The winter season brings about many changes to the air, including how you heat your home. In this season it’s especially important to know how your indoor air quality is affected by the heaters in your home.
Chuck Larsen, the owner of Gator Air & Energy, offers his insights below on what you need to know about how indoor air quality is affected by the changing temperatures in winter.
How Your Air Gets Contaminated
In the summer, the evaporator coil in your air conditioning unit run at 35°F – 45°F. This coil is what is cooling the air as it enters your home. An evaporator coil is similar to a radiator on a car. It has tubes where the refrigerant is evaporated and many small fins to aid in heat transfer to the tubes.
If your unit has no air filter or a fiberglass filter instead of a high-efficiency pleated filter (that captures more contaminants), the contaminated air is cycling through your home. Dirt from the air will accumulate in your system and ducts and will serve as food for the microbes that thrive in the dark, cold, wet environment of the coils. Remember the coil drains moisture out of the air and outdoors through a ¾ inch drain pipe all summer long.
Heat Pumps and Winter Indoor Air Quality
Due to Florida’s relatively warm climate, many homes in North Central Florida are equipped with heat pumps. Essentially a heat pump is the same as an air-conditioner, except for the fact that it is cycling warm air into your home rather than cool air. Throughout most of the year, air conditioners work as heat pumps in reverse by cycling hot air through cooling coils to cool your home.
In the winter, the coil works in reverse to heat your home and becomes a heat coil. When that happens, the dirt and microbes in your system will dry out. This is what causes a “musty” smell that many homeowners complain about when turning on the heat for the first time in winter.
Your system might also be equipped with an auxiliary electric heater to serve as a second stage heater or when the system needs to be defrosted. When this additional heater is activated, the dirt and contaminants will get burned off the heater elements (like they do in a toaster). This is what causes the short-lived “burning” smell when you turn on your heat pump in the winter.
Furnaces and Winter Indoor Air Quality
Furnaces are less common in North Central Florida, but there are still many homeowners who use them. In gas furnace heat, the cooling coil becomes inactive and gas is fired into a heat exchanger sitting below the cooling coil. With gas furnaces, the heat is much higher than in a heat pump. Temperatures in a heat pump are 90°F to 105°F whereas a gas furnace produces heat at 120°F to 150°F.
Similar to heat pumps, the coils in a furnace are heated and the contaminants in the duct system and on the coils can burn or become airborne. Some furnaces also produce heat using natural gas, propane, or oil. It’s especially important for homes with this type of furnace to watch out for CO (carbon monoxide) poisoning. If your home is not properly ventilated, you could be at risk.
Older combustion furnaces are also at risk of developing cracks in the heat exchanger. Annual furnace inspections are essential – even on newer furnaces – to detecting these often invisible cracks which could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. If your furnace is in the 16-20 year age range, it may be time to start considering a new furnace.
How to Improve Indoor Air Quality in Winter
If you’re looking for ways to improve your indoor air quality this winter, there are several easy things you can do today.
- Install UV Lights – Installing UV lights in your home kills the microbes and bacteria that thrive in your ducts and coils. As the air cycles through, the air is sterilized and prevents any contaminant growth.
- Have Your Ducts Cleaned – Having your ducts cleaned regularly prevents the buildup of dirt and dust, keeping the air clean when your heater starts.
- Change Your Air Filter – Changing your air filter at least every three months prevents dust and dirt from entering your system. It’s important to use a high-efficiency, high MERV rated air filter.
- Coil & Pan Maintenance – Regular maintenance and cleaning of the coils and pans of your system not only improves air quality but also improves the energy-efficiency of your system.
Dirty coils can cost up to 37% more on your energy bills.
Call Gator Air & Energy to Improve Winter Indoor Air Quality
Although AC contractors are not microbiologists or certified mold remediators, we know how to prevent or remediate indoor air quality through proper maintenance and cleaning. We also offer HVAC system upgrades such as high-efficiency air filters, UV air purifying lights, or electronic air cleaners with activated carbon working with UV lights.
If you’re concerned about your indoor air quality this winter, give us a call today! We can help you choose the best option for your needs, and keep your family breathing easy this season.