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Improving Indoor Air Quality During Winter

As winter rears its frigid head, you’ll be spending more time in your home. So you’ll want the air you breathe to be clean so as not to put your health at risk. Here are some tips.

  1. The most important thing you can do is have your furnace maintained, and then replace filters frequently – monthly for one-inch filters and every six months for thicker ones. Also consider filters with a higher Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating.
  2. Have your air ducts cleaned and sealed to get rid of any dirt and debris that may be in them and may be ultimately released into your home.
  3. Also consider an air purifier as an extra layer of protection.
  4. To reduce pollutants like mold, pollen and dust mites, dust often and wipe down walls, counters, etc. Vacuum frequently, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Mop hard floors using white vinegar and water.
  5. Take shoes off when entering the home, as shoes can bring pollutants into the home.
  6. Use non-toxic “green” cleaner products that do not have harsh chemicals. Even better make your own solution with vinegar and baking soda.
  7. Avoid fragrant products such as home sprays or air fresheners.
  8. Open the windows occasionally to let fresh air in. Yes, that might drive up your heating costs a bit, but it is important to let some fresh air in from the outside.
  9. Add humidity by installing either a whole house humidifier or room humidifiers. Try to keep humidity at the 40% to 50% range.
  10. Add plants in the house. They can help clean and purify your home’s air and remove toxins and stuffiness.
  11. Avoid products with Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that can cause a variety of health issues including eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness and even memory impairment.

How Your Health Can be Impacted by Poor Indoor Air Quality

You protect your car from salt and damaging hail. You likely don’t leave that expensive bike in winter snows. But we frequently expose our most precious possessions, our family, to the discomfort, debilitating effects, or even life-threatening impact of poor indoor air quality (IAQ). How can IAQ impact the health of your loved ones, and what can you do to minimize this risk?

How does poor IAQ impact your health?

Here are some of the health risks associated with the many things impacting poor IAQ – pollutants, mold, dangerous gasses, asbestos, lead, and secondhand smoke:

  • Irritation to eyes, nose and throat
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Congested sinuses
  • Increased occurrence and severity of asthma attacks
  • Aggravation of other lung diseases including cancer

These risks vary from simple irritation to life-threatening issues, and they put some people more at risk than others. As anticipated, children and seniors, and anyone with heart or lung disease find themselves more susceptible to these health issues.

Some of these health effects are immediate too. The EPA explains “certain immediate effects are similar to those from colds or other viral diseases, so it is often difficult to determine if the symptoms are a result of exposure to indoor air pollution.” Other risks have long-term effects. Chronic exposure to indoor pollutants may prompt cancer, lung maladies or heart disease.

What’s the solution?

As noted above, the immediate symptoms of exposure to poor air quality can mimic the common cold virus, masking the underlying problem. To protect the health of your family, consider testing your IAQ. You can perform some home air quality tests by purchasing air quality monitors, at-home radon test kits, or installing carbon monoxide detectors on each level of your home (a recommended practice). But, what do you do if your IAQ fails the tests? How do you detect if the other pollutants like mold, asbestos, and lead are present in your home? 

Addressing some IAQ issues can be as simple as changing your furnace filter. But major problems threatening your family’s health require immediate and professional attention. Consider calling professionals who can test your IAQ, and then advise you on safe and effective ways to improve the quality of your indoor air and professionally remedy the problems for you.

5 Reasons Why Your Indoor Air Quality is More Important Than You Think

You love working in your yard, sprucing up your home’s curb appeal.  But the pollens and freshly cut grass make your allergy symptoms unbearable. Oddly, retreating to the house you find little relief. Perhaps your indoor air quality (IAQ) needs improvement as well; like the effects of the seasonal outdoor air, your indoor air can cause similar problems and more. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the “health effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon after exposure or, possibly, years later.” 

These five factors remind us IAQ is important, even critical, to our health and comfort in the immediate and long term.

