Bob Vila on breathing clean air during the heating season

Oct 17, 2014

WRVO's weekly health and wellness show "Take Care," hosts Linda Lowen and Lorraine Rapp speak with home improvement expert Bob Vila about how you can ensure the indoor air you're breathing is as clean and healthy as possible.

Lorraine Rapp: What steps can we take to ensure that we are breathing clean air in our homes?

Bob Vila: It’s very, very important at this point in time to service your heating equipment and that usually involves making sure that the filtration system is up to snuff and that the filters have been replaced. And the other part of the equation has to do with your duct work. Depending on the age of the house and the conditions, sometimes the duct work gets dirty and it’s a very important thing to know about that and to keep it clean if it’s necessary.

Linda Lowen: I was always afraid if I did blow out the duct work, it would only increase the dust in the house.

Vila: Well you wouldn’t be blowing it out. You’d be vacuuming it basically. It’s not a DIY kind of thing. You do want to have a professional outfit come to investigate.

Rapp: Is that something you can just eyeball it yourself? Could it be hidden in the pipes that you’re just not seeing?

Vila: It can be hidden. One of the critical things is, how old is your house? If you’re in a 10 or 15 year old house, you probably don’t have much of an issue. If you’re in an older house, you could in fact have accumulations.

Lowen: So when we are talking about the choices for the do-it-yourselfer who says, “I’m going to go in there and fiddle around with my furnace,” there are choices in filters. There’s the standard fiberglass, I’ve seen the pleated paper, electrostatic, HEPA filters. There is a significant difference in filtration in each of those types or are they specific to certain types of things that their removing from the air?

Vila: No, they’re all trying to do everything at once. It’s just a question of which ones do the best job. And, I mean, HEPA certified filtration, I’ve always thought, is the best way to go. You go to the big box home improvement center, you will see all the different types of available filters. Obviously the key thing is to make sure you’re getting the right sized ones, but also to spring for the high quality ones, especially if you have family members with allergy issues or any kind of breathing difficulties, an asthmatic child -- all of these different things are factors that you need to consider.

Lowen: If you have a family member who suffers from allergies, is a filter attached to your furnace going to do the job or should you look into additional supplemental air filtration systems, like something in the room?

Vila: You definitely should be looking at additional air filtration systems. There’s two things, look for a quality HEPA rated filtration system. But one of the other things to keep in mind is your décor, your interiors. The more fabric, the more rugs, the more curtains, the more falderol there is to catch dust. I like to suggest that you think minimalism in this respect.

Lowen: Bob, is there a way to test for air quality? Is that a do-it-yourselfer project or do you have to call in a professional?

Vila: The first thing that comes to mind is humidity. The ideal humidity rate ought to be somewhere between 30 and 50 percent, that’s the ideal range. And if it gets above that range, you’re creating a habitat for harmful stuff; mold and mildew, etc. So, something to keep in mind during the heating season. Many of today’s modern, tightly built, super insulated homes don’t have as many air changes happening as we did with older kind of drafty, leaky houses as they might be referred to. You want to make sure that there are enough air changes occurring. These are all factors to consider in terms of respiratory health and air quality.

More of this interview can be heard on "Take Care," WRVO's health and wellness show Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Support for this story comes from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York.