5 Steps to Better Air Quality

5 Steps to Better Air Quality


The Environmental Protection Agency shocked homeowners a few years ago by reporting that indoor air in most homes is on average two to five times more polluted than outdoor air — and in many cases, is even scores of times worse. If you’re skeptical and think your home might be an exception because you work at keeping it clean to the max — well, sorry to disappoint, but a rigorous cleaning regimen alone will not provide good indoor air quality.

Most modern residential construction results in an airtight structure so that the home is more efficient, keeping conditioned air in and unconditioned air out. And while that’s good for your pocketbook, it’s not great for your breathing.

An airtight home isn’t just keeping in conditioned air; it’s also retaining all those airborne pollutants you’ve brought in, let in or generated by allowing certain conditions to exist. Among the major sources of pollution in most homes are these:

  • Volatile organic chemicals, or VOCs, off-gassed by household chemicals, textiles, dry cleaning and pressed wood
  • Dust
  • Pet dander
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Insect particles (dust mites)

These pollutants can cause a number of health problems, ranging from triggering asthma attacks, to aggravating allergies and bronchial infections, and causing headaches, dizziness and eye and skin irritations.

Fortunately, there are a number of tactics you can adopt to improve your indoor air quality. Here are five that will help you ensure that your home’s air is fresher, cleaner and less likely to exacerbate any health problems suffered by you or your family.

1. Attack pollutants at the source.

Your best defense against poor indoor air quality is to attack air pollutants at the source: don’t let them in, or else work to contain them. Some ways to do that are:

  • Air out products with VOCs before you bring them indoors. Whenever possible, buy natural products. Keep a tight lid on chemicals, or store them in the garage.
  • Take off shoes at the door.
  • Brush pets outdoors; bathe them at least once a week.
  • Brush pollen off clothing, or change clothes quickly upon entering the home and put the clothing in a laundry bag till you can wash it.
  • Maintain lower relative humidity (under 50 percent) in the home to control mold. If you find mold, take steps immediately to get rid of it. Be advised that chlorine bleach is not always effective, and it cannot be used on porous surfaces such as wood or drywall. Vinegar and water may be a better solution, but do consult with a professional for advice if you find mold in your home.
  • Vacuum rugs and upholstered furniture frequently to control dust mites; wash linens weekly in hot water.

2. Improve your home’s ventilation.

Most modern homes are so airtight that very little fresh air seeps in, the way it used to with older homes of looser construction. You can open a window now and then to let in fresh air, but a better solution is to install some sort of ventilation. There are four basic types:

  • Exhaust — Exhaust ventilation is usually installed in rooms where moisture collects, such as the kitchen or bathroom. The ventilation system removes polluted air from the home.
  • Supply — Fresh air is pulled inside the home, typically through the ducts.
  • Balanced — This type of system adds fresh air equal to the amount of stale air removed.
  • Heat or energy recovery — These ventilation systems recover energy or heat while adding fresh air, to reduce heating and cooling costs.

3. Control humidity.

You may not think of humidity as a pollutant, but it can be. High humidity can cause a number of problems in your home, from making occupants feel warmer than they need to in the summer, which means you’ll need to set the thermostat down to feel comfortable, to increasing the likelihood of mold, mildew and fungus in your home. What’s more, high humidity can cause dust mites to flourish in carpets and textiles.

If your home’s humidity is higher than 50-55 percent, you should take steps to reduce it. Exhaust ventilation in damp areas will help. Fix leaks in the plumbing or roof or ceiling as soon as you discover them.

4. Use a good quality air filter.

If you’ve been using a cheap fiberglass filter in your HVAC system, you’re probably keeping your system free of larger dirt particles. But don’t expect these filters to contribute to better air quality in your home, as they are not effective in trapping very small particles that travel into the system with the return air.