Dangerous gasses (Radon, Nitrogen Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide). Radon, an odorless, colorless gas can, in increased levels, contribute to lung cancer. Nitrogen dioxide, formed from the burning of fossil fuels, promotes increased asthma attacks and a reduction in lung function. Carbon monoxide, also odorless, when released by malfunctioning HVAC systems, can cause fatigue, headaches, dizziness, confusion, and even death.

  1. Mold. Mold or fungi, growing in and around your home, can release spores into the air, prompting severe allergic reactions in exposed individuals.
  2. Asbestos. This naturally occurring mineral, frequently found in older insulation, produces fibers when introduced into the air and breathed into the lungs. It can also promote greatly diminished lung function and lead to lung cancer.
  3. Lead. Prior to 1978, this soft metal was a common ingredient in house paint. When inhaled, however, lead damages the nervous system, brain, blood, and kidneys.
  4. Secondhand smoke. The smoke produced by burning tobacco products and the smoke exhaled by smokers greatly lowers IAQ. The EPA cites the following health effects of secondhand smoke: “Secondhand smoke causes cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke), lung cancer, sudden infant death syndrome, more frequent and severe asthma attacks, and other serious health problems.”

Addressing poor IAQ in your home can be as simple as changing your furnace filter. However, major problems threatening your health need swift and professional attention. Consider calling a professional who will not only test the quality of your air but advise you on safe and effective ways to improve your IAQ and remedy the problems for you.

12 Steps to Improve Indoor Air Quality in the Summer

Here’s an interesting fact.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outdoor air.  Purer indoor air will create a healthier environment in your home, allowing you to breathe better, sleep better, and protect you from conditions such as asthma and sleep apnea.  So here are a dozen things you can do to improve indoor air quality during the summer.  Of course, many of these also apply in the winter. 

  1. Open your windows. After all, outside air is cleaner than inside air.  So, bring some of that cleaner air inside.  Of course, the tradeoff is bringing in hot air from the outside will make your house warmer and increase energy costs.  So, find a balance, perhaps opening the windows at night or early in the morning when the outside air is cooler.  But monitor the pollen count to make sure the outdoor air is indeed clean.
  2. You want humidity in the 30% to 50% range.  Investing in a whole house dehumidifier can control the humidity and reduce the pests, dust and other allergens that thrive in humidity, and can trigger allergies and asthma. 
  3. No smoking. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals.  None are good for you.
  4. Groom your pets. Pets shed more in the summer months, and pet dander can negatively impact indoor air quality.
  5. Change the filter in your furnace. Once a month for 1-inch filters and every six months for thicker filters is recommended.
  6. Have your AC serviced to make sure it is running efficiently (same goes for your furnace in the winter).
  7. Clean your ducts to remove the pollutants that gather there and then are forced into your living space air by your air conditioner.
  8. Install UV lighting in your ductwork to kill mold and bacteria that thrive in cool, dark environments.
  9. Take off your shoes and have your guests take off their shoes to limit the contaminants entering your home.
  10. Regularly vacuum carpeting, rugs, and upholstery. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to get rid of pollen and dust mites.  These vacuums can also reduce the amount of lead in your home.
  11. Use natural scented products. Aerosol sprays such as hair sprays, deodorants, carpet cleaners and air fresheners launch harmful chemicals into the air.  Fabric softeners, laundry, detergents, and even dryer sheets also contain harmful chemicals that get in the air.  Instead, buy naturally scented or fragrance-free products.   
  12. Some indoor plants naturally remove toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde from the air.  Plant one of the following non-toxic plants every 10 square feet:
    1. Bamboo palm
    2. Barberton daisy
    3. Boston fern
    4. Broadleaf lady palm
    5. Spider plant

Indoor Air Quality and Coronavirus

With coronavirus so much in the news, we want to remind you that one way you can help from acquiring and transmitting the disease is to ensure mechanisms are in place to improve the indoor air quality in your home.

Some background. Coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, is a corona virus strain. Corona virus strains have been around for a long time. Covid-19 is the seventh known strain. Four of the strains are related to the common cold and were first identified in the 1930s. These are easily treatable. Two other strains in addition to Covid-19 are more challenging – SARS and MERS.

So, what can you do?

