A Residential Air Quality Guide for Bay Area Residents

Air Quality

How to Improve the Air Quality Inside Your Home

Air quality is something we no longer take for granted in the Bay Area. With wildfires becoming a year-round phenomenon, many residents are choosing to take proactive measures to improve the air quality in their homes, schools and workplaces.

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Get Started: Here’s what you need to know about residential air quality.

Find: Get professional help to improve the air quality inside your home.

Explore: Take a deep dive into Bay Area air quality resources and information.


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Keep your home cozy with these indoor air quality tips. Photo: American Ratings Corporation ©2018

5 Tips for Better Indoor Air Quality

Fortunately, even though you can’t control the outside air, there’s plenty you can do to improve air quality inside of your home. Here are five tips for creating an allergy-free haven:

1. Get a good air filter (and replace it regularly). This is the cornerstone of indoor air quality. For most homes, a mid-grade MERV 9 filter will do nicely, but if you have extreme sensitivities, consider upgrading to a MERV 13 filter: a four-inch pleated model that removes airborne particles down to the level of viruses and bacterium. Of course, air filters don’t last forever, so be sure to replace yours regularly. Most HVAC professionals recommend replacing air filters every three months, but depending on how quickly yours get dirty, you may need to do it more often.

2. Clean your air ducts. Even with a good air filter, indoor air quality can be compromised by dirty ductwork.
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Air Quality Tips from Local Experts

Tim Hassler

Hassler Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc.

Brian Waskow

Hometown Heating & Air Conditioning

Kim Haddon

Haddon Heating & Cooling

Ron McLeod

ASAP Automotive, Inc.

Norman Grimes

Connolly Heating and Air Conditioning

Chris Donzelli

Perfect Star Heating and Air Conditioning

Rick Lazzarini

Degree HVAC, Inc.

Going Above Minimum Standards with Air Filters

Going Above Minimum Standards with Air Filters

EL CERRITO — Some people think air filters are all the same, but this is far from the case. While the heating and cooling systems in many homes have standard, one-inch fiberglass filters, the reality is that these do little to improve indoor air quality—they’re only good for filtering out very large airborne particles. To get better filtration for your HVAC system, consider upgrading to a MERV 13 air filter. This four-inch pleated filter removes particles down to the level of viruses and bacterium, which makes it at least 60 times more effective than a standard filter.

In addition to the quality of the filter you choose, another consideration is how often you replace it. Depending on how frequently you run your HVAC system, your filter may need to be changed anywhere from once a year to every couple of months. To get an idea of an appropriate replacement interval, periodically look at your filter and take note of how fast it gets dirty. By maintaining a clean filter at all times, your home’s air will be cleaner and your HVAC system will operate more efficiently, which will save you money on your utility bills.

Tips to Improve HVAC Air Filtration

Tips to Improve HVAC Air Filtration

CONCORD — Air filtration is a crucial HVAC feature that affects everything from system performance to indoor air quality (IAQ). Consider the following tips for improving your HVAC system’s filtration:

Check the MERV rating. Air filters are rated on a scale of 1-20 by the MERV rating chart, with 1 representing lowest quality and 20 representing highest quality. Low-rated filters (MERV 1-5) allow high amounts of airborne particulates to pass through into the HVAC system, which diminishes both system efficiency and IAQ. Over time, this can lead to increased utility costs and reduced system performance—a real lose-lose situation. A better choice is to invest in a high-rated filter that effectively captures airborne particulates and keeps them out of your home’s air stream. Depending on what type of HVAC system you have, opt for a filter with a rating of MERV 8 to MERV 16.

Consider a carbon filter. Carbon air filters are made from activated charcoal. When charcoal is activated, the surface area of each particle increases substantially, which makes it more effective at absorbing dust, pollen, germs and other airborne particulates. Carbon filters are especially effective at controlling strong odors like smoke, which makes them a great choice for those who suffer from asthma or particular allergies.

“Activate” your air filtration. Most HVAC systems operate via “passive” filtration, wherein airborne particulates are caught in the filter as air naturally flows through it. These days, many homeowners are upgrading to “active” filtration, an enhanced form that actively kills adverse particulates in order to deodorize and purify the air. Active filtration systems use a variety of means to do this—for example, some utilize a UV lightbulb to kill germs and bacteria as they pass through the filter. If you want to maximize your IAQ, ask your HVAC contractor about adding an active filtration system.

How to Locate and Replace Your Furnace Filter

How to Locate and Replace Your Furnace Filter

CONCORD — While routine furnace filter replacement remains a commonly neglected aspect of home maintenance, for some, the problem starts with locating the filter in the first place. Here are a few common places to look:

Internally: In many cases, the filter is located within the furnace’s blower compartment.

Externally: A furnace system’s casing is sometimes designed with an external compartment that houses the filter.

