CleanAir Solutions Blog

January 2020

Want Cleaner Indoor Air? Why Just Upgrading Your Furnace Filter Isn’t Enough

furnace filter closeup

It seems like an easy fix.

You are tired of sneezing your way through spring, summer, fall and winter (while listening to your family suffer similarly).

So you decide to give your furnace filter an upgrade.

Maybe you will even treat yourself and get one of those high-density HEPA-rated furnace filters to catch all the tiny particles that keep invading your lungs.

Unfortunately, this is likely to cause as many problems as you assume it will solve. Most residential HVAC systems simply aren’t designed to handle high-grade air filters.

But there is still a lot you can do to clean, filter and purify your indoor air and feel better. Read on to learn how.

The Problem of Runtime

Runtime is problem number one when you are trying to put your furnace filter in charge of cleaning up your indoor air.

Runtime means the amount of time your furnace is actually on and running.

With Canada’s winters being what they are, your furnace is probably powered up all season. But how often does it actually cycle on (run)?

The air you are breathing inside your space is being filtered only when your furnace is actually cycling.

Some homeowners mistakenly decide to fix this issue by leaving their HVAC system in “on” mode rather than using the “auto” setting.

This may filter your air continuously, but wait until you see your power bills! There definitely is a cheaper way to achieve the same result (keep reading to learn about what to do instead).

The Issue of Airflow

Runtime isn’t the only obstacle you will face when trying to assign your furnace filter the job of cleaning your indoor air.

There is also the issue of airflow.

With insufficient airflow – exactly the type you will get when you try to pair a high-grade filter with most residential HVAC systems – yet again you end up with too little indoor air actually getting filtered.

You also end up with hefty power bills once again.

The Issue of MERV Ratings

The number one reason upgrading your air filter alone isn’t likely to upgrade your indoor air quality is that most residential (and even some commercial) HVAC systems simply are not constructed to handle super-dense air filters.

The MERV rating on your furnace tells you how much air filter density it can handle. Go higher than that and your risks of everything bad increase.

You will pay more for power.

You will burn out your blower motor faster.

You risk a home fire if your furnace overheats trying to push air through a dense filter.

And you still won’t get the air quality improvements you are going for.

What to Do Instead to Improve Indoor Air Quality

So now you know why simply changing out your furnace air filter alone is not likely to deliver the air quality improvements you want to experience inside your space.

Happily, there are other things you can do to achieve this same goal. And none of them carry the risks or expense we just described.

1. Add an external central HEPA filtration system

Did you know you can add a HEPA filtration system that will work with any make/model of ducted (central) HVAC system?

In this way, you don’t have to concern yourself with runtime, airflow or MERV ratings. The HEPA filtration unit does the heavy lifting of filtering out tiny particulates on the front end.

HEPA filters are the gold standard because they can catch floating particulates as small as 1/100th the size of one hair on your head!

Your HEPA filtration system will also keep working even when your HVAC system is not cycling.

2. Add an external ultraviolet air purification system

The external HEPA filtration system we just described takes care of airborne particulates (tiny solid particles) that are so concerning to human health today – and especially to the health of babies, children, the elderly and any family member with immune function issues.

But it doesn’t do anything about airborne liquid or gaseous toxins.

For that, what you need is a separate system called an ultraviolet air purifier.

This system uses the most powerful band of ultraviolet light (C) to neutralize the harmful properties of airborne liquids and gases. Formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, benzene, radon – these are just a few of the very common toxins ultraviolet air purifiers are designed to neutralize.

3. Add a heat recovery ventilator

There is one more step we strongly recommend if what you are seeking is a permanent solution to your indoor air toxicity issues.

That last step is to install a heat recovery ventilator. The HRV, as these units are nicknamed, is fast becoming the poster child for indoor air filtration – so much so that in Toronto, all new-construction buildings must include one.

Heat recovery ventilators do three things to clean up your indoor air: they continually exhaust stale toxic air, bring in a steady stream of fresh oxygenated air and help balance humidity levels inside your home.

HRVs are also great tools for lowering your power bills because they can move heat around to reduce the burden on your furnace and air conditioner to do the same.

4. For bonus points: schedule an indoor air duct cleaning

If you really want to reset your indoor air quality and experience what life is like when you have a continuous supply of fresh, pure air to breathe, the only thing for it is to schedule an indoor air duct cleaning and sanitizing service.

Do this BEFORE you do any of the other steps on this list.

Why? Duct cleaning pulls out trapped duct toxins, sanitizes your entire duct network and leaves you with a clean air slate in your space.