  1. Since people with allergies, asthma and other respiratory problems are at higher risk for contracting Coronavirus along with other viruses, it is important to maintain healthy air quality in your home to prevent respiratory infections that can compromise your immune system. A few hints:
    a. No smoking
    b. Bathe your pets
    c. Change your air filters
    d. Use bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans to ventilate air
    e. Clean your bedding, drapes and other items
    f. Vacuum carpeting and rugs at least once a week using a vacuum with a HEPA filter
    g. Keep your hardwood and other hard surface floors clean
    h. Keep humidity between 30% and 50%
  2. Consider an ultraviolet (UV) air purifier. UV air purifiers use short-wave ultraviolet light to reduce, disinfect and eliminate airborne pathogens and microorganisms. These systems can be sold standalone, or as systems installed into pre-existing HVAC systems. While these purifiers have been shown to be effective with other viral agents such as SARS and MERS, it must be noted that they have not been specifically tested on Covid-19.
  3. Consider air cleaners with Capture & Contain technology. This technology adds another level of support in controlling the reduction and migration of airborne contaminants. Again, these have not been tested on Covid-19, but have been deemed effective with other airborne microbials.

Improving Indoor Air Quality This Winter

Winter weather means you’ll be spending more time indoors. That means you’ll want the air in your home to be of high quality to ensure your health as well as your family’s health. Poor indoor air quality can contribute to allergies, asthma and other respiratory issues. It can also lead to headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

Unfortunately, some of the things we do contribute to poor indoor air quality. We keep windows closed, which prevents fresh air from entering the home. Plus we seal cracks around doors, windows, etc. While this is good for keeping the heating bills down, it also prevents contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, mold spores and dust mites from escaping.

So here are 10 good suggestions for improving the air quality in your home.

  1. Invest in an energy recovery ventilator or heat recovery ventilator that will introduce fresh air into your home.
  2. Don’t allow smoking in your home.
  3. Bathe your pets regularly.
  4. If you have ½ inch air filters in your furnace, change them monthly. Better yet, upgrade your filter to a 4” thick pleated filter. Not only will this type of filter remove more airborne particles, it only needs to be changed twice a year.
  5. Use bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans to ventilate air.
  6. Regularly clean bedding, drapes and other items that attract allergens in water that is at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. Vacuum carpeting and rugs at least once a week using a vacuum with a HEPA filter to avoid blowing dust back into the air.
  8. More long-term, hard surface flooring will also cut down on allergens.
  9. Use non-toxic cleaning products.
  10. When the weather is mild, open the windows for a little bit.

Improving Indoor Air Quality this Season

Last time we talked about contaminants that can impair indoor air quality.  Here we will discuss ways you can improve indoor air quality, which will result in better health and can also preserve your home.

To review, contaminants include the following:

  1. Mold spores.
  2. Bacteria.
  3. Viruses
  4. Pollen
  5. Gasses that enter homes from the infiltration of polluted outdoor air.  
  6. Particles such as dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets.

Following are some strategies to improve indoor air quality. 

  1. No smoking.  Perhaps the single m most important thing for you to do is to prohibit smoking in your house.  Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals and second hand smoke is especially unhealthy for children.
  2. Keep your floors clean.  Many contaminants make a home on your floor, and can accumulate for decades.  Start by putting floor mats at every door and have people wipe their shoes before entering your home.  Better yet, have them take their shoes off.  Vacuum the floor a few times a week with a vacuum cleaner that has strong suction, rotating brushes and a HEPA filter.   After you vacuum, mop to pick up the dust the vacuum cleaner did not get.  
  3. Keep humidity between 30% and 50%.  The best way to do this is to buy a dehumidifier.  Here are some other ways to keep humidity under control:
    a. Crack a window when cooking, running the dishwasher or bathing
    b. Vent the clothes dryer to the outside
    c. Empty drip pans in your window air conditioner and dehumidifier
    d. Do not overwater plants
    e. Fix leaky plumbing to prevent mold
  4. Test for radon.  Radon is a radioactive gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer.  It generally enters the home through cracks and holes in the foundation.  If your home has radon, contact a professional abatement company.
  5. Be careful with fragrances.  Those lemon and pine scents in everything from laundry products to air fresheners may emit dozens of gasses.  Here are some things you can do:
    a. Avoid aerosol sprays
    b. Buy fragrance-free or naturally scented products
    c. Use mild cleaners that do not have artificial fragrances
    d. Use sliced lemons and baking soda to create a fresh scent…safely
    e. Open  the windows to let in fresh air
  6. Clean and/or replace your furnace air filter.  One-inch air filters should be cleaned or replaced monthly; thicker metal filters every six months.  
  7. Install a recovery ventilator.  This device constantly replaces a small percentage of the air in your home with fresh air from the outside.

