Few things have greater long term bearing on your health and comfort than your indoor air quality system. Even in a culture obsessed with healthy living through diet and exercise, the purity of indoor air we breathe is often overlooked. Because most people spend more time at home than in any other single location, it is always worth the investment to ensure that your indoor air quality and climate control system is serving your needs every day. However, every home environment, due to varying sizes and ages, brings its own specific set of climate control features and issues. Add to this that air quality is not visibly detectable, and most ductwork and climate control systems are hidden, and you’ll find that the process of achieving satisfactory indoor air quality is complex and mysterious to most consumers. Fortunately, an experienced Sonoma County Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning, or HVAC, contractor can assess the particular needs of your home and offer an array of modifications or installations to ensure that the air in your home is as clean and comfortable as possible. How do you locate the right contractor for the job? You can start by doing your own basic assessment of your home and your needs.
Rate the Air Quality and Identify Air Quality Deficiencies in Your Home
Air quality contractors in Sonoma County address a large variety of home air quality problems, but these problems fall into three basic categories: comfort, health, and energy efficiency. If your experience in all these areas is not satisfactor, you need not suffer through sub-par home air quality, and in the case of a toxic home environment, it may be downright dangerous to neglect the problem. Your first task, then, is to rate your system’s effectiveness in these three areas, and identify which you wish to improve.
Indoor Air Comfort
The most common service that air quality contractors provide is improving the comfort of a home environment. Few things affect the enjoyment of one’s living environment as dramatically as an improvement in temperature, humidity, and purity. It’s hard to put a price tag on the comfort and well being provided by such air quality upgrades. If your current heating or air conditioning system does not provide you with maximum comfort, you need not resign yourself to a subpar home environment. There are several basic and cost effective steps you can take.
Improving Temperature Distribution
Industry studies routinely show that half of all homes contain rooms that hotter or cooler than the rest of the house, and basements are often 15 degrees cooler than the upstairs. Seasonal humidity or dryness also greatly affects the comfort of one’s home. Fortunately, these problems can all be identified and remedied with energy efficient, lasting solutions that eliminate variations in temperature, even in the rooms are far from the climate control unit.
A common culprit in uneven heating or cooling is a leaky or inefficient duct system. The Department of Energy states that a typical duct system loses 25-40% of the furnace, heat pump, or air conditioning unit’s energy output. This rate of inefficiency not only impairs comfort, but also has a great effect on a utility bill. Fortunately, if your home has uneven heating or cooling, a licensed Sonoma County air quality contractor can test and locate any duct leaks using an Infiltrometer. An Infiltrometer is a device created by the Department of Energy that tests the airtightness of your home and identifies air leaks by creating a 15 MPH wind on all sides of your home. Essentially, it is like a leak MRI for your home. It only takes about an hour, and once leaks are pinpointed, they can be sealed using fiber-reinforced elastomeric sealants. This quick fix pays for itself by lowering utility bills, and provides the added benefit of evening temperature distribution throughout the house.
A second way to provide better temperature distribution is adding return air grills. A central heating or air conditioning system utilizes two different kinds of vents to circulate air through each room: supply vents and return vents. The supply vents inject a room with air heated or cooled to the desired temperature, while the return vents take air from the room and heat or cool it to the desired temperature, after which it is passed through the ducts back into the room. A room with a supply vent but no return does not allow circulation, instead causing pressure to build, cutting down on the amount of air that can get into the room, and pushing more air into other parts of the house. This creates a secondary problem, causing the heat or air conditioning system to shut off by creating a build-up of hot or cool air in only one part of the house, before less ventilated areas have been heated or cooled to the desired level.
A third common cause of uneven temperature distribution is lack of proper insulation and the presence of thermal bypasses. Most homes have at least one area that lacks enough insulation to properly maintain the temperature of the room. This is especially prevalent in rooms near attics and garages. An Infiltrometer test will identify these low insulation areas as well, along with any gaps between walls, known as thermal bypasses. Thermal bypasses must also be sealed to avoid persistent loss of temperature stability.
