What NASA Learned About Improving Indoor Air Quality

Keeping astronauts alive and well is a daunting procedure. They’re in arguably one of the most hostile environments outside maybe the atmosphere of a star, or bottom of the ocean. Just like a submarine, the vehicles used in space have a very limited amount of atmosphere to bring with them. That air gets polluted pretty quickly and as a result they employ expensive and heavy air scrubbers and filters to clean that air.

But what if there was another, cheaper, way to purify the air?

Indoor Air Quality Studies From NASA

When Gardening Becomes Rocket Science

In 1989, NASA Scientist B. C. Wolverton, Ph.D. designed a study, in conjunction with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) named, A Study of Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement. If that doesn’t perk your interest right off the bat, bear with us for a minute.

As mentioned before, air purification equipment can be expensive and heavy. When it costs up to $10,000 to send one pound of equipment into space, it makes sense to try and find some lightweight, less expensive solutions.

Everyone knows that plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, but what if they could filter out other chemicals from the air? If plants could be sent into space instead of heavy mechanical and chemical filters, a space flight might become a lot less expensive.

So, NASA hit up the ALCA and asked them for a list of plants that would be good to use in a study for reduction of indoor air pollution in confined environments. No slouches themselves, the ALCA recommended a list of tropical and sub-tropical plants due to their ability to thrive in reduced light conditions, such as in a spacecraft, or even your home.

The study was centered around the ability of plants to reduce airborne formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and benzene. While there are other pollutants commonly encountered in homes, buildings, and spacecraft, those chemicals are known or suspected teratogens or carcinogens.

The IAQ Results

For nearly all of the plants used, the reduction in airborne benzene and formaldehyde were significant.

Think about that.

A simple houseplant filtering out hazardous chemicals from the air. And doing a really good job at it! (Caveat being that the microorganisms in the soil are suspected to play a significant role in the process.)

Their conclusion was that for reducing high concentrations of indoor pollutants an integrated system of plants and mechanical/chemical filtration should be used. They also found that one houseplant per 100 sq. ft. was the optimum concentration for effective filtration.

So while having 20 or 30 houseplants evenly distributed throughout your home might be a bit excessive – a few houseplants, combined with IAQ improvement systems and products will help improve the air quality in every home.

For all of your home air quality needs, give us at Bryant Home Air Experts a call!

Extreme Weather Can Affect the Air In Your Home

In recent years, scientists across the world have issued warnings about the increase in extreme weather systems that will accompany large-scale climate change. Most of these warnings have dealt with the big picture, but did you know that current changes in global weather patterns can have a significant effect on the air inside your home? Fortunately, a well-maintained HVAC system can help you minimize any damaging impacts.

Climate Change and Indoor Air

In the U.S., the average person spends about 90 percent of each day in an indoor environment. As average temperatures rise around the globe, these environments are growing progressively hotter. This means that many people, especially the elderly and people with certain health problems, have an increased vulnerability to excessive indoor heat, especially in the South and Southwest. Rising global temperatures have also led to the earlier appearance of pollen (one of the most common indoor air pollutants) in the spring, a situation that poses a threat to the millions of Americans who suffer with allergies and asthma. In addition, in some areas, changing weather patterns have led to conditions that favor the growth of mold or mildew, two other well-known threats to indoor air quality.

HVACs and Sealed Indoor Environments

Your HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system is designed to function in a sealed indoor environment. This means that when you use your system, essentially all of the air inside your home will pass through it at some point in time. Modern building technologies, which rely on advanced weatherization to prevent energy-wasting leaks, only increase the importance of your HVAC system as the primary portal for the air your breathe while indoors.

So, what does all of this mean when extreme weather changes affect your area? It means that your HVAC system has a direct impact on your ability to offset those changes and keep your household environment comfortable and safe. For example, an efficient, well-maintained air conditioner will help keep the indoor temperature within reasonable limits, even during serious heat waves. When changed regularly, the filters in your system can help diminish the impact of pollen and other airborne pollutants (e.g., dust and pet dander) by trapping those pollutants and preventing them from circulating.

Keep Your System in Good Working Condition

In order to reap the benefits of your HVAC system, you must keep it in good working condition. If you have any questions about routine upkeep of your system, a quick chat with an HVAC professional can help clarify things. A heating and cooling professional can also help you set up a maintenance schedule, or even perform maintenance tasks for you.

