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Breathe easy this winter | National Post


Proper ventilation and airflow essential to better indoor air quality

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We will all be spending more time in our homes and indoors in general, with the coming winter. That’s why it’s the perfect time to talk about indoor air quality. Indoor air pollutants are often two to five times higher than outdoor levels and can be 100 times higher in some cases.

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The four main sources of indoor air pollution are moisture (mould), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide, and radon gas. Proper ventilation and airflow are vital to maintaining good indoor air quality.

We create moisture every day by cooking, bathing, and breathing, and that moisture needs to be adequately ventilated, or else it could lead to poor indoor air quality, mould, and mildew. The ideal humidity levels in your home should be between 30 to 50 per cent, which can vary between seasons and climates.

Moisture levels can be controlled through proper ventilation, in part by installing high-quality ventilation fans in all your bathrooms, kitchen and laundry room, where that warm humid air will be extracted to the outside. We always install high performance ventilation fans in our projects with a speed selector switch, which allows you to select your required airflow and some models include a smart humidity sensor that automatically runs for 30 minutes after a steamy shower or bath.

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Your kitchen also needs proper ventilation and this can be achieved by installing a range hood. However, to be effective range hoods need to ventilate to the outdoors and be properly maintained with the filters changed or cleaned regularly. At a minimum this should be done annually, more often if you cook a lot.

Indoor air pollutants are an accumulation of particles that are released into the air. Most are not bothered by low levels, but people with sensitivities or compromised immune systems can be affected by the off-gassing of certain building materials, air fresheners, cleaning products, or smoke, to name a few.

If your home doesn’t have sufficient airflow, these particles get trapped, resulting in possible respiratory issues, diseases, or even cancer in the case of high radon levels. If you are about to purchase a new home or if you are about to sell your home — it’s a good idea to get an IAQ (indoor air quality), test.

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An IAQ test measures both biological and chemical pollutants, which include; mould, dander, pollen, dust mites, bacteria, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, lead, and radon.

Some VOCs are silent killers, like radon, because it is a clear, odourless gas and can be harmful after long concentrated periods of exposure. The only way to know if you have radon is to have your home tested. Short and long-term test kits are available online or at any home improvement store. I’ve been talking about the effects of radon for years — it’s the number 1 leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. The good news is that all new builds in Ontario and some other provinces must have a radon mitigation “rough-in” for installing a mitigation system.

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Specialty construction materials act as radon guards when applied during the foundation construction phase that can dramatically reduce radon from entering your home. Even radon monitors with WI-FI connectivity are available, which continually monitor the radon levels in your home and provide updates to your smartphone.

I recommend changing furnace filters every three months or more frequently if you’ve been doing any renovations. Clogged furnace filters can cause your furnace to work inefficiently or malfunction. Replace your furnace filter regularly, to help provide better indoor air quality for your home.

Many different air purification units are on the market, particularly with the surge of viruses that claim to inhibit bacteria, viruses, and allergens. Some are portable and clean the air in a single room, while others can be attached to your HVAC system for a whole-home air purification system.

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The best way to create efficient air exchange is by installing a HRV (heat recovery ventilator), or an ERV (energy recovery ventilator). These mechanical ventilation systems are either attached to the home’s existing HVAC system or to a specially installed network of outdoor air ducts. These two-fan systems allow one fan to expel the indoor air from your home to the outdoors and another fan to bring fresh outdoor air into your home. An HRV will exchange heat, and an ERV will exchange heat and moisture. If you are in an area that experiences extreme weather (humid summers and dry winters), look into an ERV.

Choose the right ventilation and airflow system, to ensure good indoor air quality for you and your family and always consult with an HVAC specialist.

Listen to Mike’s Holmes on Homes Podcast on all major streaming platforms.

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