How Winter Causes Indoor Air Quality Problems | Winter IAQ Tips

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Posted June 1, 2017

Winter weather is on its way and the holiday season is already here! In addition to making travel plans and buying gifts for everyone you love, it’s important to think about the effects that winter will have on your indoor air quality.

Since sickness, humidity problems, and carbon monoxide poisonings increase significantly during the colder months, take some time to make sure you have the proper mechanisms in place to reduce these risks.

Ironically, people tend to worry about the unhealthy air outdoors when the air indoors is almost always worse for you. Poor indoor air quality is a global health concern that contributes to rising respiratory problems, allergies, and asthma.

How is winter weather contributing to indoor air quality problems?

Increased Insulation

When the temperatures begin to fall, homeowners are more conscious of all of the air leaks around their home. Drafts are common around rim joists, doors, windows, and where pipes and wires enter the building.

As a result, insulation and other winterization tasks are performed to lower heating bills and increase comfort.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to improving insulation around the home—a decrease in indoor air quality. When contaminants cannot escape your home, they gather and multiply quickly. These include bacteria, viruses, mold spores, and dust mites that can easily make you sick, especially if you don’t have a strong immune system.

Why is this?

Well, the secret to healthy indoor air quality is a delicate balance of insulation and ventilation. If your home is too tight, then air gets stuck in the home and gets more and more polluted, with very little introduction of fresh air from outside.

Modern homes and improved renovation practices have made homes more airtight, which is great for reducing energy bills, but not so great from improving air quality. When indoor air becomes trapped, it gets more and more contaminated every day. While you don’t want to leave a window open during winter months, there are better ways to insulate and ventilate your home properly.

One way to do this is by installing a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) which introduces fresh air into the home without sacrificing all the time and money you spent on insulation improvements. It does this by extracting heat from the stale air that leaves your home and transfers it over to the channel that introduces the fresh (but cold) air into your home.

Energy recovery ventilators (ERV) are basically the same thing, but allows moisture to be transferred as well. So if you have a humidity problem in your home, the ERV can help ventilate stale air out and bring fresh air in, removing or adding moisture as necessary.

Ask your HVAC company about HRVs and ERVs and if they are a right fit for your home. Installing a heat recovery ventilator could be the difference between sickness and health this winter. And you won’t have to worry about increased heating bills!

Dust and Dirt

Even if you have a heat recovery ventilator that is introducing fresh air into the home, it may not make much of a difference if your home is filthy. If you shine a flashlight beam in a dark room and you see a flurry of particles in the air, that is a sure indication that you need to clean.

All of those airborne particles can make it look like the winter storm is happening inside! The circulation of dust is also what dirties up your HVAC system, causing clogged air filters and indoor air quality problems.

Cleaning and wiping up dirty, dusty surfaces is important for maintain a healthy home and HVAC system. It’s also extremely important that you change your air filter every 30-60 days. Since you can’t exactly dust or vacuum the particles that are already in the air, your air filter does the job for you.

You may also want to clean all of the vents and grilles with a damp clothe. If they are still dirty, unscrew the grille plates and use a rag wrapped around a butter knife to get into the tight spaces.

When the dirt and dust flows through your return ducts, it meets the air filter fibers and get stuck. If your air filter is dirty and clogged, not only will this cause airflow problems that could cause a system breakdown, but the dirt and dust will also get recirculated back into the air and eventually into your lungs.

Volatile Organic Compounds (Chemicals)

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are one of the main contributors to unhealthy indoor air. These compounds are normally residual pollutants from paints, cleaners, and other chemicals. When ignored, the buildup of VOCs can produce a very dangerous environment.

Here are some things to keep in mind to reduce your home’s airborne VOCs:

  • Whenever renovating or remodeling your home, make sure the company doing the work is ventilating all of the chemicals and fumes properly.
  • Do not attempt any extensive remodeling work without first planning how you will ventilate the area.
  • Do all painting outdoors (if possible).
  • For times when you have to paint indoors, wear a painter’s mask and make sure you have researched the paint product you are using.
  • Click here for a list of low-or-no-VOC paints.

Smoke and Combustion Gases

Don’t smoke in the home! While smoking in general is bad for you, secondhand smoke is arguably even worse and lingers in the home for a long time after the cigarette is put out. For optimum indoor air quality, do not allow smoking in the home.

Smoke and other particles can also come from your fireplace and heating system. These particles include radon gas, carbon monoxide, and other residual contaminants.

Make sure you schedule a professional heating inspection and cleaning every fall.


Pets are great for a lot of reasons. What they aren’t great for, however, is indoor air quality. If you have pets at home, here are some suggestions for keeping pet-related contaminants from severely decreasing your indoor air quality.

  • Don’t allow pets in the bedroom.
  • Don’t allow pets on furniture.
  • Have your pet bathed and cleaned every couple of months.

Quick Indoor Air Quality Tips:

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