Another solution for is a zoning damper system. This system, installed in the ductwork, treats rooms on a case-by-case basis, keeping a constant flow of warm or cool air to areas of greater need (for instance, near a garage or attic), while shutting off air to areas that have already achieved the desired temperature. Finally, one of the biggest misconceptions about uneven temperature distribution is that it results from an HVAC unit that is too small. On the contrary, many temperature distribution problems can be solved by actually installing a smaller furnace or air conditioning unit. The reason for this is simple: if a unit is too large, it will cool or heat areas near a thermostat too quickly using a massive influx of cool or warm air. This causes the unit to shut off before the all parts of your home have been heated or cooled. By contrast, a smaller unit requires a longer period of lower air output, but results in a more continuous even distribution of heated or cooled air. A peripheral benefit of this is that the longer running time of a smaller unit allows it to better eliminate humidity, and actually results in lower utility bills. You can also ask your licensed Sonoma County contractor about smaller high efficiency HVAC units with variable speed fans that adjust the output level as needed. These units may represent a higher initial expense, but will pay for themselves over time through added comfort and reduced utility bills.
Comfort: Improving Humidity Control
A second area that has a dramatic effect on air quality and comfort in a home is the level of humidity, or alternatively dryness, depending on the season or climate. In areas with higher humidity the most practical, cost effective remedy is to reduce the number of moisture sources in the home. This calls for covering up any dirt floors, capping sump pump pits, checking for air leaks in basement walls, storing firewood outdoors, and installing better exhaust fans in bathrooms. Second, humidity can be remedied using many of the same techniques contractors employ for improving temperature distribution—namely, improving the airtightness of a home, since during spring, summer, and fall in some areas, outdoor air is the biggest source of high humidity. This includes sealing any air leaks in walls, especially near garages and attics, and installing a properly sized air conditioning unit that will not shut down before dehumidification is complete. You may also consider installing an air conditioning unit with enhanced dehumidification features like humidity sensors, which wrings more moisture out of the air before shutting off. In extreme, high humidity areas, you may even solve the problem by installing a high capacity ducted dehumidifier, which supplements the air conditioning unit by removing humidity from within the ductwork, then draining condensed moisture.
Alternatively, during the winter, or in especially dry areas, a humidifier can provide added comfort by infusing a desired amount of moisture into the air. Humidification systems can come as freestanding, single room units or as central units installed and distributed via your HVAC system. Such units have the added benefit, in winter, of saving money on heating costs, as humid air retains heat better than dry air. Your Sonoma County air quality contractor will know the common problems and available solutions in Sonoma County, and help you select an HVAC system that takes into account factors like climate, season, and personal preferences.
While many prospective air quality customers call on contractors to help improve issues of comfort, many of them discover that poor ventilation or humidity control over the long run can adversely affect one’s health, and sometimes pose serious consequences. Insulation, pets, furnishings, the type of heating, the outdoor environment, and the occupant’s lifestyle habits all have a bearing on the safety of indoor air quality. But just as comfort can be dramatically improved through a variety of HVAC renovations, so can the safety of one’s home environment be improved. Your licensed Sonoma County air quality contractor will provide you with all the options you need to ensure that the air you breathe every day is as clean and safe as possible for you and your family.
Safety: Installing Electronic Air Purification Systems
The purity of your indoor breathing environment depends on many factors, including outdoor air, humidity, the presence of pets and smokers, and proximity to major thoroughfares and garages. One of the best ways to ensure that the air you breathe is healthy and safe is installing an air purification system. Unlike a filtration system, which simply filters out airborne particles, a purification system uses ultraviolet light or electrical charge to actually clean the air, removing irritants, contaminants, viruses, mold, and other elements down to 0.01 microns in size. In such a system, larger particles are first removed through filtration, then smaller particles are irradiated or electrically charged, which eliminates them from the air or “magnetizes” them to a purification plate, from which they are removed through regular cleaning. This kind of equipment can also help your HVAC system function more efficiently, as it removes airborne debris and particles before they can clog up your ductwork. Ask your Sonoma County air quality contractor about the options and special environmental considerations relevant to your particular home environment.
Safety: Eliminating Contaminated Air Infiltration
One of the most common ways in which indoor air quality is rediced is through air leaks. However, contrary to popular belief, only 20% of a home’s air leaks result from windows and doors. 80% of all leaks come from improperly sealed garages, attics, crawlspaces, and basements, and chances are, the air that infiltrates a home through such leaks is not fresh outdoor air, but rather air contaminated by carbon monoxide, insulation fibers, mold spores, or radon gas. Ones again, an Infiltrometer test will precisely locate these leaks, and allow your Sonoma County air quality contractor to assess the best way to eliminate them.
