Home breathing environment: Recirculated air

To recirculate or not is the question.

There has been some discussion in the news as of late about the riding environment inside the automobile and how placing the atmospheric control to the “recirculate” setting, can result in marked improvement in interior air quality (when windows are in the fully closed position) compared to switching the said atmospheric control to the “fresh air” setting, which allows air from outside to enter the vehicle’s cabin.

So, I’m thinking: If this feature is available on motor vehicles, is it not also available with regard to the home?

If you live in an area that is known to have a problem with outdoor air pollution, the last thing I think one would want or should have to deal with is that pollution which is outside, also coming inside.

It is common to have devices (exhaust fans) located throughout the home for the purpose of venting, let’s call them fumes, from the bathroom and kitchen, especially, to the outside air.

So, in a motor vehicle, when I think about the atmospheric control set to the “fresh air” position, this provision in essence is doing what an exhaust fan inside the home is doing in reverse. When I drive, I never set said atmospheric control to the “fresh air” position for this very reason.

So, why would I want such a feature for my home? I wouldn’t.

However, when using the air conditioning (cooling) and heating systems during the times of the year when needed, depending upon the system design, outside air could be drawn indoors during said systems use.

The previous combined cooling and heating system at my residence did just that. It was only after the system, which was in the home for perhaps twenty years, went kaput that it needed to be replaced. The system was supplanted with one whereby outside air is not drawn indoors when in use. This has really made a positive difference.

In fact, on a printed circuit board that I once had to have changed out when the prior system was in use, interestingly, there was a filter attached to the board itself. This filter had become so blackened from air that passed through it, that, my guess, it was no longer effective at doing whatever it was that it was initially designed to do. In areas where dirty air isn’t a problem using a system designed this way might not be so much an issue. But, in regions like mine where pollution in the air is a regular occurrence, to me, putting in this type of system makes little sense. Yet, this was the system that was installed in this tract home when originally built. The presumption is: this was the standard model used in homes within the same tract built by the same home builder/developer.

The point I’m trying to make here is that if there is a feature/provision available on said heating and/or cooling systems to seal off the outside air, stopping such from coming inside, especially during times when air pollution is at a heightened concentration, this would be most welcome.

I mean, if this is available in the motor vehicle domain, logic would have it that such a feature/provision would also be available to the home if this is not the case already.

Seems like a no-brainer if you ask me.

Image above: U.S. National Institutes of Health: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

– Alan Kandel

6 thoughts on “Home breathing environment: Recirculated air”

  1. On the surface it seems like a good idea to close off the polluted outdoor air.
    But there are some practicalities to consider.

    Cars these days are quite airtight when you place the air control lever to the recirculate position with all the windows up, and don’t be funny I am not talking about cars with retractable tops 😉
    We know this by having to give the doors a much harder slam to get them to close when it is all closed up. Crack a window and they shut much easier.

    However, you cannot make a house this airtight. Negative pressure inside the house will suck in outdoor air. There are nearly always leaks somewhere, eg around windows and doors, through ceiling penetrations for light fittings and vent fans. A lot of these penetrations vent into the roof cavity that is not airtight.
    To prove a point you would die if you lived in a house that was totally sealed!

    It has been common practice for authorities to try and drive us inside when it is smoky outside….so forestry can carry on with their planned burning to get rid of their logging residue.
    They only think of the dollar; sure it is cheaper and easier to set a match to it and make heaps of smoke!

    However, it is widely recognized that air inside a house can be 5 times more polluted compared to clean outdoor air anyway. VOCs are being released from paints and soft furnishings and, there are cooking odours, cleaning odours, etc. to name a few.

    This also applies to buildings as well and we must consider building codes that stipulate that there must be a certain percentage of make-up ‘fresh’ air coming into a building. Most buildings are not fitted with super HEPA filters or activated carbon filters which are required to remove toxic fumes that glom onto the smoke particulates.

    In homes it is recognized that we will get at best a few hours relief from outdoor smoke with the house all closed up, but eventually the ratio will end up 1:1, it will reach unity inside air to outside air if we cannot ventilate the house at some time.

