Did you know that indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outside air? And as we head into colder months, our homes tend to be closed up more. Which means it’s especially important to understand how you can improve air quality this winter!
In an older home, this might mean that you’re not bringing in fresh air at all. And in a newer home, you may have the opportunity to, but you might not be doing it properly.
In this article, I’m sharing some simple tips with you to help improve your indoor air quality. If you prefer to listen, you can check out the podcast episode below or The Missing Pillar of Health Podcast on your favourite podcast player.
Increase Fresh Air
The first tip to help improve your indoor air quality this winter is to increase fresh air. You can do this in a couple of ways:
1. Use Your Ventilation System
If you’ve moved into a new home and you didn’t check the owner’s manual on some of the equipment that you’ve got, now is a great time to brush up on how to use your ventilation system. If you’ve got energy saving features like an ERV or an HRV, you want to make sure that you’re running it properly.
2. Open Windows
Whether you’re in a new or old home, you can simply open windows. This is going to be weather and temperature dependent, but I know many people who crack a couple of windows for 15mins a day in the middle of winter just to get some fresh air flowing.
In an older home, opening a window can be especially helpful if you’re running your exhaust fans, which you should be doing when you’re cooking, cleaning, or running the shower.
When you run the exhaust fan, in order to balance the pressure from the air leaving through the exhaust fan, it needs to pull air in from somewhere else. If you don’t have the fans connected to a ventilation system like newer homes, this can happen through leaky spots in walls and windows. The wall cavities aren’t necessarily going to provide the freshest of air, so giving the air a straight path from the outdoors with an open window is a great alternative.
High Quality Furnace Filters
If you have a furnace, make sure that you are replacing your furnace filter regularly – typically every one to three months.
I recommend checking it every month to start so you can figure out what your replacement schedule should be.
When you’re buying filters, look for electrostatic filters rated for the best quality that you can afford.
Now, many HVAC contractors say you don’t need high-quality furnace filters, you just need the basics. And that might be the case when you’re only considering protecting the furnace equipment itself, which is the furnace filter’s main job.
That being said, having a good furnace filter can help reduce things like dust and pollen in your home so it can be a first line of defense for providing cleaner air.
Note that a high quality furnace filter is not going to be the same level as an air purifier. (More on air purifiers below.)
Check Your Humidity
If you’re in a climate where the colder temperatures bring significantly lower humidity levels than in summer months, this is really important.
Humidity can affect virus transmission, dust formation, not to mention dry hands and cracked lips. But high humidity can also contribute to condensation on windows and the potential for mould growth.
The ideal range when balancing these different factors is about 40 to 50% relative humidity.
If you have a programmable thermostat, it may give you the humidity. Or you can buy a hygrometer, which sounds fancy, but it’s a simple and small sensor you can buy from a hardware store that will tell you the humidity.
Watch for Moisture
As I mentioned previously, moisture can be a problem when walls and windows are cold outside and warm and humid inside. A few things you can do to help keep moisture down inside to prevent mould and other damage:
- If your windows are prone to condensation, keep furniture and wall coverings away from windows to allow more air movement.
- Watch for ice damming on roofs because this can end up backing up into your home as well, and around foundations. This can be a sign of air leakage.
- Ensure your gutters are clear and downspouts are pointed away from your house so that melt water is directed away from your house as well.
- As mentioned previously, run your exhaust fans when cooking and showering.
Skip the Fragrances
Products that off-gas in a house that’s all closed up can significantly decrease your indoor air quality.
If you haven’t already, now would be a great time to get rid of plug-ins, dryer sheets, fabric softener, scented personal care products – make that your mission for this winter.
If you are still using heavily fragranced products, you can also dust more with a damp cloth, vacuuming with a HEPA filter in the vacuum.
Those are all year round cleaning tips, but because we’re spending so much more time indoors this time of year in particular, then looking at your cleaning routine can be a relatively easy, (not many people love it), and cheap way to help improve your indoor air quality.
And finally, you can also look at air purifiers. These are not my first go to because they can be expensive and cost prohibitive for a lot of people. And people also assume that just because you have an air purifier, it doesn’t matter what else is going on in your home.
But air purifiers have a carrying capacity for what they are able to remove from the air. So first and foremost, it’s important to look at lowering the toxins that are being emitted into your home in the first place.
An air purifier can help tackle things that you can’t control; it may also be more important for you depending on your health goals.
If you are interested in getting an air purifier, I have a free guide that you can get to help you identify what to look for in an air purifier, what their limitations are and how to find one that is best going to serve your needs. You can download it here.