For much of America, three things arrive in April of every year. One is The Masters golf tournament and the other two can have a significant impact on your health.
April is often the month in which most of America emerges from cold winter temperatures and begins to enjoy comfortable weather. April finds more golfers get out on the fairways and as spring arrives, so do much higher pollen counts. This year is one of the worst in recent memory with so much pollen that it hung in the air like a haze. The image above is pollen accumulated on the side of a car in an open parking lot.
Pollen from various trees and flowers aggravates allergies for millions of Americans. This drives many of us indoors where we try to take shelter from allergens in our homes. The problem is that the air in your house is probably worse than the outdoor air.
There’s no mandatory indoor air quality standard for houses in Georgia and, based on our study, that’s true of most states. Since there’s no requirement for fresh air intake for our houses, most air conditioning systems just condition and filter the air in your house. They don’t exchange any of the polluted indoor air with fresh, outdoor air and the filters we use only remove some of the pollution.
This is compounded in cool months when the outdoor temperature is approximately the same as the temperature to which the thermostat for your air conditioner is set. If your air conditioner is set to run when the temperature in your house reaches 78 degrees and it doesn’t get to 78 degrees, your air conditioner probably won’t operate.
That means, in addition to no fresh air, you’re probably not getting any air filtration through your central air conditioner for hours or days at a time. Since so many people are also keeping their windows shut to avoid allergens, this can result in very poor indoor air conditions.
In recent years, air conditioning companies have added features like variable speed fans to their systems. Variable speed fans can be set so they’re always running – they’re always moving air through the filter. They just runs at a lower rate when the system is not actively heating or cooling. These are often more efficient and more comfortable systems but they don’t necessarily introduce fresh air into your home.
There are a number of ventilation systems designed to compliment your air conditioning system. A ventilation system should not be combined with your air conditioning system because the ventilation system needs to operate independently – it should be able to exchange fresh outdoor air with polluted indoor air without having to rely on the fan in your air conditioning system.
You can find standards for indoor air quality like the EPA’s Indoor airPLUS program and ASHRAE’s 62.2 Ventilation and Acceptable Indoor Air Quality in Low-Rise Residential Buildings for additional resources. There are also standards in voluntary green building programs designed to improve indoor air quality.
There are other issues like controlling humidity that should be figured into any changes or upgrades to your air conditioning or ventilation systems. Since air conditioning accounts for such a significant portion of our energy bills, it’s important to seal and insulate our houses to conserve energy. That makes it easier to control our indoor air quality and get the right sized air conditioning and ventilation systems.
If your allergies only seem to get worse when you’re closed up in your house, try doing what our grandparents did – open the windows and get some fresh air in your house. That will probably help you enjoy watching The Masters – a golf tournament that’s become our annual reminder to pay closer attention to indoor air issues and our health.