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Health

Home handyman Bob Vila gives us tips on indoor air quality

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It’s getting cold in here and that means it’s time to come inside, close the windows and turn on the heat. And when you turn on the heat, the air filter in your furnace kicks into high gear -- filtering out particles and allergens so clean air can circulate through your home.

This week on Take Care, we speak with home improvement expert Bob Vila. When it comes to providing trusted and reliable information to homeowners, Vila may be the most recognized name in home remodeling. He has nearly 30 years under his tool belt as America’s handyman host and he shares his suggestions for breathing the cleanest, healthiest air in our homes.

Vila says it’s very important at this point in the season to service your home heating system. That means a few different things. First, making sure that your filter is either clean or recently replaced and working. Vilas says you can find several different kinds of available filters at your local big-box home improvement store. Consider size (many furnaces require different size filters) and quality. Any HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) certified filters are your best bet, according to Vila.

One option that requires little work on your part is to have the heating company that installed your system  change out the filters twice a year. An added bonus is that they’ll likely look over the entire system while they’re there.

The second thing to worry about is 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,” said Vila.

Some older homes have very elaborate (and beautiful) duct work. These systems can have a lot of bent and shaped steel and therefore a lot of dust build-up because of that. Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of taking a flashlight to your vents and peering in – sometimes the dust and allergens can be hidden. Vila notes that having your duct work vacuumed is a job best left to the professionals.

Types of filters

There are many types of filters available for your home heating system: fiberglass, pleated paper, electrostatic, HEPA and more. Vila says every type of filter tries to “do everything at once,” removing allergens, dust and organic materials – but some are better than others. Simple, less expensive filters (which can be washed out with a hose) do a fairly decent job, but HEPA certified filters work best, he says.

Most filters are in a cardboard frame, so make sure you get the right size. Otherwise, the filter can be cut to fit.

Ah-choo!

If you have a family member with allergies or difficulties breathing, Vila says you will want to look into supplemental forms of filtration. There are lots out on the market and they range in price. Vila recommends two things to think about when a member of your family is allergy prone.

“Look for a quality HEPA rated filtration system,” Vila says. “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.”

If you want to step your air quality up a notch, try introducing a few plants into your indoor spaces and always use natural products in your home, Vila recommends.

Humidity is key

The ideal humidity rate for interior spaces is between 30 and 50 percent, says Vila. A simple meter can tell you where you fall on the spectrum. As soon as you exceed that range, you create a habitat for harmful organic particles like mold and mildew. Don’t let your home turn into a petri dish.

“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,” Vila says.

And Vila says the company that provides you fuel (or your HVAC contractor) will most likely be able to perform an air quality audit so you can be sure your home is healthy.