Get in Touch

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

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Does Your Furnace Need an Air Exchanger? Five Tell-Tale Signs

neon five

Indoor air quality can make a huge impact on your family’s health and quality of life.

In recent years, increasing volumes of research studies have pinpointed how toxic air – indoors and outdoors – can cause severe health issues as diverse as low birth weight and premature fatality.

But now even minor health irritations such as chronic allergies and headaches are linked to poor indoor air conditions.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that the air in the average indoor space can be five times more toxic than the outside air.

Since most Canadians spend nine-tenths of every day indoors, indoor air toxicity has become a serious health issue.

Unfortunately, with the changing standards in the construction industry – well-meaning standards designed to lower bills and keep temperature-controlled air from leaking out – indoor air toxicity concerns have increased yet again.

Many of our customers do not realize how much of an impact indoor air quality can make until they experience it for themselves. One of the biggest improvements you can make is to add a gadget called an air exchanger.

What is an air exchanger, and what can it do to clean up your indoor air?

5 Major Benefits of Installing a Home Air Exchanger

Another word for an air exchanger is a heat recovery ventilator. A similar device is called an energy recovery ventilator.

But all three devices are designed to do essentially the same job.

  1. They provide continuous fresh air to ventilate your space.

  2. They continually exhaust the stale air inside your space to the outside.

  3. They lower energy bills by transferring heat.

  4. They provide some level of humidity balancing inside your home.

  5. They remove some seriously toxic matter from your indoor air.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these functions within the framework of improving indoor air quality inside your home or workplace.

Ventilation for fresh indoor air

An air exchanger constantly exchanges stale, oxygen-poor indoor air for fresh, oxygenated outdoor air.

But most importantly, the way it accomplishes this is special.

An air exchanger has two separate pathways for incoming fresh air and outgoing stale air so the two air supplies never mingle.

Exhaust of toxic indoor air

As the previous section described, even while the air exchanger is pulling in fresh air, sending it through your furnace filter and then into your space, it is also continually drawing out stale, toxic air and sending it back outside.

Heat transfer to lower energy costs

Where an air exchanger becomes a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) and really takes indoor air quality improvements to the next level is when it starts moving heat around to save you money.

How does a heat recovery ventilator do this?

The HRV detects and harvests heat energy in the outgoing stale indoor air that might otherwise be wasted, and recycles it to preheat the incoming fresh air stream before it reaches your furnace. This means you spend less on energy to heat your indoor air.

But that isn’t all a heat recovery ventilator can do!

In summer when temperatures soar and the last thing you want in your space is heat, the heat recovery ventilator will send excess heat back out with the stale outgoing air to reduce the cost to cool incoming fresh air.

Pretty neat!

Humidity balancing

Even these tricks don’t represent the sum total of how an air exchanger can help improve your indoor air quality even while lowering your energy bills.

As if all this wasn’t already enough, heat recovery ventilators are also experts at moving humidity around.

While the energy recovery ventilator (ERV) represents the true gold standard in terms of humidity balancing, typically ERVs are recommended only for more tropical geographic locations where humidity regularly gets up into the triple digits.

Here in the north, a heat recovery ventilator is typically sufficient to balance your indoor air humidity levels year-round.

When someone in your family struggles in the sometimes extremely dry air of winter, adding a portable or whole-home humidifier can make up for any moisture deficiency.

Toxin removal

According to Natural Resources Canada, heat recovery ventilators can readily remove a variety of potent airborne toxins from your indoor air at home or at work:

  • Mould and mildew

  • Formaldehyde

  • Radon

  • Tobacco or wood smoke

  • Common hobby and cleaning chemicals

  • Viral, bacterial and fungal matter

  • Pet dander

  • Dust mites

While home or workplace combustion-based appliances should be separately and properly vented, a high-quality heat recovery ventilator can also assist with the removal of particulates, including smoke and wood ash, carbon dioxide and similar matter.

How to Choose the Right Air Exchanger for Your Home

Heat recovery ventilators are designed to work well with central (ducted, forced air) HVAC systems. They can be easily integrated to work with your existing blower and ductwork.

So how do you choose the right air exchanger for your home’s needs?

Heat recovery ventilators, like HVAC systems, are sized by the space they need to operate in. For general purposes, you will need to calculate the amount of fresh air to be supplied to your home to determine what size air exchanger you need.

This is typically measured either in litres per second (L/s) or in cubic feet per minute (cfm).