Sources of Poor Indoor Air Quality

With winter approaching, you will be spending more time indoors.  Therefore, you will want the air quality in your home to be of higher quality.  Here is what homeowners and businesses in Chcago’s North Shore need to know about Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

Indoor air quality is compromised when contaminants are present.  As all people are different, so too is their sensitivity to contaminants.  But the very young or very old, those suffering from asthma or other respiratory ailments, or anyone with a specific sensitivity will be more susceptible to contaminants in the air.

Contaminants include the following:

  1. Mold.  Mold spores can be a problem if they are allowed to grow and increase in concentration.  Growth requires moisture and a food source (cellulose such as wood framing, paper backing on drywall, etc.).  The food source must remain moist for 72 hours to start the growth and spread of mold.
  2. Bacteria. Bacteria, which can cause such infectious diseases as typhoid fever, pneumonia, and Legionnaires’ disease, can grow on non-living surfaces.
  3. Viruses.  These can cause diseases such as the common cold, influenza, measles, and N1H1.  Viruses often are spread by droplet infection.  A human sneeze can add 100,000 droplets of virus-containing moisture into the air.
  4. Pollen. Trees, flowers, grasses, and weeds produce pollen.  Pollen counts increase in the Midwest from March through September.
  5. Gasses.  There are thousands of gaseous chemicals that can enter homes from the infiltration of polluted outdoor air.  Gasses can come from ozone and radon, from the use of cleaning and personal care products, and from internal combustion sources such as a water heater, furnace, boiler, fireplace, cooktop, or oven.
  6. Particles.  Particle pollution, also known as particulate matter, is a collection of fine solids suspended in the air.  Particles consist of dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets, whose size is measured in microns (one millionth of a meter).  For comparative purposes, the average human hair is about 50 microns in diameter.  Particles ten microns and larger are visible to the naked eye, will fall out of the air within four minutes, and pose little health risk.  Particles less than 10 microns can accumulate in the respiratory system.  Particles less than 2.5 microns, usually in some form of smoke, pose the greatest health risk because of their ability to clog the respiratory system.  Finally, particles smaller than 0.1 microns are small enough to pass through lungs, directly into the blood stream.  Medical research is just now studying the effects of particles of this size on human health.

Next month we will address strategies to improve indoor air quality

Improving Indoor Air Quality

With the miserable weather we are having this winter (cold…snow…snow…cold…), we’ve been spending plenty of time indoors, and breathing the air inside our homes. If the air quality is poor, it can have an impact on your comfort and health. The problem is, if there is an air quality problem, you can’t see it and frequently can’t smell it. But there are some things you can do to prevent air quality problems.

Sources of Air Quality Problems

There are three main sources of air quality problems:

Pollutants, including allergens such as dust and mold, as well as toxins such as chemicals and cleaning agents. Pet dander can also reduce air quality.

Poor ventilation. When it is cold outside, you naturally keep your windows closed. While this keeps your home warmer, the reduced ventilation can cause indoor air pollutants to build up.

Furnace filtration. As your furnace works harder during the cold winter months, dust, mold and other debris can get caught in the air filter.

What You Can Do

There are several things you can do to improve the air quality in your home. Here are a few thoughts that do not have anything to do with your heating system.

