Your AC System Needs to Breathe, Too!

A well-built home is not necessarily a well-ventilated home. And a home or small business that doesn’t properly ventilate (e.g. “breathe”) leads to poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), which causes illnesses. This is no small thing: IAQ is becoming a major health issue.

Consider Shawn and Jim. Shawn enjoys having a bonfire in his backyard on warm evenings, but the smoke bothers Jim, who can’t open his windows. Shawn, on the other hand, has allergies and is upset about the diesel fumes caused by truck drivers in their neighborhood. He’s in a quandary about opening his windows, too. What upgrades could Shawn and Jim make to their homes to resolve their problems?

Basically, there are three ways in which an AC system does not breathe properly.

1. Older HVAC systems in homes and small buildings may not ventilate the building at all, which contributes to poor IAQ and illnesses.

When it comes to HVAC systems, homeowners focus a LOT on comfort, but not enough on the quality of the air they’re breathing – indoor air especially.

It easy to overlook dangerous indoor air pollutants. Shawn has breathing issues that make him susceptible to factors like high pollen counts. While HVAC filters may remove things like pollen, they don’t eliminate toxins, such as VOC’s, carbon monoxide, radon, etc. In other words, because his HVAC system gets rid of pollen, Shawn might assume that the IAQ in his home is fine – when it isn’t.

2. Current HVAC technology for homes and small buildings ventilate without regard for the OAQ. This can make the IAQ worse than not having any ventilation at all.

Remember the good old days when people opened their windows? Today’s homes are built “tightly”, and homeowners tend to run the AC a LOT, which sounds good in theory as they’re keeping bad air out. But there is a lot more to proper ventilation than opening or closing windows. Opening windows when Outdoor Air Quality (OAQ) is bad might not be a good idea, but keeping them closed is not good for Shawn and Jim’s breathing either.

PROPER ventilation involves exchanging, or replacing, indoor and outdoor air. Without this exchange, closed windows lead to indoor contaminants such as smoke, dust, radon, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) building up in the home. Without consideration of outdoor air quality, ventilation can bring outdoor environmental pollutants such as pollen, smoke, smog and exhaust into the home.

3. Current HVAC technology for homes and small buildings ventilate without regard to outdoor temperature and humidity. This wastes energy and can promote growth of indoor molds.

Standard air conditioning systems not only pull fresh air in from the outside without regard to the outdoor air quality, but without regard to the outdoor temperature or humidity. Even if the outside air has fewer pollutants than the inside air, if the outside air is temperature or humidity is significantly different from the inside air temperature and humidity, the incoming air requires that the HVAC system heat, cool and dehumidify the incoming air, often at a large energy cost.

So, what can homeowners like Shawn and Jim do?

4. Automation gives homeowners the ability to correct #1 through a retrofit and to perfect #2 & #3 by only ventilating when OAQ and Outside Air Temperature/Humidity (OAT/H) are beneficial to IAQ.

In retrofitting, a contractor or technician takes the existing HVAC system and adds additional ventilation and a smart HVAC system controller that can accommodate factors like the amount of humidity and potentially dangerous pollutants from entering into the home. Installing smart sensors can alert the homeowner to a factor like rising humidity or a potentially dangerous pollutant, and the resident then adjusts the improved, retrofitted system accordingly.

Other sensors, however, can make determinations like these automatically. As one example, the windows may be open in Shawn’s home, but sensors detecting a dangerous pollutant or increasing humidity in the air, can shut vents, keeping these “bad things” out.

Failure to provide adequate ventilation is a common problem in current HVAC systems. Adequate ventilation does not mean keeping your doors and windows closed and your AC on. And it doesn’t involve turning off your AC and keeping doors and windows open.

The solution lies in upgrading your HVAC system so there is a greater balance between IOQ and OAQ, OAT/H – in other words, increasing the quality of good air “coming in”, while also removing “bad air” from your home. And a system with increased air circulation and distribution is not only healthier, it’s also more efficient, meaning Shawn and Jim will save money on their utility bills. As the saying goes, it’s a real “win-win.”