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Humidifiers Can Help Relieve Allergy Symptoms

Humidifiers are electrical appliances that increase the amount of moisture in the air. Humidifiers are sometimes used in hospitals to help relieve patients with lung and breathing difficulties, and they can also be used at home to relieve distress from allergies and colds.

Humidity Soothes Symptoms and Helps Expel Allergens

The symptoms of allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, include irritation, congestion and inflammation of nasal tissues and passages. Nasal passages and surrounding tissues frequently become dry and chapped, which can cause serious discomfort. Throat irritation from dryness and coughing are also common allergy symptoms.

Humidifiers help to relieve this discomfort by moistening the nasal tissues and soothing irritation. Higher levels of humidity are also soothing to the throat and help to reduce hoarseness and coughing. Finally, adding moisture to the air also helps your nose to trap and expel the allergens that are causing the symptoms in the first place.

Increasing humidity can help to soothe other kinds of irritation as well. People suffering from skin allergies or sensitivity often get some relief from humidifiers, which help the skin to retain moisture and be less vulnerable to cracking and flaking.

Indoor Humidity Can Help Allergens Thrive

Although humidifiers can soothe allergy symptoms, high humidity can also create an ideal environment for allergens to grow. Dust mites are a particularly common indoor allergy culprit, and these tiny creatures prefer higher levels of moisture in the air. Mold spores also thrive in moist and warm environments. As a result, using a humidifier may soothe allergy symptoms temporarily while prolonging them in the future because there are more allergens around.

This doesn’t mean you should never use a humidifier to help relieve your allergy symptoms. However, it does mean that you should be careful not to over-humidify your indoor air. If you are concerned about excessive humidity levels, you can use a hygrometer to measure the amount of moisture in the air and make sure that humidity doesn’t rise above 35 or 40 percent.

Humidifiers themselves can become habitats for microbes if you do not care for them properly. Distilled or demineralized water is best, because minerals in tap water can encourage bacteria. Be sure to clean your humidifier regularly to make sure that mold does not grow inside and emerge in the water vapor released by the appliance.

Please follow our blog to learn more about indoor air quality, or contact us to learn more about air quality solutions for your home!

What Are the True Benefits of Duct Cleaning?

Duct cleaning has become increasingly popular in recent years, but homeowners are often unsure whether it’s useful to get their HVAC ducts cleaned. The following considerations can help you make a wise decision.

What Duct Cleaning Services?

Professional duct cleaning involves using specialized vacuums, blowers and brushes to clean out the intake, return and supply ducts throughout your home. The service should also include thoroughly cleaning the air handler, grilles, registers, fans, housings, coils and motors of the HVAC system.

Experts don’t know yet if routine duct cleaning reduces dust in the home or improves air quality. However, dirty heating and cooling coils, air handling units and motors can make the HVAC system less efficient. In certain cases, cleaning the ductwork and HVAC unit can be helpful.

Should I Have the Ducts Cleaned?

While duct cleaning doesn’t do any harm when done right, it most likely doesn’t have to be high on your “to do” list. The EPA recommends cleaning ducts and HVAC units if they have become contaminated.

Duct cleaning may help the following issues:

  • Recent remodeling
  • Animal infestation or nesting
  • Visible mold
  • Noticeable pet hair, debris, odor or other contaminants
  • Unexplained allergy-related illness

How Can I Avoid Duct Cleaning Scams?

Don’t trust any HVAC company that uses scare tactics to try to force you into a sale. They may use words like “unhealthy” to describe the air quality, when air quality can’t definitively be treated by duct cleaning. The following tips can help you choose your HVAC company wisely:

  • Insist on a full service cleaning.
  • Get references from friends, family and online sources.
  • Get a free inspection and estimate, which any reputable company should provide.
  • Avoid gimmicks that promise cleaning for under $100. A quality cleaning should be closer to $500.
  • Go with a cleaning company with a National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) certification, and one with licenses and certifications.
  • Make sure the company follows the North American Insulation Manufacturers
  • Association (NAIMA) guidelines if your ductwork is insulated.
  • Get an inspection of every duct after the service has been performed.
  • Make sure before-and-after photos are of the supply ducts, since these are more important to clean than the intake ducts.
  • Don’t let the company use sealants or sprays, as none are approved by the EPA for use inside ductwork.
  • Don’t allow any duct cleaning with steam or moisture, such as steam cleaning.

