5 Signs Your Indoor Air Quality Is Poor and How to Improve It

The air you breathe in your home can have big effects on your health and comfort. Poor indoor air quality can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue in the short term, and, in extreme cases, respiratory diseases, heart disease, or even cancer in the long term. We compiled five signs that your home’s air quality isn’t up to snuff and suggested some fixes to improve it.

1. Colds That Linger Longer Than Usual

We’re all understandably a little more sensitive to cold or flu-like symptoms these days, but what if it’s the air in your home that’s making you sick? According to the EPA, many cold-like symptoms can be attributed to poor indoor air quality: a runny nose, headaches, fatigue, trouble breathing, etc. While you should, of course, be cautious if you or your family are experiencing these symptoms, if they linger for a long time, or appear frequently, they might be caused by pollutants in your home’s air rather than germs. 

Just like germs, some people are more likely to experience symptoms from breathing in high amounts of indoor air pollutants than others. So even if one person in your house is constantly getting sick or can’t stop sneezing, it still might be poor indoor air quality that’s causing the problem.

2. Cold Spots

In a perfect world, your HVAC system will keep your entire home at the temperature you call it to on your thermostat. But heating systems and buildings are complicated things and sometimes some rooms, or even parts of rooms will stay cold while the rest of the house heats up. These are called ‘cold spots’ and in addition to being annoying and uncomfortable, they could be a sign that your HVAC has some airflow issues.

While there are a variety of reasons that your HVAC system is struggling to manage airflow throughout your house, it often indicates that you’re not getting adequate air filtration. Clean filters will prevent dust, pet dander, pollen, and other air pollutants from circulating through your home’s ductwork. But the best filters that money can buy are only as good as the system they’re installed in, so if your ductwork is leaky, clogged, or worse, too small to handle your home’s heat load they won’t be effective at managing your home’s indoor air quality.

3. Dust Build-Up

If you’re interested in having nightmares, pull up a Google image search for “dust mites.” Dust mites are tiny, microscopic, bugs that, according to the American Lung Association, live on dead skin cells and can cause asthma like symptoms in people who are sensitive to them. Just about every home has some dust mites as roommates, but a poorly filtered HVAC system can spread them throughout the house and keep them airborne, polluting the air we breathe indoors.

If you notice dust building up around the registers in your forced air or central AC system, that’s a good sign you’re breathing dust mites and that it’s time to change your air filter. Sometimes dust build-ups happen just a few weeks after swapping out your filters, it could be a sign that you need to either upgrade your filters or get your ductwork cleaned.

4. Weird Smells

It should go without saying that your home shouldn’t smell like a basement. Damp, dank smells indicate the presence of moisture and/or a lack of airflow, that combination can lead to mold which can be extremely harmful to your health. While mold is a worst case scenario, strange smells from your registers could also come from chemical contaminants, dust, or even pollen. Regardless, it’s a good sign that your home’s air quality is lacking.

Beyond strange stinks emanating from your HVAC, if you cook something and can still smell it a few days later, that might not be a sign of culinary excellence but an indicator that your indoor air quality is poor. Simply put: homes with good air have good ventilation. That’s why newer, tighter homes, built with energy efficiency in mind, should have HVAC systems that actively circulate fresh air. Lingering smells is a classic sign that you’re breathing stale air at home and that your HVAC isn’t doing its job properly.

 5. Dry Skin

Dry skin is a classic symptom of living with a forced air heating system. Traditional forced air systems generate warmth through combustion, that means that even when you keep your thermostat to a reasonable 70 degrees your furnace is generating at least 170 degrees worth of heat. That intense heat zaps moisture from the air, which can result in itchy skin, dry eyes, and nose bleeds. Fortunately, homeowners with forced air oil, propane, or gas heat can install whole home humidifiers to mitigate the issue. It might be expensive, but it beats giving yourself eczema every winter!

The Easy Way to Improve Indoor Air Quality:

Ultimately, the most comprehensive way to dramatically improve the air quality in your home is to upgrade your heating and cooling to a renewable source like geothermal heat pumps. Oil, gas and propane furnaces often produce dry, uncomfortable heat and leave homeowners at risk of dangerous carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can be deadly if not detected. Even small amounts can result in fatigue, chest pain, impaired vision or worse. 

Because geothermal systems transfer thermal energy instead of burning fossil fuels, they produce a heat that will keep your family warm without drying them out. Unlike conventional AC equipment, geothermal doesn’t bring outside air indoors. As a result, pollutants like pollen, dust, and dirt can’t impact your indoor air quality as easily. Upgrading to geothermal HVAC is one of the most impactful things you can do to support a healthier home environment.

Are you looking to improve your home’s air quality while reducing energy costs? See if your home is qualified for geothermal today!

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