As temperatures begin to slide in the weeks ahead, homeowners may be thinking about preparing their homes for winter.

And interior air quality and sanitation may be even more important now that the spread of the coronavirus – which can be transmitted through tiny respiratory droplets in the air – is such a prevalent worry.

In his work as service manager for McFarlane’s Heating and Cooling, Craig Larson has noticed customers are increasingly cautious because of the pandemic, he said. “People are quite a bit more concerned about air quality.”

But, actually, “it’s important every day,” said Larson, who has 33 years’ experience in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning industry.

Fall is a good time to take a look at your furnace’s air filter – and not just once.

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“I tell people, when you pay your light bill, you should check your air filter to see if it’s dirty or not,” Larson said. A dirty filter can cause components to “plug up,” he said.

A clogged air filter restricts airflow, which puts additional strain on the air handler fan motor and could, over time, burn out the motor and cause the HVAC system to overheat and ultimately fail. Dirty air filters not only waste money on energy costs, but also the damage they can cause is sometimes irreparable.

A furnace inspection, which takes from 60 to 90 minutes, can be done “anytime from September to all the way through the winter,” Larson said.

McFarlane technicians use a 20-point checklist to assess how well various components are functioning. They check the amp draw – or the amount of power being consumed by an electrical device – the burners, heat exchanger and electrical connections, he said.

The McFarlane company specializes in Bryant heating and cooling equipment, which includes an electronic air filter that captures and kills 99% of the coronavirus particles in the air, Larson said.

For homeowners looking for more extensive air-quality screening, a photoionization detector can be used to measure volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and other gases. This instrument provides “a complete readout of everything that’s going on in the home,” Larson said.

Humidity level

Air quality and personal comfort are also affected by the humidity level – living in an excessively dry home can be a drawback, Larson stressed.

“If you walk across the carpet and you get an electric shock,” it’s a sign that a bypass humidifier is needed, he said. McFarlane personnel can install this equipment that, when the heat is turned on, adds moisture to the circulating air.

“It mounts on the side of the ductwork,” he said.

On the other hand, too much moisture can also pose problems, Larson said. The more moisture you have, the more likely you are to have problems like excess moisture forming on the inside of windows. Excess moisture can also lead to mold issues in the home.

“Once you find mold, you want to get a mold remediation company, like Steamatic, to remove it,” he said. A company of that kind “would spray another neutralizer on it,” and the homeowner should then use a UV light or ionizer to alleviate the problem and help prevent it.

During his career, Larson has often seen people who purchase older homes and install an exterior house wrap product, high-efficiency windows and more insulation, which creates a home “like a sealed box,” he said. In such an environment “where you shower, you cook, moisture builds. They used to call it ‘sick air syndrome.’ ”

Another option for improving in-home air quality is a heat recovery ventilation system, which uses the heat in stale exhaust air to preheat incoming fresh air, Larson said. This reduces the energy required to bring outside air up to ambient room temperature, saving money on heating bills.

Calculating the fresh air requirements of a home, as well as proper placement of ducts, isn't easy, so that’s best left to licensed HVAC installers.

Aside from enlisting professional HVAC services, the consumers can – on their own – improve indoor air quality using UV light sanitizers, ionic air purifiers, or electronic air filters, Larson said.

Ultraviolet germicidal light deactivates the DNA of bacteria, germs, allergens, viruses and other pathogens, thereby destroying their ability to multiply and cause disease.