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The air you breathe: Optimizing indoor air quality

(NC) Did you know that the renewal of air in our homes is only about one-eighth what it was twenty years ago? Or that indoor air in parts of Canada can be as dry as the Sahara desert?

If you're like most Canadians, chances are you pay little attention to the quality of air in your home. In fact, convincing people that air quality is important is a hard sell: it's not something you can see or feel, and it doesn't always top a homeowner's priority list.

Yet with modern construction practices having substantially reduced natural air leakage, the air in our homes deserves our attention now more than ever. Daily activities such as laundry, cooking and showers can cause excessive moisture, resulting in everything from high humidity and occupant discomfort, to lingering odours and fungus growth.

Conversely, a cold, dry winter combined with excessive heating can dry out an indoor space and cause its own structural and health issues, like nosebleeds and scratchy throats.

There are three key ways you can keep the air in your home clean: you can ventilate, purify and humidify/dehumidify.

Ventilation can be as simple as cracking open a window on a weather-friendly day, or having quality fans and exhaust systems installed in your kitchen and bathroom. For optimum ventilation, you can invest in a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV), which supplies continuous fresh air from the outside into your house.

When it comes to purifying your air, a good air cleaner for your furnace, replaced regularly, is the bare minimum. Air cleaners trap and prevent dirt and other particles from entering your air stream. There are various models available depending on your needs – affordable, stand-alone models you can buy off the shelf, all the way to whole-house air purifiers that attach to your furnace. A hospital-grade HEPA filter, for example, can stop even volatile organic compounds, such as off-gases from carpets and building materials, from entering your air supply.

Lastly, there is the question of humidity – too much or too little can create a variety of problems. Humidity extremes can easily be tackled with a humidifier or dehumidifier, and many homes need both for use during different seasons. There are numerous models on the market – both self-standing as well as forced air versions that can be installed right into a furnace.

For more consumer tips and information, visit www.hrai.ca/educationcentre.html or for information on how to locate a qualified contractor in your area, visit www.hrai.ca/qualifiedcontractors.html

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