How to Improve Your Home’s Ventilation

a variety of differnet pipes and joints used for a home ventilation systemBut it’s not always just a simple matter of opening up a few windows. Instead, homes suffer from poor ventilation largely because of design flaws that inhibit air flow. Both newer and older homes can have ventilation problems, especially when it comes to apartment buildings or closely-set townhomes (in other words, buildings that were designed with the primary objective of maximum units).

That being said, new buildings may be more likely than older ones to have bad ventilation. This is because they are both more air-tight than older homes and were designed with modern air conditioning and fans in mind. Furthermore, old buildings were often constructed without dense insulation. While the lack of drafty spaces in modern homes is certainly a benefit, it doesn’t necessarily bode well for airflow.

But the importance of good air flow goes beyond comfort, and the good news is that there are various things you can do to improve your home’s ventilation. By learning more about the science behind home ventilation, health effects, and the different ventilation options available today, you can save both your home and yourself from some serious problems later on.

The Importance of Ventilation in a Home

Just to make it clear&emdash;air ventilation refers to the movement of air within a space. While temperature can definitely be affected by ventilation (as will be discussed further down), air temperature is not necessarily the same thing. Here’s why ventilation is so important in your home.

Provides Air Regulation

Well-ventilated homes have outside air moving in and out, keeping interior spaces fresh. Air in any room picks up dust and other impurities, and therefore, it is important for stagnant air to move out. This is why modern vehicles and airplanes have specially designed ventilation systems that keep air circulating during travel.

It should also go without saying that people or pets in a space release carbon dioxide during breathing. The cycling of air in and out of a space is therefore necessary to make sure you and your family members are getting enough oxygen.

Reduces Impurities

a city covered in a fog of air pollutionAir impurities are also fittingly referred to as “air pollutants”. In most cases, these pollutants are invisible to the naked eye. However, if you have poor ventilation, what you can’t see may be negatively affecting your health, furniture, and even the walls. That’s because stagnant air results in dust, dirt, dead skin cells, toxic vapors, cooking spray residue, radon, chemicals, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and other impurities building up over time. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that bad air flow can make the air inside your home 70 percent more polluted than outdoors.

Fortunately, a properly ventilated home keeps air pollutants from sticking around for long. When “polluted” air is pushed out efficiently, these impurities don’t have a chance to linger around on furniture or get breathed in by you.

Keeps Homes Cooler

Even if you have air conditioning, bad air ventilation is probably the reason why your home still feels warm and stuffy. That’s because air conditioning vents only cool the area directly around them. Without air circulating evenly throughout your home, cool air cannot travel to each space.

Similar rules apply to windows. You can crack every window in your home, but the interiors won’t feel much cooler if those windows are not laid out well. Small apartments or condos with windows only on one side are particularly affected.

Helps Control Moisture

If you’ve ever taken a shower and forgotten to put the bathroom fan on, you’ve most likely seen condensation form on the mirror or walls. If you see moisture beading up on any surfaces of your home, it’s a telltale sign that you need to take action.

Good air flow wards off problems like mold and mildew, which can occur even in more arid climates. Let the problem go too long, and you may actually be looking at drywall replacement, among a plethora of other issues.

Provides Health Benefits

One of the biggest benefits of all is good ventilation’s ability to cleanse the air in your home of pollutants. Not only is breathing in stagnant air cause all kinds of health problems, but those same harmful pollutants can also seep into your skin. Both kinds of intake can cause You need good ventilation to dilute these pollutants and deliver fresh, clean air to everyone living in your home.

a woman holding glasses in one hand and pinching the bridge of her nose with the otherIn addition to pollutants, consider what oxygen depletion and carbon dioxide buildup can do alone. Both can result in headaches, fatigue, muscular atrophy, and shortness of breath. While these health problems may seem a bit extreme, they’re definitely not unheard of in those who have lived in poorly ventilated homes for long periods of time.

Home Ventilation Options

No matter what kind of home you live in, the good news is that you have options to improve ventilation. The exact options available to you will depend on a number of factors, such as the type of building you live in and whether you rent or own.

Home mechanical ventilation systems can take on a variety of forms. Generally, they can be organized into four different categories:

Exhaust-Only Mechanical Ventilation

You’re probably most familiar with this setup via the common household bathroom exhaust fan. This small exhaust fan can be switched on as needed to run either intermittently or continuously to push out air and moisture. The resulting pressure in the space then pulls in fresh air through door and window gaps, cracks, and even intentionally-placed air inlets.

This is a simple strategy that can provide good ventilation on a budget, but it’s worth noting that is does have some disadvantages. Radon and other potentially harmful gasses (pollutants) can be pulled into the air from cracks in the walls, thanks to the negative pressure created from the exhaust fan. Exhaust-only mechanical ventilation is also only a small-scale, temporary solution. These small fans are not generally designed to ventilate an entire house.

Supply-Only Mechanical Ventilation

This setup is essentially the reverse of exhaust-only methods. Instead of pushing out air, the fan draws it in and creates pressure that pushes old air out. This ventilation system can be expanded beyond just one room through different air ducts connected throughout the home.