    Yes there are things that we can do like putting in split heating/cooling systems that do not draw in outdoor air, this will help, but really it all comes down to stopping the smoke at the source.

  2. In my neighborhood, there are any number of sources of air pollution. Cars and trucks passing by on neighborhood roads, smoke from burning wood in home fireplaces pouring out chimneys, smells from the farm permeating the air at times drifting past, smoke and dust flareups from yard maintenance activities, tobacco smoke is a regular fixture, cooking odors from outdoor barbecues whether from food cooking on the grill or from the source that provides the heat that cooks the food – a veritable cornucopia of smoke, fumes and other odoriferous smells, any one of or a combination of which can be unpleasant. Retreating to the indoors can and does provide escape and a break from such.

    Truth be told, I would rather be indoors when the pollution becomes somewhat more than I bargained for.

    And, when the air outside is polluted to the point where it has reached the unhealthy for sensitive individuals level or worse, it is very rare that I can be found outdoors at all during these times.

    The best remedy of course is to make the great escape and drive to the coast – about 140 miles away. But, that means getting in the car and driving and doing this adds to the pollution already in the air. So, these trips for me occur only occasionally.

    • I am sorry to hear people are fouling up your air to the point where you have to live inside Alan or drive for miles to get away from it.
      Have you ever asked your EPA to do A Q monitoring at your place?
      Does your EPA or councils have by-laws to protect the many people like you from the polluters?
      It was like it here with all these things you speak about until a determined campaign was launched to stop all their muck from fouling our lungs.
      It is a long campaign, not for the feint-hearted and many people will drop off along the way, but it is a fight worth fighting for in the end.

      • Clive. One organization I’m familiar with is the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. The organization has two locations: Oakland and Delano – both in California.

        I’ve never thought about reaching out. It’s just something I’ve never considered until I read your comment.

        Secondly, if either the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District or the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board wished to set up a monitor in my neighborhood, they have my blessing. I’m not sure how practical having a monitor in my own yard would be. That said, there is a school located very nearby. Placing one on the school grounds to me would make the most sense as this should provide an indication of the daily concentrations of fine particulate matter and/or ozone pollution that the school children are being exposed to – at least during weekdays. What I know is that there is a monitor located at Sierra Sky Park. This is the closest monitor to where I live, and, as far as I’m aware, it only measures the concentration of area ozone in the air.

        I’ve been writing on air quality matters for quite a long time now – five-plus-years on the Air Quality Matters blog alone and before this at the California Progress Report and at Examiner.com.

        As an aside, The Fresno Bee did an extensive in-depth report on air quality in the San Joaquin Valley back on Dec. 16, 2007 entitled: “Fighting For Air.” I was really hoping another such report was published this year, exactly 10 years later. I want to know specifically from an air-quality standpoint, what has changed (meaning, what progress has been made in terms of addressing the deleterious air pollution issue the San Joaquin Valley contends with year in and year out) and what has remained the same.

        It’s been 10 years since the “Fighting For Air” installment. A follow-up report in my opinion is long overdue.

        • Alan I had a quick look and it seems like these are the people responsible for your air monitoring https://www3.epa.gov/region9/air/quality/index.html

          I couldn’t find it but I assume your EPA air quality people are posting their air quality readings real-time to the web for everyone to see?

          It would be normal for them to provide a map so you can look at every air monitoring station’s readings. This way you would also know where the air monitoring stations are and what they are recording.

          People need to be able to see what the current readings are (updated every 10 minutes or so) for PM10 and PM2.5’s, not just a colour coded AQI figure!

          I mentioned the downfall of AQI in another post to you. Along with this they should be reporting real-time meteorological data. One is meaningless without the other.

          Monitoring at your place:

          If you are being confined to indoors because of the ambient air quality being unsatisfactory then you should ask these people to undertake a study. They can do this either with a vehicle mounted monitor or place a portable monitor at your place for a period of time. It doesn’t have to be a costly fixed (permanent) monitoring station. They should be able to do the same at the school.

          The other way is to buy your own monitor like i did. http://www.dylosproducts.com/dcproairqumo.html

          I agree, 10 years is way to long for an updated report. Sometimes we have to make noises to keep these things happening.

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