Winter Is Coming. Are You Concerned About Your Indoor Air Quality?

Now is a good time to assess your home's indoor air quality.

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Autumn is upon us and winter is just around the corner. Unless you’re a professional Alpine skier, it’s likely you’ll be spending more time inside your home with the doors and windows closed in the coming months. In light of the pandemic, are you concerned about your indoor air quality? And should you be?

Let’s look at some of the latest thinking on residential indoor air quality, how it relates to COVID-19, and some steps you can take to improve air quality in your home.

Breathe Easier at Home

Most studies related to indoor air quality and COVID-19 address air in public buildings like offices, schools and restaurants, where lots of people gather. Heating and cooling systems in these buildings often recirculate the same air among several rooms, and may not pull in fresh, outside air as often as they should.

But you’re at far less risk of contracting COVID-19 in your home than an enclosed public space. The virus is unlikely to enter your home without a human carrier. And while much remains unknown about how the virus is spread, once a family member or guest brings COVID-19 in your door, the quality of your indoor air is one of many factors that will determine whether you or your family contract the virus.

Keep the Air Circulating

Even though you’re safer at home, you still need to keep indoor air circulating. But how do you do that in the dead of winter, when you can’t throw open the windows?

If your home furnace is properly ventilated, there’s no need to sit around in your winter woolens with the windows open. As this article from Weather Tech Heating & Cooling explains, your forced-air furnace unit should have a fresh air intake duct nearby, which draws in fresh air from the outside, heats it and circulates it through your home. If you’re not sure if the air intake is in the right place, ask a technician check it the next time you have your furnace tuned up.

Boilers, which typically sit in a basement and provide heat to radiators throughout the house, also need to be properly vented.

Electric baseboard heaters, if located under a window, will draw cool air from the window. But that’s not a substitute for fresh air intake, which is one reason they’re typically used for supplemental heating rather than as a primary heat source.

Lastly, homes heated (and cooled) by heat pumps do not typically have fresh air intakes. With the growing concern about indoor air quality, you might consider investing in an air-exchange system, which works alongside your heat pump to remove stale air and draw fresh air into your home.

Read more about home furnace troubleshooting and fall furnace maintenance.

Other Tips for Cleaner Indoor Air

They may not kill COVID-19, but these tips can ensure you’re breathing cleaner indoor air:

  • Change air conditioner and furnace filters regularly. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests changing them every three months.
  • Consider buying a HEPA Air Purifier. While there’s no magic formula, a properly functioning air purifier traps airborne particulates, including those containing COVID-19.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home. While CO levels have nothing to do with the coronavirus, the detector provides a good overall measure of air quality in your home. If CO levels are high, it could be due to poor air circulation.