Home air quality is essential to maintaining a comfortable and healthy home. While opening up the windows on a warm spring day is refreshing, most Americans live in climates that require heating or cooling through a significant portion of the year. During these times, your HVAC system plays a crucial role in maintaining your interior air quality.
You may take clean air for granted, but your HVAC system has more going on behind the scenes than you might expect. Understanding how your HVAC system helps to keep your air fresh can help you to spot signs of trouble and address them before they impact your family’s health.
The Basics: Your Home’s Envelope
Building envelope isn’t a term that most people are familiar with, but it plays an essential role in both your interior air quality and your utility bills. The envelope is a barrier composed of the various elements that separate the conditioned interior of your home from the unconditioned exterior. It includes everything from your walls and windows to the insulation in your attic.
When thinking about your home’s envelope, you need to understand that it may not overlap entirely with your exterior walls. Unfinished attics and basements typically are not included in the envelope, for example, since your HVAC system does not condition the air in these spaces. Instead, your home’s envelope only includes areas serviced by your heating and cooling system.
How does this affect the air quality in your home? A tighter envelope prevents the loss of conditioned air to the outside world, allowing your HVAC system to operate more efficiently. Unfortunately, it also means less fresh air entering your home. This puts a more substantial burden on your HVAC system to help keep contaminants under control.
The First Line of Defense: Your HVAC Filter
Since your home’s envelope keeps the conditioned air in, your HVAC system must ensure that this air does not become stale or contaminated. The air filter fulfills this role in most forced-air heating or central cooling systems. In a typical system, you can find your filter in either the return air duct or the air handler unit.
Your filter works by mechanically blocking contaminants from circulating back through your ductwork. These contaminants can include anything from mold spores to pet dander to small particles from cigarette smoke. Less porous air filters can block smaller particles at the cost of restricting airflow through the system.
For most homes, an air filter is both the first and last line of defense. If your home’s air quality environment is not particularly extreme, then regular filter changes alone are enough to keep your home’s air clean. Of course, some home environments are more difficult than others. What happens when your filter isn’t up to the task or isn’t changed often enough?
The Signs of Trouble: Recognizing Reduced Air Quality
If your HVAC system is failing to filter the air in your home adequately, then early signs of trouble usually include unusual smells or even more severe allergy symptoms when indoors. An inexpensive, consumer-grade air tester can help you to confirm your suspicions of reduced air quality. In these cases, your first step should always be to replace the filter and see if the problem resolves.
In more severe cases, long-term issues with air filtration can lead to dirty HVAC ducts and even mold growth. These problems can make your home less comfortable and negatively impact the health of your family. Properly resolving HVAC filtration issues may require upgrading your filter or even installing a whole-home air purification unit.
Lakeside Heating & Air Conditioning can help you to track down the source of air quality problems originating with your HVAC system. Contact us today to schedule an evaluation and service so that you can get back to enjoying clean and fresh air all year round.