When the winter winds start to howl, it's a natural response to want to close your home up tightly.
To stay warm and avoid wasting energy, you close the windows, or even seal them with window film, and find ways to stop air from leaking in through cracks and under doors. All this is to stop your heating system from going to work.
But when those instincts kick in, remember that what you're doing is sealing air inside your home.
There's a definite upside to sealing your house up well for the winter: you'll stay warmer, with less impact on your energy bills.
However, the downside is that those actions can negatively affect the quality of the air you'll be breathing. It's a particular concern because of the increased amount of time people spend indoors through the winter.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems have been shown to act as a collection source for a variety of contaminants that have the potential to affect health, such as mold, fungi, bacteria and very small particles of dust.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air.
"When you flip that switch on your heater, there is a lot of dust and debris that was collected in the coils over the summer months. This dust and debris either burns into fumes or gushes into the house through your vents," says Aaron Marshbanks, board member of the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA).
The removal of such contaminants from your HVAC system is crucial to improve indoor air quality. Plus, a clean system can save you money on your energy bill.
Further research from the EPA found that HVAC system cleaning may allow systems to run more efficiently by removing debris from sensitive mechanical components. Clean, efficient systems are less likely to break down, have a longer life span, and generally operate more effectively than dirty systems.
"Heating and cooling uses up about half of the energy in your home," says Marshbanks. "But having a clean HVAC system can save you up to 30 percent in energy costs.
"That means you have better air inside the house, and are helping the environment while keeping an extra bit of cash in your pocket."
The best way to determine if your HVAC system is clean is to perform a visual inspection.
Before winter settles in, be sure to have these top issues that affect a home's HVAC system checked:
-- Filtration - Low-efficiency filters, lack of a filter replacement program and improperly sized filters can allow particles and debris to flow into a home or building.
-- Duct work contamination - It is estimated that about 90 percent of HVAC systems more than 10 years old will have some level of insulation deterioration.
Over time, the insulation fibers are distributed and blown into occupied spaces every time the blower turns on.
-- Dirty evaporator coil - Over time, evaporator coils become matted with dust and dirt. During cold months, the heated air can flow over the dirty coils and be distributed into your home's interior space.
Not all households are the same when it comes to how often their systems need cleaning, either. If any of these apply to your home, you might consider more frequent cleaning: Smokers in the household; pets that shed high amounts of hair and dander; water contamination or damage to the home or HVAC system; residents with allergies or asthma; or home renovations or remodeling.
The most effective way to clean air ducts and ventilation systems is to employ source removal methods of cleaning.
This requires a contractor to place the system under negative pressure through the use of a specialized, powerful vacuum.
For more information about HVAC cleaning and to find a certified and knowledgeable contractor, visit www.NADCA.com.