The Role of HVAC in Indoor Air Quality and Health


Poor ventilation accounts for several sick days and can contribute to lower school grades. Yet improving indoor air quality makes occupants healthier, happier, and more productive.

Today’s article explores how an HVAC system can enhance IAQ through ventilation, filtration, humidity control, and other strategies.

Once you’ve finished reading today’s article, you can click here to learn how often you should have your air ducts cleaned by a professional.

1. Ventilation

Ventilation is an effective tool for controlling indoor humidity and airborne contaminants that pose health hazards by providing fresh outside air through filters while simultaneously keeping interior air circulating through internal ducts and clearing away offensive smells, products, or chemicals that accumulate over time.

Most modern buildings depend on mechanical ventilation systems to bring in outside air before heating or cooling it to desired levels. At the same time, exhaust ducts carry contaminants to dilute and remove from indoor environments.

Portable air purification units may be an economical and less intrusive way to cool smaller spaces than traditional HVAC systems. For a comprehensive approach, upgrading to MERV 13 filters in all HVAC equipment would provide maximum contaminant removal and disaster preparedness measures. This easy step will significantly improve indoor air quality.

2. Filtration

While most guides to healthy buildings emphasize opening windows and doors for fresh air to enter, HVAC systems may also help address more serious indoor air quality (IAQ) concerns. A filter in this system collects particulates so they won’t circulate around your building again.

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An adequate outdoor air supply is necessary to dilute pollutants from equipment, furnishings, products, people, and occupants. Furthermore, ventilation system filters should be regularly replaced to avoid excessive microbial growth and odor control issues.

High-efficiency filters such as MERV 13 help reduce the number of particles circulating throughout a building. 

Unfortunately, these filters require larger air-handling systems due to the extra resistance they create and draw more power to operate than conventional filters. They may cost more upfront but often pay off in return, considering how poor indoor air quality affects health and performance.

3. Humidity Control

Humidity control is an essential aspect of indoor air quality and health. Excess humidity can lead to mold/mildew growth, condensation, equipment corrosion, and poor building fabric performance. At the same time, too little humidity leads to dry, static-filled air, which damages wood materials like walls, trim, wallpaper, and paint/paper products.

A whole-home solution can help prevent extremes in humidity by maintaining ideal midrange levels. Such systems prevent oversizing that contributes to poor air distribution and insufficient dehumidification while offering periodic dehumidification services that prevent moisture vapor build-up that fuels mold growth.

Residential and small commercial HVAC systems often use continuous ventilation systems that power down when spaces are unoccupied to save energy costs, then power back on again when people return. 

This may reduce energy bills but increase demand on the system when it returns, necessitating longer and harder working equipment to restore temperatures and humidity levels to set points that users initially occupied.

4. Cleaning

Environmental quality can become compromised in humid climates due to biological pollutants like mildew and mold, so HVAC systems commonly include humidifiers (which add moisture) and dehumidifiers (which remove it). They can also control temperatures with Freon refrigerants that transfer heat away from indoor spaces to outdoor temperatures.

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Poor air quality can have numerous detrimental effects on health; however, research has yet to establish which concentrations or amounts of pollutant particles cause specific health issues. Potential symptoms could include respiratory and cardiovascular ailments as well as irritation to eyes, nose or throat or headaches.


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