Installing a good quality, pleated air filter will do wonders for your indoor air quality. The higher the MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value), the better job the air filter will do. For best results, install an air filter with MERV 8-12. Denser filters will not only remove small particles of dirt, but will also capture pollen, pet dander, mold and viruses. Filters rated higher than MERV 12 will slow down the air flow and cause your system to work harder than it should to condition the air, so should not be installed in most homes.

But if someone in your home has respiratory problems, such as asthma or chronic bronchial issues, you may want to look into having your HVAC system modified so that it can handle a filter with a higher MERV.

5. Install an air cleaner.

Air cleaners go a step beyond air filtration. Mechanical air filters catch particles as they pass through with the HVAC system’s return air supply. Air cleaners, also known as air purifiers, clean in different ways so you will need to decide which type best meets your needs.

For instance, if you have a mold issue, or you’re concerned about other living organisms such as fungus, viruses or bacteria, you may want to look into installing UVGI, or ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, lights in your HVAC system. These devices make use of the ultraviolet end of the light spectrum to kill organisms as they pass through your HVAC system in the air supply. They are usually installed near the evaporator coils, where conditions are likely to be damp, or in the ducts. The bulbs must be changed every year or so, as they are only effective when the light is strong.

If you’re concerned about other types of pollutants, such as pet dander or pollen, an electrostatic air filter, which is installed in the HVAC system, may do the trick. These work by trapping particles with a negative charge as the air passes through the system. The plates must be cleaned periodically to be effective, but these air cleaners last a long time and are considered permanent.

Activated charcoal filtration is a type of air cleaning that helps to remove cigarette smoke and other gas particles from the air.

Air cleaners may come in portable or whole-house models. Generally, whole-house models — that is, those that are installed in your HVAC system — are more effective.


The road to improving your indoor air quality lies not in applying just one of the tactics detailed above, but in crafting an overall, whole-house strategy. If you’d like more information on how to improve the air quality in your home, contact us today.

10 Common Furnace Problems and What to Do

10 Common Furnace Problems and What to Do


About half the homes in the United States utilize natural gas-fired furnaces for heating. A gas furnace is a sturdy appliance with a long expected service life—it’s not uncommon to find units over 20 years old still on the job. Because gas heating has a long history, mass production of gas-fired furnaces by established manufacturers also helps keeps the costs of brand new units relatively low and installation simplified.

Not For The Do-It-Yourselfer

As with any heating or cooling system, however, furnace problems may occur over the long natural lifespan of any unit. Some are simple, some are complex and some are signs that its time to upgrade to a new furnace, ASAP. While certain very basic troubleshooting to resolve furnace problems such as changing an air filter and checking thermostat settings are an acceptable DIY project, furnace diagnosis and repair should strictly be left to the skill and expertise of a qualified HVAC technician. Safety is a critical issue here: gas-fired furnaces generate dangerously high temperatures at the open-flame burner as well as produce toxic combustion byproducts including deadly carbon monoxide gas. For the well-being of your home and family, consult a trained, certified professional for furnace repair.

The list of typical furnace problems are familiar to any experienced technician, though symptoms may vary according to individual make and model. Here are ten common furnace problems as well as some of the typical causes a professional HVAC technician will investigate:

1. Neglected Maintenance.

Many furnace problems including malfunctions and breakdowns—as well as chronic issues like poor heating performance—can be avoided in the first place with regular preventive maintenance by a qualified technician. The annual furnace tune-up includes a checklist of manufacturer-recommended preventive maintenance procedures as well as a close-up inspection of all functions to detect any developing issues before they turn into an even bigger expense and inconvenience. If your furnace is still under warranty, annual preventive maintenance by an approved HVAC contractor is usually required under the terms to keep the warranty in effect.

2. Increasing Operating Costs.

If your monthly gas expenses are getting higher every year during the heating season, your furnace may be consuming too much fuel. Declining efficiency can be simply a function of age. A gas furnace is a combustion appliance and, though moving parts are relatively few, wear and tear from repetitive heating and cooling cycles gradually affects critical components. A general formula is that a furnace loses about 1% of its AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) rating for every year of operation. Therefore, the energy efficiency of a standard AFUE 80% unit will decline to 70% by the time it’s a decade old, accompanied by a commensurate increase in gas consumption and operating costs.

