be time to look at whether your furnace is pulling in more energy to do the same job. If your repair bills are also increasing, this is likely the case.

Benefits to Upgrading Your Furnace Now

It is true that upgrading your furnace is an investment. It is also true that most people don’t get wildly excited about purchasing a new furnace (in contrast with, say, purchasing a vacation to Tahiti).

But once your new furnace starts paying for itself with lower energy bills, better heating efficiency and healthier family members, this can generate its own excitement—plus help you save towards that dream vacation getaway!

A new Energy Star certified furnace can achieve a 15 percent improvement in energy efficiency right out of the starting gate.

The average homeowner in Toronto area spends $201.23 per month on hydro alone. A 15 percent savings trims $30 off that cost monthly or $362 annually.

If your new furnace costs $1,500, your annual energy savings will pay for it within five years. Plus, you get the benefits of cleaner indoor air, more balanced heating from room to room, better control over humidity seasonally, quieter operation and the chance to conserve natural resources.

And it is impossible to put a price tag to the peace of mind you get from knowing you have a brand-new furnace that won’t just conk out on you mid-winter!

How Your New Furnace Can Help Purify Your Indoor Air

Choosing to do a furnace upgrade with professional installation gives you the opportunity to thoroughly evaluate your central ductwork and your entire HVAC system.

This is not nearly as overwhelming as it may sound, however!

What we recommend is to schedule a professional indoor air duct cleaning service at the same time as you do your furnace upgrade. This ensures you bring in a squeaky clean, energy-efficient new furnace to operate in concert with squeaky clean, like-new air ducts.

We also recommend adding two additional elements to your HVAC system to provide cleaner, purified and humidity-balanced indoor air for the foreseeable future.

With a heat recovery ventilator, an appliance that is now required for all new residential construction in Ontario, you recapture otherwise wasted heat to further improve the energy efficiency of your furnace operation. A heat recovery ventilator also helps to remove toxins, balance the humidity in your home and ensure continuous ventilation.

For the finishing touch, we recommend adding either a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filtration system or an ultraviolet air purification system to work with your new furnace, duct system and heat recovery ventilator to ensure even micro-particulate toxins never infiltrate your indoor air in the future.

Get in Touch

If you suspect this may be the year your furnace needs an upgrade, the first step is to give us a call to talk through options.

Right now, if you purchase a new furnace and A/C combo through our sister company, Shipton’s Heating & Cooling, you can save up to $1,850!

Plus, save 10 percent on any of our popular air duct cleaning packages!

Contact us online or give us a call at 905-544-2470 to talk about options for improving indoor air quality this winter!

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