Another common culprit for contaminated air is recessed can lighting. These ceiling fixtures provide dirt, dust, and insulation fibers with a gateway into the living environment. A qualified air quality contractor can inspect and seal or repair many light leaks. Attic openings pose a similar problem, but can be sealed through similar means as well.
Safety: Improving Pressure Balance, Mechanical Ventilation, and Filtration
Pressure imbalances result from a lack of ventilation or air return mechanisms in rooms that are closed off from the rest of the house, or from unduly large exhaust fans and leaking ducts. The result is often air pressure that is lower inside a room or section of the house than it is outside, which causes impure air to be sucked through air leaks in attics, garages, and basements. Such pressure balances can also backdraft appliances. Indoor home air pressure that is slightly higher than outdoor air pressure is optimal, as it prevents contaminated air from flowing in through leaks or porous materials.
New homes, by contrast, may be too air tight, preventing adequate circulation of fresh air. This issue can be remedied through improved mechanical ventilation that can range from simple powerful exhaust fans that remove moisture and odors to more complex and energy efficient units. One example is a heat or energy-recovering ventilator, which preheats and cools incoming air using the indoor air that it exhausts. A ventilating dehumidifier is a second option, filtering, dehumidifying, and adding outside air for improved circulation.
A final important step for optimizing indoor air purity and safety is installing an improved air filtration system. This may include upgrading replaceable filters in your existing system, or purchasing freestanding, single room units. The best method for this, however, is a permanent high efficiency air filtration system. This uses permanent filters that remove more impurities and invisible particles than replaceable filters, and is often lower maintenance, usually requiring only one cleaning per year. Though more expensive, they are more energy efficient and over the long run, cost less because of the reduced utility burden.
Safety: Installing More Effective Indoor Humidity Control
Because long term health problems can result from both too much and too little humidity, it is important to maintain a healthy amount of moisture in your home environment. The CDC, EPA, and AMA all recommend humidity between 30-50% year round. During winter or in dry climates, lack of humidity can contribute to sore throats, dry sinuses, and infections. In this situation, your contractor will first seal all air leaks, then install a central humidification system that will maintain a constant, comfortable level of humidity. On the other hand, too much airborne moisture during summer or in wet climates not only causes discomfort, but also increases allergens, mold, and dust mites. Indoor toxic mold is especially serious, and prolonged exposure can cause allergic reactions, toxic reactions, asthma, infections, and respiratory damage. Mold will keep coming back unless you identify the source, which could be any organic material, from drywall paper, to wood to a food source. If your indoor environment is too humid, all air leaks should be sealed, and an enhanced dehumidification system should be installed, either as a feature on a new higher-powered dehumidifying air conditioning unit or as an independent ducted dehumidification system.
Safety: Carbon Monoxide Tests and Detection Systems
Carbon monoxide leaks can have lasting health implications, and consumer detection units are less reliable and ill-equipped to detect low level CO leaks. They can come from a variety of sources, such as gas heaters, leaking chimneys and furnaces, gas stoves, automobile exhaust, or old boilers and furnaces. Such leaks are virtually undetectable without the proper equipment and can lead to fatigue and chest pain at low levels, and impaired vision, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and death in high concentrations. The typical consumer carbon monoxide detector only lasts 2-4 years and gradually loses its effectiveness, leaving you vulnerable to undetected leaks. A qualified Sonoma County air quality contractor will have the equipment to detect and locate even the smallest CO leak, eliminating this common home health hazard. Have a trained professional perform an annual inspection of your home to tune-up and clean any central heating systems.
Safety: Asbestos Removal
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was common in insulation, and in many homes built before the 1970s, asbestos is often found around steam pipes, boilers, furnace ducts. It can also be used in vinyl flooring, roofing, and siding. A common misconception is that the presence of any asbestos poses a health hazard. In fact, the danger of asbestos only arises when it is tampered with or deteriorates, which releases asbestos fibers into the air. Airborne asbestos fibers are known to increase the risk of lung cancer and cause scarring of the lungs. If you suspect your home contains asbestos and you are unsure of the state of the material, the best thing to do is leave it alone and call an air quality professional who can assess the situation and provide removal services if necessary.
