As winter approaches, it will soon be time to batten down the hatches so the warm air stays in and the cold air stays out. Keeping indoor air clean is critical to maintaining a healthy environment. The inner workings of a building’s operating system is often a mystery to the untrained person or board member. What exists in the seemingly endless caverns of a building’s HVAC system, for example, can be surprising—from dead rodents and insects to various forms of dangerous mold.
Since it’s easier to determine the cleanliness of common rooms such as garbage and recycling areas, more attention is often paid to keeping these shared spaces sanitary. However, there are no federal or state guidelines that require a building to have its air ducts cleaned and these systems often need annual attention.
A recent Harvard study showed that 100 percent of homes tested for indoor air pollution had at least one air quality concern—and most had more than one. The following facts are not pleasant, but they underscore the potential health issues associated with poor indoor air quality. For example, it’s estimated that there can be as many as 42,000 dust mites living in every ounce of dust. On average, dust mites leave fecal droppings about 20 times a day. Add mold spores, pet dander and cigarette smoke to the environment and allergens increase exponentially.
“Indoor air is very different than outdoor air,” says Kristy Lee, technical director of Rockville, Maryland-based Indoor Environment Communications.. “Indoor air is not circulating or being refreshed so if there is any kind of problem in a building such as mold or dust or anything like that it becomes an irritant, gets worse and keeps getting circulated throughout the building.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finds that there is not enough knowledge currently to determine whether or not air duct cleaning actually prevents health problems. Additionally, studies have not conclusively demonstrated that particulate levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts. However, the EPA does state that “it makes no sense to clean duct-work if air handlers are left untouched. Air ducts deliver exactly what an air handler drives, and if the duct-work is dirty, so are the air handler’s guts.”