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CleanAir Solutions Blog

December 2018

Just How Important Is Indoor Air Quality?

plants on windowsill

Rewind even five or ten years ago and “indoor air quality” wasn’t on anyone’s shortlist of hot topics.

But today, with ever-worsening pollution, the onset of measurable climate change, an increase in weather disasters, plus the threat of global unrest, the subject of indoor and outdoor air quality is finally garnering some widespread mainstream interest.

As proof of this, witness the increase in air quality management products geared for residential as well as commercial use; the tightening EPA and Energy Star certification standards; plus the uptick in consumer interest in everything from air filters to environmentally friendly cleaning products.

In this post, we take a close look at air quality: how it is measured today, indoor vs. outdoor air quality, its importance and its impact on our daily lives.

What Is Air Quality?

At its most fundamental, the term “air quality” refers to a measurement of air cleanliness or purity. In other words, how much pollution is present in the air you are breathing?

Canada’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) measures outdoor air quality across the nation, rating levels from “low” to “very high.” Numerically, ratings range from 1 to 10. An area can earn a 10+, which is very polluted, during extreme weather events such as wildfires.

In the context of the AQHI, “pollution” is distilled down to three distinct components: fine-quality particulates, ground ozone emissions and nitrogen dioxide, which is produced primarily through burning fossil fuels.

The AQHI measurement effort focuses on measuring the quality of Canada’s outdoor air, which, despite its own known issues, continues to rate as some of the cleanest outdoor air in the world today.

But what about the quality of your indoor air?

Indoor vs. Outdoor Air Quality: What Is the Difference?

Canada’s AirNow rating system measures air quality on a scale ranging from “good” to “hazardous.” But this measurement is also designed to monitor outdoor air quality.

Why is it important to distinguish between outdoor and indoor air quality?

The single most critical reason why these two measurements must be separated is because they don’t have a lot in common!

For example, when you step outside your home each day, what kind of car you drive, how much fuel you burn, whether you smoke or not and similar choices will make a small, cumulative impact on the shared air we all breathe.

But when you step inside your home, every little choice you make will have a direct and, over time, measurable impact on your health and the health of your family and pets.

How Polluted Is Your Indoor Air?

Did you know the U.S. EPA states that the average person’s indoor air is anywhere from two to five times more polluted than the air outside?

There are two main reasons for this: first, because the concentration of pollutants inside the average home is so much higher in a smaller space, and second, because the typical Canadian today spends up to 90 percent of each day indoors.

This is also why the very young, the elderly and those with seasonal or chronic health issues are always going to be the most impacted by indoor air pollution.

The U.S. EPA states that increases in indoor air pollution in recent years can be traced back in part to increased use of toxic personal care and household cleaning products, synthetic building supplies and pesticides.

The Biggest Culprit: Energy-Efficient Construction

However, one of the biggest causes for increased indoor air pollution comes from a surprising direction: energy-efficient construction practices!

New homes and commercial buildings are increasingly built to minimize or eliminate air leaks. This is great for keeping seasonal energy bills low and for conserving valuable vanishing natural resources.

It is not so great for air quality, because stale indoor air has no means of escape and there is no influx of fresh outdoor air. So what happens instead is that the concentration of airborne toxins continues to build up and it makes people sick!

As the average person spends more and more time indoors—with some Canadians reporting that they spend less than five minutes of the average day outdoors—we are getting sicker quicker than ever before—and staying that way.

The Simple Solution: Ventilation

Throughout Toronto, contractors are now being required to include heat recovery ventilation in all new construction residential projects. Heat recovery ventilation, at its simplest, is a form of mechanical ventilation.

But heat recovery ventilation does more than just draw in fresh air and push out stale air. These systems also help keep the air humidity-balanced seasonally and they assist with removing indoor air toxins.

Heat recovery ventilation is also another form of resource conservation.

In the winter, these systems extract heat from the air to pre-warm incoming air, which lessens wear and tear on your furnace, boiler or heat pump. In the summer, the process reverses as heat in the air is extracted and pushed back outside, pre-cooling the air before it passes through your A/C unit.

Simple Steps to Cleaner Indoor Air

Here at Clean Air Solutions Hamilton, we recommend three simple steps to start cleaning up your indoor air at home and at work.

Indoor air duct cleaning

Having your indoor air duct system professionally vacuumed and sanitized ensures future HVAC cycles will be pushing only clean, pure, fresh air through your ducts.

Right now, save 10 percent on any duct cleaning package!

Ventilation

Heat recovery ventilation equipment can be retrofitted to work with any central (ducted) HVAC system.

Filtration or purification

Whole-home HEPA air filtration or ultraviolet purification systems can be retrofitted to work with any central (ducted) HVAC system. Portable units are also available.

You don’t need both systems—they accomplish the same goal through different means.