Energy Efficiency: Routine Maintenance and Replacement of Old Units
Many of the repairs and installations that improve the safety and comfort of your home air environment will raise your air quality system’s energy efficiency as well. In addition to these steps, several maintenance procedures can greatly reduce your utility bills. In anticipation of extreme weather, before winter or summer, consider having your climate control unit tuned up. This routine maintenance will ensure that your unit does not break down mid-season, and provides the most efficient climate control service to you. Your system may need to be cleaned, filters may need to be replaced, the ignition, exhaust, and blower systems should be tested, fan belts should be inspected and adjusted, and all safety sensors should be tested. Another important maintenance step is duct inspection and cleaning. Your ductwork delivers cooled or heated air, and if it is dirty or blocked, it cannot deliver air efficiently. The ductwork in many homes is plugged with years of built up mold, pet dander, dust, dirt, and airborne debris. Your ducts should be inspected at least every two years for defects and cleanliness, and your entire duct system should be cleaned every five to seven years, depending on indoor air quality factors such as the age of your home or the presence of pets.
Just like automobiles or household appliances, heating or cooling systems experience wear and tear and reduced effectiveness with age. In addition to regular maintenance on your existing system, if your HVAC system has more than 12 years of use, and you don’t intend to sell your home for a few years, a new system will provide a safer, more comfortable and reliable alternative, and can be up to twice as energy efficient, saving you money in the long run.
Order an Infiltrometer Test
As you can see, you have a huge range of air quality system repairs, upgrades, and replacement options at your disposal, and only you can assess which best fits your needs and your budget. A good way to start assessing your options is to request an Infiltrometer test from a local Sonoma County air quality contractor. This simple, standard test is relatively inexpensive, takes about an hour, and will identify air tightness and circulation problems that cause reduced comfort, safety, and efficiency. The results of your Infiltrometer test will tell you whether the biggest culprits are leaky walls, an oversized heating or air conditioning unit, or poorly functioning ductwork. The licensed contractor can talk you through a range of options for addressing any problems that the Infiltrometer test reveals.
Develop a Budget for Materials and Labor
Once you better understand the solutions for your particular air quality project, it’s time to begin developing a budget. Visit a home improvement store in major Sonoma County cities like Windsor, Cloverdale, or Santa Rosa, or your local home improvement store in Agua Caliente, Fulton, Freestone, Lakeville, Graton, Occidental, or Salmon Creek. You can also perform a web search to look at the available options and prices from various HVAC system manufacturers. The best place to start is Diamond Certified, which provides a lengthy list of HVAC units and manufacturers. As you research online or in your local Sonoma County home improvement store, keep a comprehensive list or spreadsheet detailing estimated materials needed, sources, and prices. Be sure to include peripheral material costs in addition to the actual unit, such as sealant, tubing, or wire. A detailed budget and price list will prove useful when negotiating with prospective contractors.
Look for Licensed Air Quality Contractors in Sonoma County
Be sure to look for Sonoma County contractors that possess both the necessary experience and contractor’s licenses for the particular type of work you need. All Sonoma County air quality contractors are required to be licensed by the California State Contractors License Board. The CSLB offers 43 different license classifications. You can verify a prospective contractor’s license on the CSLB website. Licensed Sonoma County air quality contractors service all the major Sonoma County cities, including Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Healdsberg, Windsor, and Rohnert Park, and smaller cities like Camp Meeker, El Verano, Glen Ellen, or Eldridge. In addition to this, you can request references from previous customers, which go a long way in providing you the information you need to make the best-informed contractor selection.
Look for Diamond Certified Air Quality Contractors in Sonoma County
You are the customer. If your goal is to choose a air quality contractor that will deliver high customer satisfaction and quality, you’ll feel confident in choosing a Diamond Certified air quality contracting company. Each has been rated Highest in Quality in the most accurate ratings process anywhere. And you’re always backed by the Diamond Certified Performance Guarantee.
Obtain Permits, If Necessary
Under the California Building Code, no building or structure can be altered, repaired, or improved without obtaining a permit. Codes vary greatly by city and county, so you can find out more about your Sonoma County air quality project on the CSLB website, which details requirements by city and county. In addition, your licensed Sonoma County air quality contractor can help you identify whether your project requires a permit and how to obtain a permit, if necessary.
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