November 18, 2020
We know. It's difficult to believe the winter solstice and the holiday season are already here. Unfortunately, the cold season is one of the worst times of year for indoor air quality, either at home or at work. People huddle inside tightly-sealed buildings and trade ventilation for heating. This traps pollutants and moisture in, which is a recipe for bad air.
And that’s in normal times. COVID-19 numbers are staying stubbornly high, and second waves are occurring. People spend 90% of their time indoors as standard. This winter, people will be cooped up indoors even more than usual – and the risk of spreading the coronavirus is raised in enclosed environments
All the more reason to be as prepared as possible.
With the winter season looming and COVID-19 still a threat, it's crucial for people to know how to optimize their indoor air in a way that minimizes the risk of infection.
In an "Ask An Expert" column in Colorado University Boulder Today, Shelly Miller, a professor of mechanical engineering and expert in indoor air quality, urges people to adhere to state and county and city guidelines and public health orders. Households that plan to have gatherings during the winter season are encouraged to limit the frequency and the size of their gatherings. Social distancing and wearing of masks must be strictly observed when homeowners plan to have people over.
"If you’re having people over at your own home and talking, you’re going to be generating a ton of aerosol," Miller points out. "The only way to keep yourself safe in that space is to wear a mask. You have to wear a mask if you want to hang out and talk with other people and share their air."
Miller also advises to periodically open the window for 10 to 15 minutes to keep indoor air clean. "Yes, it will get cold, but you've now brought fresh air in and you've exhausted warm air," she adds.
You may also want to consider implementing added measures to keep indoor air clean. These measures could include adding air purifiers or upgrading air filters to a higher MERV rating. Incorporating these into a building's existing HVAC system increases the quality of air by removing particles, germs, viruses, and chemical gasses.
Knowledge is power. Until you know what issues you are having with your air, you can’t correct them. The most common driver of winter indoor air quality issues is too much moisture. However, before you can be sure that this is your issue, and decide how to improve indoor air quality in winter, you need the data. You need to be aware of what is affecting your IAQ. This is where tracking comes in.
Having a smart device that tracks the main factors of poor indoor air quality is a crucial first step. An effective IAQ monitoring system should at least (1) indicate if the level of moisture or other metrics reach unacceptable levels, (2) share insights as to which part of the house is contributing to this rise, and (3) offer recommendations to fix the issue.
A good IAQ monitoring system can track the factors that contribute to poor indoor air quality: Not only humidity, but temperature, levels of dust, VOCs, and CO2.
Once you start tracking your winter IAQ, you will know what your problems are. From here, you can start implementing solutions.
Before you know exactly what these solutions should be, you need to know your unique situation. However, the road to remediating your winter indoor air quality may well be easy and inexpensive. Some frequent actions that help include:
It may seem surprising that winter is almost here in full. However, the cold season is the worst season for indoor air, and it’s never too early to start getting prepared.
Why does it seem significantly more difficult to concentrate on work when it’s hot outside? It has much more to do with our bodies than we may realize. A series of studies have proven that we are unable to concentrate and fully engage with our work if the temperature around us is not within a specific range; if you want to reach a peak level of productivity, you should work in an environment that stays between 68℉ and 76℉.
One of the simplest joys in cold weather is building a fireplace to warm your home. The ambiance created by a fire's glow is a necessity for many homes this time of year, and while we can't imagine a holiday season without a lit fireplace, we need to recognize the consequences it can have on our health.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that tens of billions of dollars are lost every year due to low office air quality impacting the health of office staff. The science of indoor air is so important that a report published by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health cited indoor air as one of the nine key foundations of a healthy office building.