Indoor Air Quality and COVID

We have all had to learn new things — social distancing, face covering protocols, staying at home — during this pandemic and the research and health community is no exception. In fact, they are continually discovering novel things about COVID and how to protect public health.

Transmission of the COVID virus is thought to be mainly from person-to-person contact through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, and talking which enter the lungs. The six-foot social distancing that we are all familiar with has been a mainstay precautionary practice to reduce the spread of the virus. However, new research shows that the six-foot distance may actually not be adequate to prevent exposure in indoor settings.

Numerous studies show that microdroplets (essentially aerosols) can stay suspended in the air much longer than previously thought, travel more than six feet, and circulate in rooms. The new research suggests that wearing facemasks in public buildings, offices, etc. maybe a prudent precaution. Further, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can move and recirculate these microdroplets (~ 1 micron in size), and therefore filtration is recommended. Filtration will not eliminate all risk of transmission of airborne particulates, since several other factors influence disease transmission, but is one tool in addition to facemasks and handwashing to reduce risk.

CDC, EPA and ASHRAE provides some practical guidelines to management of indoor air quality: 

  • Using a minimum of a 13 Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) HVAC filter. This level can capture up to 85% of particles 1-3 microns in size. These filters are the pleated kind and can be purchased online or at some hardware/box stores, (though often they only sell MERV 12 or lower). Note: These filters reduce air flow slightly and must be replaced every three months to make sure they don’t get clogged to where air flow is restricted possibly damaging the system
  • Maintain the fan component of the HVAC system to run 24/7. Most thermostats allow for that option. Simply turn the fan from auto to on
  • If weather and temperature conditions permit consider increasing fresh airflow from outside
  • Consider using a portable room air cleaner a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) room filter or. This may be especially a wise practice if someone has been sick. A HEPA filter (equivalent to > MERV 16) will provide up to 99% capture of the virus droplets.

Being safe during this pandemic has adjusted our lifestyle and practices, and we need to remain diligent and adaptable to minimize risks. Indoor air quality is yet another important consideration to protect your health.

Home Maintenance for Your Health

Maintaining your home and appliances helps them last longer, perform better, and keep their value. However, did you know following maintenance practices is also good for your family’s health? 

Let’s consider those things in the home that can influence our health. 

Keeping a clean home can reduce dust, dust mites, pet dander, bacteria, mold, and mildew. This is especially important for those that have allergies or asthma. Many of our appliances (vacuum cleaners, air conditioners, refrigerators, etc.) have filters designed to capture various contaminants.

As with any filter, including those associated with your home’s HVAC system, they have to be changed regularly to function effectively. Not changing them can lead to reduction in performance and potentially lifespan, but also, harmful contaminants can no longer be trapped and are thus released into the air and environment of the interior of your home. 

Water filters in particular, can potentially build up bacteria if filters are not changed as recommended. If you have a faucet filtration system for the whole house, as opposed to a single unit on one faucet, be sure to follow the manufacturers’ recommended maintenance schedule. 

If you are like me, you may forget when you last changed a filter or when it’s supposed to be replaced. I remember to change the smoke or carbon monoxide alarm batteries when daylight savings time begins, but may forget other appliances. To help me with keeping on a good maintenance schedule, I started writing the date of the changeover directly on the filters. 

I also put reminders and certain maintenance items, such as heating and air conditioning service, or flush my tankless water heater, on my phone calendar and set reminders. You can even include things like having your septic tank pumped every two or three years.

Finding a way or system for you to remember and getting into the habit of home maintenance will help provide peace of mind that you are not only protecting value, but also providing a healthy environment for you and your family.