If you are not sure what your home’s fresh air capacity is, we are happy to help with this calculation.

Get in Touch

Is 2020 the year you will clean up your indoor air once and for all? We can help!

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

P.S. It’s not too late to save 10 percent on any of our air duct cleaning packages!

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Are Your Windows Weeping? What This Warning Sign Is Trying to Tell You

window condensation

Every winter, we receive calls from concerned homeowners who tell us their windows look like they are leaking.

It’s warm and cozy inside, but the windows are dripping or foggy.

This is particularly important during winter because here in Canada it is often necessary to add back humidity to the dry air. But adding back humidity, while good for your health, isn’t always good for your home’s health.

In this article, learn all about why windows seem to “weep” and what you need to do to fix it.

Why Do Windows Get Wet or Foggy In Winter?

The simplest explanation, and the one most homeowners use to console themselves (however much in error), is that window wetness or fog occurs when warm indoor air meets cold outdoor air.

But well-built, well-sealed, well-insulated windows do not fog, drip or leak when cold air hits them.

There are two main structural reasons windows may appear to “weep” when there are extreme temperature differences between your indoor air and the air outside: poor seals and no insulation.

Poor window seals

Over time and with age, the seals around windows break down and degrade. This lets air leak in and out. As warm and cold air mix and mingle, moisture occurs.

Older windows are typically single-pane, which means there is no insulation built into the window itself to keep these two air streams separated.

No interior window insulation

Today’s windows are usually double- or even triple-paned. This means that there is a layer or two of glass in between the part of the window that gets hit with warmed indoor air and the part of the window that gets hit with cold outdoor air.

This extra interior glass acts as a form of insulation to ensure condensation will not arise.

Modern Airtight Homes Are Condensation Starters

In some cases, you may have double- or triple-paned windows installed. The weatherstripping and sealing around each window is fresh and new. And you have plenty of high-quality, moisture-resistant insulation installed in your walls, ceilings and floors.

But you are seeing window fog, condensation or weeping anyway. What could be causing this?

Typically, it’s modern airtight construction standards.

As concern mounts about the planet’s dwindling energy resources, the construction industry has developed new building standards that keep 100 percent of temperature-controlled air locked inside the space.

There is just one problem with this: these new homes cannot breathe.

What would happen to you if you could only breathe in, not out? You wouldn’t be able to let out the stale carbon dioxide your body needs to get rid of. Essentially, you’d be holding your breath and becoming increasingly toxic.

This is what happens when your home can’t exhaust toxins, stale air and excess humidity. The windows start to fog up!

There are two things we tell our clients to try when this happens: lowering the humidity and adding more ventilation.

Lower the humidity

For general health purposes, it is good to add back some humidity into your indoor air in winter. This is especially the case if anyone in your family suffers from allergies or winter asthma symptoms – the humidity can make it a lot easier to breathe.

But if you are living in an airtight home, the excess humidity won’t be able to find its way out again. When this happens, you can lower the humidity temporarily as a test to see if the window condensation goes away.

If this test works to rid your home of foggy, weeping windows, you know that you need to add ventilation to keep the situation from recurring.

Once you add more ventilation, you can run your whole-home humidifier as much as you need to without worry it will cause wetness, mould or mildew inside your space.

Install a heat recovery ventilator

For this, we always recommend installing a heat recovery ventilator (HRV). HRVs are essentially mechanical lungs for your home.

They help your airtight home “breathe,” exhausting stale air through one conduit while pulling in fresh air through a separate conduit, balancing your home’s humidity levels and conserving heat energy in the process.

HRVs are so critical for airtight homes they are now mandated for all new construction in the Toronto area.

Once you install an HRV, you will no longer have to worry about running a winter humidifier inside your home. The HRV will exhaust stale, humid air so it doesn’t build up and cause window damp and condensation.

You can even connect your HRV to a humidistat monitor installed in a central location that automatically detects rising indoor humidity levels. This will trigger the HRV to start running to exhaust the excess humidity before it can cause any structural damage.

Warning Signs of Window Condensation Damage

Homes have their own language that they use to try to alert us about problems that need our attention. Window condensation is one such alert.

There are other warning signs to alert you to potential structural damage:

  • Efflorescence (powdery mineral salts left behind after water evaporates)

  • Bubbling or cracking paint or wallpaper around windows and on ledges

  • Strange smells (especially grassy or “dirty socks” odours)

  • Visible mould or mildew patches

Get in Touch

Are you tired of having to wipe down your windows just to see outside and keep moisture from pooling? We can help!

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

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