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Indoor air quality, or IAQ, is something I talk and write about quite often, especially in the winter when your house is closed up and the furnace is cranking 24/7. In general terms, it refers to the environmental characteristics inside your home that can affect your comfort and health. Many things can impact IAQ, such as temperature, humidity and indoor air pollutants.

Every time your furnace turns on, it can cause a chain reaction that can make or break your IAQ. For example, keeping your temperature consistent and having the proper humidity level in your home are the first steps towards being comfortable in the winter. But when the furnace runs often, it dries out the indoor air, making you feel uncomfortable.

One of the first things you can do is make sure your humidity level is between 40 percent and 50 percent when the outdoor temperature is above 30 degrees, because the proper humidity makes you feel warmer. When temps drop below 30, your humidity should be set no higher that 35 percent.

The next step in increasing your IAQ is to make sure the air that circulates in your home is filtered properly.

Dr. Christopher Hughes, the director of adult critical care services at St. John Providence Hospital in Detroit, stjohnprovidence.org, said he does see more patients with respiratory problems in the winter, often because of in part to unsatisfactory IAQ in their home.

“Often we see patients with respiratory problems that are viral and caused by their lack of indoor air quality in the home,” he said. “We especially see a lot of older people in the winter that have problems with asthma and COPD because of these indoor air issues.”

Hughes said he first recommends his patients do some simple things such as changing their furnace filters regularly, improving the level of humidity and using a vacuum with a HEPA filter to eliminate the dust and pollutants that can cause respiratory problems.

“For some patients I also recommend they get an air purifier for their bedrooms so they can filter the air while they sleep,” he said.

I recommend changing your furnace filter monthly during the winter with MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating of 8 or higher to filter the dust and other pollutants. You can also consider getting a HEPA filter that filters the air flow at a 17 MERV rating and removes more than 99 percent of airborne particles 0.3 microns in diameter. There are also deep-pleated thick media filters you can have installed that are highly effective in filtering dust and other particles. And don’t forget to change your whole-house humidifier’s pad or drum to make sure the air circulating through the unit is also filtered.

You should also have your air ducts cleaned to get rid of any dust and debris from a NADCA (National Air Duct Cleaning Association) certified duct-cleaning company.

One key area of IAQ that is often overlooked is how leaky or tight your home is, which impacts air circulation, humidity and temperature.

Tom Brohl of the Insulation Man, (586) 421-4068, insulatetosave.com, said even newer homes have issues that can impact IAQ.

“Many newer homes are so insulated and tight that their windows and walls will sweat because there is too much humidity, so the homeowner may need to lower the humidity level on their humidifier,” he said.

In addition, Brohl said homes that are extremely tight may need to have a heat recovery ventilation (HRV) or energy recovery system (ERV) system, sometimes called an air-to-air heat exchanger, installed to improve the air flow in the home. Aprilaire, aprilaire.com; Broan, broan.com; and Honeywell, Honeywell.com; are some quality manufacturers of these systems.

Brohl said one of the best ways to determine whether your home is too drafty or too tight is with a blower door test. With the test, homeowners will often see leaks in places they didn’t expect, even in a newer home where the windows may not have been installed properly and are leaky as a result. Then they can caulk and seal the leaks or, in the case of a too-tight home, add an HRV or ERV ventilation system to improve the IAQ..

With everything closed up and the level of proper air circulation decreased in the winter, it is no surprise that this is the worst time for IAQ problems. So follow these tips and you can make drastic improvements in your air quality and comfort level, while helping you avoid respiratory health issues.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, e-mail askglenn@masterhandyman.com. If you want to talk to Glenn Haege, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536, from between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. “The Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations.

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