Indoor Air Quality pictureHere’s What to Know About Indoor Air Quality Systems.

Indoor air quality is on a lot of people’s minds right now, especially in the Pacific Northwest. When wildfires pollute the air, homeowners throughout Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties wind up staying inside as much as possible, usually with the windows closed.

On top of that, due to COVID-19, many of us have been using our homes as offices and school houses for months. When you’re in your home so much, it’s human nature to look around and think about things you want to fix or upgrade. That includes improving the quality of indoor air.

Before you consider investing in an indoor air quality system for your Portland-area home, here are a few things to consider:

1: Furnace systems only filter air that goes through your returns

Furnace air quality systems are popular options right now. Their filters are graded on the MERV scale, which stands for minimum efficiency recording value. The higher the MERV number, the smaller the particles they filter out.

Some furnace systems use UV lights, which kill viruses, plus mold, and other biological pathogens. 

During the COVID-19 era, many people throughout the tri-counties have been investing in UV systems.

So far, so good. Now for some bad news about furnace filtration systems:

  • Furnace systems only filter air that goes your returns. That means that particulates in your house that never make it into the return grilles remain unfiltered.
  • Even the most state-of-the-art furnace filtration system will do you no good if the air in your home doesn’t find its way into the returns.

2: In some cases, fresh air intake systems will pull unwanted air into your home

Fresh air intake systems are also becoming more popular throughout the Northwest, especially in new construction.

Fresh air intake systems can be extremely efficient. They are set up via a damper and timer. In some areas, including the state of Washington, homeowners are required to open the damper, and turn on the fan at least four hours a day—usually two hours at a time, twice a day, morning and evening.

A fresh air intake system has a relatively small footprint when installed in a home. They include only a single duct, no more than eight inches in diameter. The duct ties into your return system, and terminates outside.

Now for the cons of fresh air intake systems:

  • Fresh air intake systems may not be good if you live in areas that get lots of smoke, or have poor air quality. These systems will actually pull bad air into your house. So, if there’s smoke in the air, you have to turn the system off. Otherwise, you’ll lower your home’s indoor air quality, which defeats the purpose.
  • Also, if you live next to a busy street, or near the highway, fresh air intake systems can pull exhaust and carbon monoxide into your house. This can be extremely hazardous, even fatal, for people who suffer from COPD, or other chronic lung ailments.

3: Be sure to assess what your home actually needs to improve indoor air quality

If your home was built in the mid 1990s or earlier, then it’s likely that outdoor air is constantly finding ways inside. This fact might be driving your decision to explore an indoor air quality system.

One of the first questions we ask is, “Why do you feel like you need to improve your indoor air quality?” From there, we provide a full assessment of your home’s footprint, and find the places where air is getting in, or where you’re dealing with an airflow inefficiency.

No matter what the air quality is like in your home, circulation is key. To keep the air inside your home moving, run your furnace fan.

  • Check your thermostat, and make sure you have a fan switch. You should be able to set this switch to either ‘auto’ or ‘on’.
  • Move the switch to ‘on’ in order to run the fan throughout the day. Don’t worry about the heat coming on—putting on the fan will not engage your furnace’s heating system.
  • Some thermostats have a circulation mode, which will kick on periodically throughout the hour. Using circulation mode will keep the fan from running all the time. This will help reduce energy bills.

Running your furnace fan will encourage better air flow through your returns. This will increase the chances of pulling air and particulates through the returns, and thereby help you optimize your indoor air quality system.

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