This article offers tips to improve your indoor air quality over winter, helping to prevent illness and allergies, and making the environment more breathable.
Indoor air quality changes during the winter season as people spend more time indoors (as do their pets), warm clothing gets hauled out of storage, and allergies and the cold season start to keep us home from work and school. The make-up of modern homes and other buildings is increasingly more airtight with better, more energy-efficient insulation — excellent for keeping us warm in the winter and cool in the summer, but not so good for airflow circulation.
In the cold months of the winter season, we don’t want to let the cool air in, so we seal our windows and doors — but then we’re left breathing in old, recirculated air rather than fresh air. Recirculated air is stale, and when it floats around the house too long, it carries dust, pet hair, mold, pollen, odors, and other pollutants.
Maintaining indoor air quality is critical to avoiding short- and long-term illness this winter season. Having clean, breathable air in your house all season long will help prevent those short-term coughs and colds and more serious respiratory conditions.
Your family can make minor home adjustments to improve the air quality. Bad air quality can lead to allergies or other respiratory health problems. For example, you should inspect your home for mold and other contaminants to ensure nothing is lingering in the air. You should clean it regularly to avoid any pollution buildup.
This article outlines several ways to improve your home’s air quality this winter season.
1. Clean and dust your home regularly
Having a clean, dust-free home is the first and best way to have good air quality. Wash your sheets and other bedding once a week, vacuum under the bed and behind furniture, and keep your closets fresh by minimizing the heaps of linens and old clothing you have hanging around.
Regularly wash your pillows and towels, your dishcloths, and floor rugs. Anything that accumulates dust and debris should be kept clean and fresh. Have your guests and family members remove shoes and coats in the entryway before entering the rest of the house. If you have pets, wipe their paws and fur before letting them in.
Doing these will keep your floors clean of debris.
2. Maintain your ducts and HVAC
One of the best places for dust accumulation is in the air ducts and vents. Since your ducts are out of sight and, therefore, usually out of mind, a buildup of dirt will worsen over time, impacting the air quality in your home. When you heat your home in the winter, the warm air blows through, along with all the debris that’s been building in your vents all summer. This blast of dirt and dust can cause sneezing, coughing, and other unpleasant allergic reactions.
Air ducts and vents aren’t difficult to clean. You just pop the vent covers off, vacuum out the debris, and wipe the whole thing down with a damp cloth. Doing this will usually suffice for a surface clean, but every few years, we recommend having a professional come in and clean out the whole duct and HVAC system.
3. Change your filters regularly
Furnace filters should be changed at least twice throughout the winter, depending on your furnace. If you have pets or if anyone in your home has allergies, change the filters more often. The filter keeps your furnace healthy by preventing debris from building up in the machinery, but it also improves the indoor air quality in your home. It’s not difficult to change the filter, and you can get a year’s supply from your HVAC maintenance person, so you know you have the right filter for your furnace.
4. Be aware of mold and mildew
The buildup of mold and mildew is probably the worst contamination affecting the air quality in your house. Keep a lookout for standing water in your home, especially in the kitchen, bathroom, or basement. Inspect the pipes under the sinks and tubs regularly to make sure you have no drainage problems.
If you find standing water, trace it back to the source to find out where it is coming from and why. If your plumbing leaks, it could contribute to mold and mildew buildup.
Further, beware of any discoloration in your walls or floor. Sometimes you don’t see the standing water, but you can see the effects of the spread of mold if the walls, floors, or ceiling change color.
5. Ventilate where possible
Though it may not always sound appealing to open the windows in the winter season, occasionally letting in the fresh air will significantly improve the air quality in your home. If you open the windows for five minutes a few times each week, your home’s overall clean air circulation will increase dramatically. Alternatively, you might leave your bedroom window open slightly on milder winter nights to improve your sleep quality as you breathe in that fresh, cool air.
Another spot in your home where you may need increased ventilation is in the kitchen. When you cook with oils or are using the oven, having some of that air leave the house and allowing fresh air in will make the air more breathable and pleasant for you and your family. Anywhere you see a buildup of condensation, whether in the basement, bathroom, or bedroom, you should open the windows for a few minutes to let it air out. Otherwise, you might find a buildup of mold or warped wood.
6. Avoid harsh chemicals and cleaning products
Harsh cleaning products and other chemicals will likely cause your sinuses to become irritated, and you could experience other symptoms of allergies as well. Whenever possible, reduce the hard chemicals you use to clean your home, especially in the winter. Use mild products that don’t impact the body, such as all-natural home cleaners or warm water and vinegar. Save your deeper clean with harsh chemicals for springtime when you can open all your windows and doors.
7. Check your fireplace regularly
If you have a fireplace, it’s crucial to check it regularly for a buildup of ash and debris. There should be a place for ashes to fall so they don’t accumulate into a pile, which can be toxic to breathe and cause a fire. Regularly sweep the interior of your fireplace and all around it to minimize the floating debris that comes from the ashes. Once a season, you should have a professional sweep and clean the fireplace and chimney properly.
8. Use humidifiers
When the winter season comes, we usually seal up our doors and windows and turn up the heat. While the warm temperature makes us feel more comfortable, the dryness and irritation in our sinuses do not. A humidifier helps keep moisture in the air, making the environment more breathable.
You’ll find space humidifiers that run on a fan or HVAC humidifiers that get installed in your ducts to blow warm moisture directly through the vents, preventing dry cough, allergies, and itchiness of the skin caused by dry air.
9. Purchase an air purifier
Consider having an air purifier to capture particles floating in the air. An air purifier collects particle matter passing through its filter, increasing indoor air quality significantly. Some air purifiers even filter bacteria, viruses, and animal dander. The filters need to be changed regularly, but it is well worth having purified air in your home.
In the winter months, paying attention to the air quality in our homes is a priority. Having a well-sealed, well-insulated home is necessary, but so is having clean, breathable air. With these nine key steps to improving indoor air quality, you’ll enjoy the cold winter months in your warm, ventilated home without worrying about allergies, respiratory problems, irritation, or other illnesses.