Whole Home Health: Optimizing Your Home for Efficiency & Well-Being

April 26, 2015
Ross and Witmer

As the weather in the Charlotte area warms up, spring cleaning is probably somewhere on your to-do list. This year, instead of just scrubbing floors and washing windows, consider making some upgrades that will improve your whole home health and energy efficiency all year long.

With the hot, humid summers and cool winters we see in Charlotte, we need efficient, high-performing heating and cooling systems, as well as well-weatherized homes to stay comfortable affordably.

Although spring gives us a reprieve from humidity, we still have pollen and city smog to contend with. That makes paying attention to your air quality one of the most important things you can do for your whole home health.

Optimizing Your Home for Good Health

Clean air is vital for your health, but heading off to Freedom Park for the afternoon or escaping to the McDowell Nature Center and Preserve aren’t the only ways to get some fresh air. With a few simple home improvements, you can enjoy fresher air in your own home, too.

Clean Up Your Indoor Air

Those thin fiberglass air filters are designed only to keep large debris particles out of your HVAC system’s components. Smaller contaminant particles, the ones you can breathe in, fly right through. To trap the smaller particles, install a pleated filter with an MERV between 7 and 11. These filters are nearly as efficient as HEPA filters but safe for use in most HVAC systems. Change the air filter on schedule to maintain high indoor air quality and system efficiency.

Charlotte’s high summer humidity increases the risk of mold developing in your home. While a higher-efficiency air filter traps most mold spores, it doesn’t get them all. For a more efficient way to keep mold out of your ducts and the rest of your home, consider installing an ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) lamp in your system. These ultraviolet (UV) lights neutralize not just mold spores, but also many bacteria and viruses.

Not all harmful air contaminants cause odors or visible signs. To find out exactly what’s in your home’s air and learn the best ways to defend your whole home health from it, schedule a professional indoor air quality test.

Control Your Humidity

Maintaining a balanced humidity level in your home goes a long way toward keeping up your whole home health. High humidity creates the perfect conditions for mold, dust mites and bacteria. Both high and low humidity can make you less comfortable and irritate your airways, aggravating asthma and worsening allergy symptoms.

With all the rain and moisture we get blowing in off the Gulf of Mexico, our homes are more likely to have high humidity than low. If you notice condensation on your windows all year, patches of mold on the ceiling or you feel sticky in summer, bring home a hygrometer.

This low-cost device displays your home’s humidity level. If it’s above 50 percent, you may need better ventilation or a dehumidifier. By removing excess moisture from your air, a whole-house dehumidifier discourages the growth of biological air contaminants and protects your home from damage.

Improve Ventilation

While the exhaust fans in your kitchen and bathrooms help clear out stale air, they won’t do much good if they’re undersized or used incorrectly. After cooking or showering, let the exhaust fan run for a few minutes, but no longer. Run them too long and you’ll bring in more humidity and air contaminants than you remove.

Sometimes exhaust fans just aren’t enough to ensure high indoor air quality. Most modern homes are so airtight they require a planned whole-house ventilation system to remove excess moisture and contaminants many air cleaners miss, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are airborne chemical fumes given off by carpeting, pressed wood, varnish and many other household materials. No filter can trap them.

Schedule a Whole Home Health Assessment

Some signs of health dangers in your home are obvious, such as mold growth or gas odors. Others are so subtle you may not notice them until they’ve had years to damage your health and home. By having your home professionally inspected for potential health threats, you can nip any developing problems in the bud.

During a complete whole home health inspection, a heating and cooling professional will inspect the air ducts for signs of dust buildup, moisture, mold and household pests. In most homes, air ducts stay perfectly clean for many years, but an inspection every few years will catch any problems that do show up.

Your attic, basement and crawl space will also be inspected for moisture issues that could contribute to mold growth and other air quality problems. On the exterior of your home, your technician will check for sufficient drainage and ventilation.

Gas, propane and other fuel-burning appliances can pose a serious threat to your health and even your life if the fuel line is damaged or the appliance itself is producing carbon monoxide (CO). To protect your safety, your technician will inspect your appliances to make sure they’re operating properly.

Optimizing Your Home for Energy Efficiency

At the height of summer, when your A/C is working overtime to hold back Charlotte’s heat and humidity, it can feel like your home is sucking down electricity like The Bank of America Stadium. If you’re tired of high summer energy bills, invest a few home efficiency upgrades this spring before things really heat up.

Keep Your HVAC System in Shape

There are many things that can go wrong with a furnace, air conditioner or heat pump that can reduce its efficiency without noticeably impairing its performance. You may not realize there’s a problem with your system until you’ve been seeing unusually high energy bills for a few months.

Just a millimeter of dust on your air conditioner’s indoor evaporator coil is enough to reduce its efficiency. Dust insulates the coil, impairing its ability to absorb heat from the air. If the outdoor condenser coil is dirty, too, you could see as much as a 37 percent drop in energy efficiency. Loose wires and corroded connections interfere with the flow of electricity, reducing the system’s total efficiency. Problems with the fan motor’s voltage and amperage have a similar effect.

For heating and cooling equipment to remain as efficient and safe as possible, it must be professionally inspected, cleaned and tuned up every year. Skipping even one year could raise your energy bills. To make caring for your system more convenient and less expensive, sign up for a preventative maintenance plan.

Encapsulate Your Attic, Crawl Space and Basement

The temperatures, air infiltration rates and moisture levels in your attic and basement affect the conditions throughout your whole house. A hot attic raises the load on your air conditioner in the summer, air leaks cause drafts around ceilings and floors, and moisture buildup encourages mold that can eventually damage your home’s wood structure as well as your health.

Having these spaces professionally encapsulated prevents problems like these. Encapsulation means sealing and insulating a space to include it within the home’s thermal envelope, meaning the heated and cooled part of the home. In the case of an attic, insulation is installed under the roof sheathing rather than on the attic floor. In the crawl space, the dirt floor and unfinished walls are covered with a vapor barrier.

Encapsulating these spaces keeps their temperatures and humidity levels more stable, which keeps the rest of your house more comfortable. Crawl space encapsulation alone could cut 20 percent off your energy bills. It also keeps out mold spores and house pests, improving your whole home health and reducing the risk of damage.

Schedule a Home Performance Consultation

Running around Discovery Place for a few hours can teach you a lot of neat things, but unfortunately, how to weatherize your home isn’t one of them. DIY jobs like installing weatherstripping help, but without professional experience and diagnostic tools, you’ll still miss a lot of the energy wasters around your home.

To truly maximize your home’s efficiency, schedule a 360° Home Performance Consultation. During this review, an HVAC technician will both visually inspect your home and run tests to spot areas that could use improvement. To evaluate the insulation in the walls and other hard-to-access areas, the technician will take infrared photos of your home that show areas of energy loss.

To assess your home’s air leakage, the technician will use a blower door, a device set up in an exterior doorway. Because air duct leaks can bring down your heating and cooling system’s efficiency by as much as 20 percent, the technician will use a Duct Blaster or similar equipment to measure your duct leakage. Your appliances and plumbing fixtures will also be examined for efficiency.

By getting this done in early spring, you’ll have time to make your energy-saving upgrades before the hot weather arrives.

Learn more about improving your whole home health and efficiency with Ross & Witmer’s solutions for healthy, efficient homes, or give us a call today at 704-392-6188 to schedule an appointment for your Charlotte area home.

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