Return air grill: If the filter isn’t integrated within the furnace casing itself, it may be situated within a return air grill, which typically can be found in the ceiling or a nearby wall.

Since furnace filters come in various sizes, it’s important to determine which size your furnace accepts before purchasing a replacement. Filters are usually labeled with numbers denoting size and style, which will help you get the correct model. If, however, you discover that a filter was never installed in your furnace to begin with, you can determine the correct size either by referring to your owner’s manual or measuring the inside area with a tape measure.

When replacing a furnace filter, correct installation is also important. Filters are typically labeled with arrows that denote the proper air flow direction, so be sure to check this before installing. Also, as a safety precaution, always turn off the furnace before replacing a filter.

The Other Reason Oil Changes Are Important

The Other Reason Oil Changes Are Important

FREMONT — Most vehicle owners know (or are at least somewhat aware) that engine oil changes are important, but few understand the actual extent of their importance. Many people think it’s just something you’re supposed to do, but they don’t really know why—which might explain why they don’t take it seriously. The reality is that oil change appointments are important, but their importance goes beyond the basics of the job.

First of all, oil changes are crucial for the healthy functioning of a vehicle’s engine. That’s because engines depend on oil to lubricate their many moving parts. Over time, engine oil gets dirty, which makes it less effective at its job. Furthermore, oil can start to run low if it’s not changed and refilled. Either of these scenarios can lead to severe engine damage.

Oil changes are also important because they double as safety check-ups for your vehicle. In addition to changing the oil, an oil change technician checks several aspects of the vehicle, including tire pressure, fluid levels, the functionality of the lights and the condition of the wiper blades.

At ASAP Automotive, we know firsthand the value of these safety inspections. Over the years, we’ve seen everything from broken axle boots to completely bald tires to near-empty brake fluid reservoirs, all of which represent major road safety hazards. That’s why engine performance isn’t the only reason you should stay on top of oil changes­­—they also help ensure the rest of your vehicle is in safe driving condition.

Ductwork and Indoor Air Quality

Ductwork and Indoor Air Quality

PACHECO — An often-overlooked factor for indoor air quality is the impact of ductwork. Since air ducts accumulate dirt and dust buildup over time, having them professionally cleaned is an important part of ongoing maintenance. On average, air ducts should be cleaned every two to five years. However, if your ductwork is damaged, routine cleanings won’t address the bigger underlying issue.

Air ducts can sustain damage from a variety of sources, but one of the most common is rodents that claw or bite their way inside. When ductwork is damaged in this way, the resulting air leaks hamper HVAC system performance and compromise air quality by allowing dirt, allergens, and other particles to enter through the breaches. Worse still, if there are rodents living in the ductwork, traces of their excrement can end up in the air stream, which obviously poses a health hazard.

To prevent these issues, damaged ductwork should be promptly repaired and sealed (or, if they’re in severe condition, replaced). Unfortunately, since air ducts are hidden behind walls and beneath the house, damage often goes unnoticed, as do the resulting problems. That’s why, to monitor the condition of your air ducts and avoid air quality issues, you should have them regularly inspected by an HVAC professional.

The Importance of HVAC Unit Maintenance

The Importance of HVAC Unit Maintenance

CONCORD — If you can’t remember the last time your heating and air conditioning system was professionally serviced, chances are it’s overdue for maintenance. Much like your car, your home’s HVAC system needs regular tune-ups to maintain optimal performance. You’d never dream of driving your car for years without a tune-up or at least an oil change, so why would you neglect the system responsible for heating and cooling your home?

Even the newest furnace and air conditioning units need to be regularly serviced by a professional. Professional service maintains system efficiency, avoids unnecessary problems and prevents costly breakdowns, all of which can save a lot of money over the long term. So, if you’ve been putting off maintenance solely because of the cost, keep in mind that the consequences of neglecting your system can be far more costly.

Simple Tip for Fresher Indoor Air

Simple Tip for Fresher Indoor Air

REDWOOD CITY — When your HVAC system is running, it’s not only heating or cooling your home, it’s also circulating the air. That’s why in mild seasons like spring (when your system is seldom in use), your indoor air can become stagnant due to a lack of circulation. To address this, run your system on the “fan only” setting at regular intervals—ideally 10 to 15 minutes every hour. If you don’t want to do this manually, consider investing in a thermostat with the capability to program “fan only” operation. This will allow you to enjoy fresh, well-circulated air without having to continually adjust your thermostat.

Learn More About Controlling the Air Quality Inside Your Home

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    Stop Mold

    Learn ways to limit humidity (and therefore mold growth) in your home.

  • How to Prepare Your California Home for Winter: Interior Maintenance

    Winter Air quality

    Winter is often the most difficult season for maintaining good indoor air quality. Find out how to prepare.

  • Installing New Windows

    Windows & Your Air

    Diamond Certified Experts share their insights on how windows can preserve good air quality.

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