Get in Touch

Contact us online or give us a call at 905-544-2470.

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Purification Versus Filtration: What Is the Indoor Air Quality Difference?

woman in gas mask in the kitchen

Today there are two main approaches for addressing indoor air quality concerns: air filtration and air purification.

Each air quality approach has a lot to recommend it. And because each basically just takes a different road to reach the same destination, it is impossible to say that one is inherently better or superior to the other.

However, both of these indoor air quality aids would not exist if each wasn’t needed. And the two terms—filtration and purification—sound sufficiently similar that it can be confusing to sort out which one does what!

In this post, we take a closer look at air filtration versus air purification, discussing the pros and cons of each and answering frequently asked questions about both systems so you can decide which might be the better indoor air quality system for your home or workplace.

Understanding Air Filtration

Air filtration is perhaps the most common and best-known method of improving indoor air quality.

Today’s air conditioners and heating systems typically come already outfitted with air filters, which attempt to capture airborne toxins before they enter your indoor air supply and you breathe them in.

There are many different types of filters, from disposable to reusable, polyester to fiberglass. The best-known rating system is MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value). Air filters with higher MERV ratings are more efficient at filtering out airborne toxins but can have an adverse effect on HVAC operation if you have an older system.

The gold standard of indoor air filtration today is called HEPA, or High Efficiency Particulate Air filtration. HEPA is a system of improving indoor air quality that was first developed during World War II to protect scientists working to develop the atomic bomb.

Today, HEPA-rated air filters are still the filters of choice in hospitals, laboratories and other places where achieving a very high level of air purity is essential. A HEPA-rated filter can filter out airborne particles as small as 1/100th of a single human hair!

There are two main ways to add HEPA air filtration to your home or workplace.

The first is to upgrade your HVAC system to a HEPA-rated or MERV-equivalent system. The second is to retrofit your existing HVAC system to work with an independent HEPA air filtration system.

Understanding Air Purification

Air purification is commonly mixed up with air filtration, but the two processes work quite differently.

Where air filtration works by capturing and trapping toxic airborne particles in an air filter and thus removing them from your indoor air supply, air purification works by actually altering and then destroying those same airborne particles.

Ultraviolet light from the sun is still the most potent and effective purifier on this planet. The sun produces three bands of ultraviolet light: A, B and C. Of these three bands, ultraviolet band C is the strongest. Unlike bands A and B, UV band C is naturally blocked by the ozone layer that surrounds our planet.

But it is possible to reproduce UV band C for use in an indoor air purifier and get the same purifying benefits of this powerful light band without risk to you or your family. Ultraviolet light purifies the air by literally changing the chemical composition of the toxins it comes in contact with. By altering the structure of moulds, viruses, bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms, UV band C light prevents them from doing any harm.

What is most interesting about ultraviolet air purification is that when you choose a UV air purifier, you are not giving up your air filter. Rather, you are simply adding another layer of protection on top of your existing air filter.

The best way to add indoor ultraviolet air purification to your home or workspace is to retrofit your existing HVAC system by adding on an independent UV air purification system. The ultraviolet light will purify incoming fresh air before it is released into your air ducts.

Purification or Filtration: Which System Is Right For You?

The good news is that there is really no one right or wrong way to answer this question. In other words, both HEPA air filtration and ultraviolet air purification can do the heavy lifting to improve the quality of the air in your home or workplace.

But certain systems can work better to address certain air quality concerns.

When to choose HEPA air filtration:

  • To combat allergies due to pollen, dust, dust mites

  • To prevent allergic reactions to animal dander in the home

  • To protect a compromised immune system with hospital-quality air

  • To reduce the air quality impact of tobacco use in the home

When to choose ultraviolet air purification:

  • To combat mould and mildew allergies

  • To remove bacterial, viral or fungal matter from the air

  • To neutralize unpleasant or unwanted odours

  • To neutralize gaseous toxins (extremely small particulates, VOCs, etc.) too small for filters to catch

Filtration Versus Purification Maintenance

There is one more important consideration when choosing between a HEPA air filtration system and an ultraviolet air purification system: maintenance.

HEPA systems are more maintenance-intensive. A full HEPA filter must be removed and replaced. It can be labour-intensive, as well as a bit messy, to remove the fragile filter and replace it.

Ultraviolet systems require only a bit of annual maintenance to replace the UV bulb, which will produce less-active ultraviolet spectrum light over time and must be replaced at least annually.

With proper and regular ongoing maintenance, air filtration and purification systems can last a long time without lessening of results.

Get in Touch

Do you need assistance with improving the quality of your indoor air at home or at work? Contact us online or give us a call at 905-544-2470.

P.S. Right now, you can save 10 percent on any of our three popular professional indoor air duct cleaning packages.

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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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