After the recent Covid-19 pandemic and confusion surrounding air quality, many people have begun to pay close attention to their indoor air quality (IAQ). This may be a new consideration for most of us, but scientists have been looking at poor IAQ issues for decades. In the past, this was known as “Sick Building Syndrome” (SBS) and it caused confusion because people would feel ill and then recover rapidly after they left their homes or work. Poor IAQ has a number of possible causes, poor building design, airborne pollutants, gas leaks, and many more. So, it can be tricky to track down the sources and improve the IAQ without professional help. One common scenario is a malfunctioning heater that isn’t filtering dust and dirt, and it may be leaking gas into your home. In this article, we will take a closer look at how a heater can have a dramatic impact on the IAQ.

3 Ways That a Heater Can Degrade IAQ Explained

There are three main ways that a malfunctioning or poorly installed heater could lower the IAQ in your home:

1.   Dangerous Emissions

If you have a relatively new furnace and there are no significant repair issues, it’s likely that you don’t need to worry about dangerous emissions. But, if your furnace has required a number of repairs and the frequency of those repairs has increased you may have a problem. Another key consideration is regular maintenance; if you can’t remember when the furnace was serviced, it’s time to schedule a visit.

The main risk of dangerous emissions from a gas or oil furnace is the release of carbon monoxide (CO). This is especially true if the furnace is older and repairs are needed. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include nausea, headaches, dizziness, confusion, and many more. Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas and it’s known as “the silent killer” for a very good reason.

If you experience any of the health symptoms mentioned earlier and they disappear when you leave the home, you may have a carbon monoxide leak. In this scenario, you need to see a Doctor and contact your local HVAC specialist to inspect your furnace.

2.   Old Filters

A modern HVAC system may have a number of different air filters installed, and they need to be checked and replaced regularly. Old filters are often clogged with a wide variety of contaminants, such as dirt, dust, pet dander, and more. If these contaminants are not filtered out of the circulating air, this will make the air dirtier, and the IAQ will drop. The first people likely to notice these issues are people with allergies and pre-existing respiratory ailments. The older and dirtier the filter is, the more likely it will be that someone will have asthma or other allergies triggered by the air they breathe. It’s important to replace the filters every 2-3 months and every month during the winter months. If you have pets, you may need to change the filters more often because pet hair can clog a filter faster.

3.   Aging Equipment

An older furnace may affect the IAQ, and this is especially true if the equipment is over ten years old. Aging HVAC equipment is less efficient at air circulation, and any airborne contaminants can stay in the air for longer. This will degrade the IAQ quickly, and even filter changes may not fix the problem. The only way to keep a furnace working efficiently for longer is to get it serviced annually throughout its lifespan. If you’ve skipped a few maintenance visits, it is possible to get a deeper service to compensate. If the furnace needs regular repairs and it’s over ten years old, it may be time to consider a replacement.

Signs that IAQ is Poor

We briefly covered some of the more obvious signs of poor IAQ earlier, but there are many symptoms to look out for, and some of them are surprising:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Allergy attacks
  • Persistent cold and flu symptoms
  • Excessive volumes of dust

As we mentioned earlier, these symptoms can make people feel miserable, and yet they may disappear quickly when you leave your home. But, they should not be ignored because carbon monoxide poisoning can have fatal consequences at relatively low levels of exposure.

3 Ways to Improve the IAQ

If you’re suffering with poor IAQ problems, there are three ways to improve the air quality:

1.   Change the Filters

As we mentioned earlier, regular filter changes may be the main determining factor when it comes to the IAQ in your home. Many of the contaminants that are circulating through the home can be found in the filters, and eventually, they will pass them entirely. These contaminants can include dust, pollen, dust mites, microorganisms, pet dander, and more. When the filters are clogged, the airflow is diminished, and this causes the equipment to work harder. This will drive up the energy bills, and overworked equipment is more prone to failure and earlier replacement. In extreme cases, you may even lower the useful lifespan of the equipment if you don’t change the filters. Changing the filters regularly will improve the performance, health, and energy efficiency of your HVAC system.

2.   Duct Cleaning

The inner surfaces of the ducts become coated with contaminants that are added to the air that passes through them. This can even include urine and feces left behind by critters that have taken up residence in the ductwork. Poorly installed or older ductwork may have gaps and cracks where dust, dirt, and other contaminants can enter. These factors will all degrade the IAQ, and if you can’t remember when the ducts were cleaned, it’s time to schedule some cleaning now. After duct cleaning, many people are surprised at the tangible improvements in IAQ, and the air is much fresher.

If you’re concerned about your furnace and poor IAQ, contact your local HVAC specialist.