Airing (and sharing) some thoughts about indoor air quality

I have put off discussing indoor air quality long enough. That changes today.

California right now is feeling the effects of a cold front that has swept down out of the Gulf of Alaska driving nighttime temperatures into the low-to-mid-twenties over much of the San Joaquin Valley floor. Many, it seems, are right now relying on a fireplace fire to keep warm. I noticed there was a considerable amount of smoke in the outside air yesterday evening.

Inside my own home, there is a natural gas insert inside the fireplace. I am not the home’s original owner but for as long as I’ve been living here, this device has never worked. A field representative from the local utility company evaluated the device but, apparently, could not determine what the cause of failure was, so I made the decision to not have the gas insert repaired. In addition, in the past, anytime during winter months when the outside air became particularly heavy with wood smoke, due to a chimney downdraft, the corresponding wood-smoke odor entered the house. The chimney is now sealed off to prevent this situation from occurring.

Over time, the house has settled. As a result, there are cracks in the walls, door frames are out of square and as a result of that, there are air leaks. One solution that has worked to minimize such leaks is the placement of exterior molding around the outside of doors along the jambs to cut down on that leakage. On the front door, the placement of this molding has to be just right. If a proper seal between the molding and the door isn’t made, then either too much air leakage results or the molding gets pressed up against the door itself, such that the door can’t be locked. So a happy medium has to be found, which it has.

In addition to this is the home air heating and cooling system. When said system is in use, outside air is drawn into the house. So, whatever happens to be in the outside air at the time will be drawn indoors. One of the obvious drawbacks of using a system of this nature.

In the case of heating, to compensate, interior electric space heaters take up the slack in this regard. This cuts down on the amount of electricity that would otherwise be used to run the principal heating unit. Space heaters provide warmth without negatively affecting indoor air quality.

Finally, there are exhaust fans in four rooms (the kitchen, bathrooms and utility room) to help exhaust unpleasant odors to the air outdoors. Sure, indoor air fresheners can be used, and are. Mildly scented candles seem to suffice just fine.

Incidentally, indoor air purifiers are available, but I’ve not done enough research on these so as to learn which ones add ozone to the indoor air and which do not. It’s probably worth further investigation and a follow-up report.

– Alan Kandel

2 thoughts on “Airing (and sharing) some thoughts about indoor air quality”

  1. Good article Alan. I too have wood smoke stench in my area. I have taken some precautions, and practice other ideas to improve overall indoor air quality:

    A) Installed a HEPA filter on my furnace blower, which can be set to ‘manual run’ mode for about an hour (this brings down the particulate level indoors)

    B) Activated charcoal absorbs odors. A tray can be placed in the furnace plenum (a means is necessary to keep the charcoal from flying around)

    C) Do any pan-frying out in the garage. I have a table set up out there for that purpose

    D) Keep my oven, stove top, and pots and pans spotlessly clean (use heavy-duty Easy-Off to remove burned-on fat spills

    E) If a recipe calls for a 400 degree oven temp, I just use 325 degrees and bake for a longer time (fat reaches it’s smoke point at about 365) at 325, there is no smell in the house from burned fat (which is actually foul-smelling ‘acrolein,’ an immune system-surpressor)

    F) Use a ‘buffer’ system of entering the house through the side door in my attached garage, rather than the front door (which would let a big whoosh of bad outdoor air get into the house)

    G) As for outdoor yard work, I guess I will have to buy a charcoal gas mask at an army-surplus store (or possibly a automotive painter’s supply store)

    cheers and breathe clean air

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