Keep your floors (and upholstery and walls) clean

Allergens and toxins accumulate all over the house. Vacuum a few times a week and use a HEPA filter so dust and dirt won’t be blown back into the exhaust. Then mop to get what the vacuum missed. Also, put a floor mat by every door to keep people from tracking in dirt, etc.

No smoking

Experts believe the single largest source of indoor air pollution is secondhand cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals. So if you smoke, try to do it outside.

Cut down on chemicals

Every day items such as laundry detergents, fabric softeners and air fresheners contain harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Even though they may smell nice, they aren’t good for you. So try to eliminate these aromas as much as possible. Only purchase fragrance-free or naturally scented products. Don’t use aerosol sprays. And keep the windows open to let in fresh air to minimize the impact of these harmful VOCs.

Here are a few suggestions related to your heating system.

Clean and or replace the furnace air filter

You should clean or replace one-inch air filters monthly (or every six months for thicker medial filters). This will not only keep the air cleaner, it will allow your furnace to run more efficiently, extending its life. Dirty air filters are the number one reason furnaces break down before they should.


Keeping humidity around 30% to 50% helps reduce the levels of dust and allergens. Installing a dehumidifier can help maintain the proper level of humidity. You can also reduce humidity by opening the window a crack, venting your clothes dryer to the outside, and fixing leaky plumbing to prevent mold.

Install a recovery ventilator

This piece of equipment will allow you to constantly replace a small percentage of the air in your home with fresh air from the outside. The unit contains an air filter and a heat exchanger to reduce energy loss. Get an indoor air inspection Home heating professionals can inspect your home, identify air quality problems, and make suggestions as to how to improve the air quality.

Air Duct Cleaning Tips for Homeowners

They are generally hidden away behind walls or ceilings, or in your furnace room or attic. You don’t think about your home’s air ducts, but they are essential in making sure your home stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Air duct cleaning has never been proven to prevent health problems.  However, clean ducts will make your heating and air conditioning system operate more effectively and could potentially extend its life and improve indoor air quality if other parts of the system are properly maintained.

You should clear your ducts under the following circumstances:

  • There is visible mold growth inside them.
  • They are infested with vermin such as rodents or insects.
  • They are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris.
  • Particles and contaminants are released into the home through registers.

The company performing the duct cleaning services should:

  • Inspect the system to ensure there are no asbestos-containing materials that would require specialized procedures.
  • Use either equipment that exhausts particles outside the home or HEPA vacuuming equipment if exhausted inside the home.
  • Brush duct surfaces along with contact vacuum cleaning to dislodge particles.
  • Use only soft-bristled brushes on fiberglass.
  • Seal any access holes they may have made to ensure the ducts are airtight.
  • Protect flooring and furniture during cleaning.

Cleaning your air ducts can cost up to about $1,000. The exact price is determined by:

  • The size of the system
  • Accessibility
  • Climate
  • Level of contamination

If you are going to have your ducts cleaned, make sure you select a reputable provider. Things you should do:

  • Make sure the company complies with standards issued by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA).
  • If your ducts are constructed with fiberglass or are insulated with fiberglass duct liner, make sure the company complies with North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA) recommendations.
  • Get references from family and friends (references the company will give you will likely be their family and friends).
  • Check Google reviews.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if complaints have been lodged against them.

Once you have done this due diligence, talk to at least three companies and get written estimates. If the estimate is based on hourly charges, get in writing the number of hours the project will take.

Finally, some companies to stay away from:

  • Firms that make claims about the health benefits of professional duct cleaning (per above, there is no proof)
  • Firms that use chemical biocides and treatments
  • Firms that say they can give you an estimate without coming to your home.

Contact Ravinia Plumbing, Sewer, Heating & Electric for HVAC Needs

While Ravinia Plumbing does not perform ductwork, we can inspect, maintain, and repair the rest of your HVAC system. We’ve been in business since 1928, and we’ve made a name for ourselves as one of the most trusted and reliable heating and cooling companies in Chicagoland. Contact Ravinia Plumbing today to schedule an appointment. To find a duct cleaning service, visit the NADCA at

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Ravinia Plumbing, Sewer, Heating & Electric
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P: (847) 579-5565
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