3. Poor Heating Performance.

Running the furnace longer but getting less heat? Often this is an issue of low airflow. Proper supply and return airflow volume is required to circulate the amount of BTUs of heat required for the square footage of your home. If the system air filter hasn’t been changed recently, install a new one and keep changing the filter at least every other month. If performance doesn’t improve, contact your local qualified HVAC contractor. A failing blower motor is another potential airflow issue as well as problems with ancillary systems such as leaky ductwork that’s allowing hot air to escape into the attic, crawl space or other unconditioned zones.

4. Ignition Problems.

If the furnace burner simply doesn’t light when the thermostat signals it, the issue could be a faulty ignition system. Older gas furnaces and some new ones incorporate a standing pilot light to ignite the main burner. If the pilot flame goes out frequently—often caused by a defective thermocouple—the burner won’t ignite. Most newer furnaces have electronic igniters. Over time, these may fail due to defective wiring or circuitry.

5. Defective Thermostat.

Old-school mercury-style thermostats are manual units that incorporate metallic springs that weaken and contact switches that become unreliable over time. This may cause the thermostat to actuate at the wrong temperature—or not at all—and/or to run the furnace for overly long cycles. Consider upgrading now to an electronic programmable thermostat. You’ll save money with more consistent indoor temperature control and free your family from the daily need to change thermostat settings to meet the time of day. Utilized properly, a programmable thermostat can save enough in lower operating costs to pay for itself after the first year.

6. Strange Noises.

Some sounds are common as a furnace cycles on and off. The muffled booms and bangs of metal ductwork expanding and contracting as it heats and cools is normal, though annoying. However, squeaky or screeching sounds when the furnace cycles on usually means a failing blower motor or bearing. Unusually loud roaring sounds when the burners are lit indicates a combustion problem that should be reported to a qualified HVAC contractor immediately.

7. Furnace “Short Cycles”.

If a unit cycles on and off rapidly many times per day, failure of an internal component is one probable cause. A flame sensor incorporated in the unit may not be properly sensing the burner flame and turning the unit off prematurely. Professional service may include cleaning the flame sensor and, if the problem doesn’t resolve, replacing the sensor unit. Another cause of short cycles may be a furnace that is overheating and triggering the high temperature limit switch that shuts the burner off. This is a safety issue that requires professional service.

8. Furnace Is Improper Size.

In this case, “size” refers to the BTU output of the unit. Furnace output of a given model must be the proper size to accommodate the BTU requirements of the home. Oversized and undersized furnaces waste energy and under-perform in providing indoor comfort. Resolving sizing issues requires upgrading to a new furnace after getting a sizing calculation performed by a qualified HVAC contractor to accurately determine the home’s heating load.

9. Some Rooms Too Cold, Other Rooms Too Hot.

Have you closed heating vents in certain unused rooms to lower heating costs? This can upset the careful airflow balance throughout the entire system, causing rooms nearer to the furnace to be too hot while rooms furthest away may be too chilly. Closing air vents doesn’t save money, in any case, as the furnace frequently runs unnecessarily long cycles and burns more gas to compensate for airflow and heating imbalances.

10. Defective Heat Exchanger.

If an HVAC technician discovers a damaged or deteriorating heat exchanger, that fact alone usually means it’s time for a new furnace. This critical safety component keeps system airflow separate from deadly carbon monoxide gas produced in the combustion chamber. A cracked or corroded heat exchanger usually means the furnace is unsafe to operate and must be shut down. Because the heat exchanger is the most expensive single component in the furnace, replacing it in an older unit is usually not a financially viable option. Upgrading to a new furnace is indicated.

For qualified service to resolve furnace problems that impact your household comfort as well as your monthly expenses, contact the heating professionals at TemperaturePro.