The main disadvantage here is that moisture-filled air and pollutants can potentially be pushed into walls and trapped there. That said, the outward-pushing pressure can help keep radon and other pollutants out of the house much better than exhaust-only systems.

Balanced Ventilation

a man's hands wearing gloves and intalling an exhaust vent in a homeThis is a combination system of both air intake and exhaust through the means of separate fans. There are more options here when it comes to installation, as you can decide where exactly you would like fresh air coming in and where the exhaust is. Many people choose to have the intake ducts in more “popular” rooms like the living room and bedrooms while the exhaust ducts are placed in rooms that gather moisture and pollutants more easily, like the kitchen and bathroom.

While many balanced ventilation systems are ducted, others are “point sourced”. These setups are more exhaust based and can be switched on and off as needed.

Balanced Ventilation with Heat Recovery

Those in colder climates who are concerned about keeping rooms warm should look to a balanced heat recovery system. In this setup, the exhaust and intake fans are located together with the addition of a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV). Also sometimes known as an “air-to-air heat exchanger”, this system allows for constant air circulation that preconditions outside air as it enters the home.

If you live in a dry climate, you may want to look at a similar setup with an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV). In addition to transferring heat, this system also works to trap moisture. It keeps your home at a desirable humidity level while still keeping it warm.

Other Easy Ways to Ventilate Your Home

If you’re looking for more immediate ways to improve your home’s ventilation, you have quite a few options. These methods are also considerably lower cost than installing a whole new mechanical ventilation system or altering your home’s structural design.

Open Your Windows

While not always practical depending on the weather, opening up your windows is a way to instantly get some fresh air. The effectiveness of this will depend on the size of the windows, how much they can open up, and their exact placement in a room. Using window fans can greatly amp up the available ventilation, especially when you don’t get good cross-breezes throughout your home.

Use Exhaust Fans Already in the Home

Most homes built within the past 50 years already have some kind of exhaust fan in them. While most common in the bathroom, these fans are also placed in kitchens. A lot of people also have attic exhaust fans to help prevent dust buildup and to keep air flowing while they are up there.

In bathrooms and kitchens, it’s generally recommended that these fans be run for at least 20 minutes following showers and cooking sessions. However, you can use them to help improve ventilation in your home as a whole by running them for short periods of time with all the doors open.

Turn on Fans

a close up of four buttons on a pedestal fan labeled 0-3Running some fans around your home is not only highly cost-effective, but it gives you the convenience of being able to move things around as needed. Of course, there are a lot of different fans available today.

For bedrooms, dens and living rooms, a medium-to-large sized pedestal fan or tower fan can be a great way to circulate air, especially if the model rotates. Modern bladeless fans can also work really well in these areas (and they’re often quieter), but it’s worth pointing out that they are more costly. Desk fans and other small-scale fans work well for tighter spaces, but they won’t provide good ventilation for your home as a whole.

If you’re looking for a more permanent option, opt for a ceiling fan. This type is also less noticeable because it is overhead, and it can cool a large amount of space more evenly than portable fan models.

Box fans, meanwhile, are great choices for garage spaces and other areas where you may want maximum cooling in addition to exhaust or ventilation power. However, these might not be ideal in terms of noise.

Buy an Air Purifier

Fans aren’t the only way to go for portable air ventilation. The great thing about purifiers is that they don’t blast cold air like fans do, making them ideal for winter and cold-weather climates. Instead, they filter in surrounding air to remove pollutants like dirt, dust, mold, pollen, pet dander, VOCs, and so on.

The downside here is that purifiers are usually a lot more expensive than fans. That said, they’re still more affordable than a whole new mechanical ventilation system.

Keep Houseplants

Houseplants are nature’s way of air purification. They take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, trapping air impurities in the process. Plus, who can argue that they don’t look more pleasant around your home than electric devices?

Some of the best plants for air purification are English ivy, snake plants, Barberton daisies, chrysanthemums, Chinese evergreen, and a variety of ferns. They also require very simple care.

Now, with houseplants you will need to be concerned with excess moisture. It’s a good idea to choose some houseplants that don’t need to be watered often. Aloe vera plants, cacti, and palms are great options here.

Conclusion

three potted houseplants sitting on a window sillNever forget that what works for your friend or neighbor may not be right for you. Improving your home’s ventilation means taking some time to get to know your home and how air naturally flows (or doesn’t) in it. Especially when it comes to using individual fans and purifiers, it may take some trial and error before figuring out the best setup.

Even those who do invest in an extensive mechanical ventilation setup may still want to take some smaller steps. After all, it’s very likely that there are nooks and crannies in your home where your central system cannot easily reach. And if you can swing it, it’s always a good idea to have well-running exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom.

If you do still smell odors or feel that the air is stuffy long after you’ve taken some corrective measures, then the problem may be more severe than just poor ventilation. Don’t be afraid to call in an expert to take a look.