Not every home needs duct cleaning, but for those who would benefit from this service, these guidelines and tips can help you make a wise purchase.

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Benefits of Controlling Your Indoor Air Quality

The average person spends an estimated 90 percent of his or her time indoors. With such a high figure, it is important to breathe quality air for health and wellbeing. Since air particles are generally too small to detect and most harmful gases and compounds have no odor, it’s easy to overlook your indoor air. However, poor air quality can lead to health complications and lowered productivity.

Air Quality and Health

HVAC systems can create problems with indoor air quality when they aren’t properly maintained. Moisture and microbial growth can occur when dirt, dust and bacteria become trapped inside the fiberglass insulation. When these particles mix with the moisture from the air stream, mold, bacteria and fungi can develop. As these elements pass through your home, you may find yourself experiencing health complications. These complications include:

  • headaches
  • upper respiratory congestion
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • irritation of eyes, nose, skin and throat

If you find that your symptoms let up whenever you leave home, your symptoms may be caused by poor indoor air quality. This condition is known as “sick building syndrome” (SBS), and it can affect a large number of people when they spend a great deal of time breathing the same indoor air.

How to Improve Indoor Air Quality

There are a number of steps you can take to improve your indoor air quality. For best results, you will want to use a combination of methods that cover both maintenance and monitoring. These methods include the following:

Have your HVAC system cleaned regularly by a professional. The cleaning will clear out dust, dirt and other particles from your system, which will prevent them from building up inside your unit.
Replace the air filter on your HVAC system each month. Choose a filter with a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) of at least 11, as it will remove up to 80 percent of the particulates that are as small as one micron.

Install an ultraviolet (UV) lamp, which will help neutralize microbial growth, including some bacteria and viruses.

Use a continuous monitoring system for the measurement of indoor air quality. These systems can detect levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, methane, and many other toxic gases and compounds. The system can help you determine the perfect balance of indoor and outdoor air for proper ventilation, which can help lower your energy costs as well as increasing your indoor air quality.

Monitoring your indoor air quality and keeping your HVAC system working properly can help keep you and your loved ones healthy.

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Controlling Dry Air in Your Home

Experiencing the negative effects of breathing dry air in your home? Consider installing a humidifier to restore the health of your home and family.

Are you experiencing the discomfort of breathing dry air in your home? Do you find yourself more susceptible to cold and flu viruses, or maybe you’re experiencing increased asthma attacks? All of these symptoms could be signs that the air in your home is too dry.

Health Effects of Dry Air

Dry air might seem like a nuisance—maybe you have trouble breathing through your nose, or maybe you’re experiencing light early-morning nose bleeds. No big deal, right? Actually, research has shown that dry air can have more extreme health effects than you might think.

Dry air has been linked to an increased susceptibility to catching common cold and flu viruses, which in turn have been linked to an increase in asthma attacks. This is especially true for young children and elderly adults. A proper level of air moisture is essential to the proper function of your body’s immune and respiratory systems, and when your body is constantly inhaling dry air, these systems cannot properly fight off these illnesses.

If you suspect that the air in your home is dry, or if you’re experiencing these health symptoms, it might be time to invest in improving your home’s air quality.

Structural Effects of Dry Air

If dry air can have such a significant impact on your personal health, it makes sense that it would also have an impact on the structure and function of your home. A lack of humidity in your home can cause wood, including hardwood floors, to crack and separate at the seams, often opening spaces between the floors and walls. Dry air can also cause wallpaper to peel at its edges.

In addition, dry air causes an increase in static electricity, which may seem like a mere annoyance, but can actually cause severe malfunction in major electronics in your home. Fortunately, there are ways that you can easily restore the humidity levels in your home.

Restoring Balance to Your Home

Humidifiers offer an ideal method for introducing moisture into your home. While individual units are ideal for small rooms, whole-house humidifier systems are ideal for restoring a proper balance of humidity throughout your entire home.

Whole-house humidifiers are typically installed in the already-existing ductwork of your home. This means that they can effortlessly spread the necessary amount of moisture throughout the entire structure. These units are operated by humidistats, enabling you to easily adjust your home’s percentage of humidity at any point in time.

Maintaining a proper balance of humidity in your home is a delicate business, especially if you live in an area with drastic seasonal temperatures. That is why the team at Bryant Home Air Experts is here to help. Call us today to schedule a consultation—with our expertise, you can breathe easy in your own home.