Most Nebraskans are well aware of the “freshness” of the air as the snow crunches under their feet during the winter. That air is sort of like opening a freezer door on a blistering hot summer day and inhaling that cold air from the freezer. That special freshness is readily apparent. Why is that?

That air seems fresher because of the contrast in temperature between it and what our bodies are used to. Not as apparent are the pollens and other contaminants in the air that are absent during cold winter days and from freezers. That air is substantially cleaner and fresher than what is typically breathed.

If we could see the contaminants in the air we breathe, it may cause us to hold our breath for a moment or two! It’s full of nasty stuff like dust, pollens, pet dander, dust mites, skin particles, and the list goes on. We need to breathe, so the solution is to clean up the air to a level that will promote better health. Improving the air we breathe means becoming more familiar with a fairly common term called Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).

Understanding IAQ is incredibly important because the quality of our air has a profound relationship with our health. I first began researching IAQ over 30 years ago and have worked diligently to improve air quality for others. It’s a passion that is worth sharing and many of my articles since 2001 have included IAQ topics.

Since John Henry's Plumbing, Heating, Air, and Electrical are experts in IAQ, we have a well-designed heating and air conditioning system supplying our offices. It’s the right thing to do for the health of our employees. It’s also important because studies indicate overall worker productivity increases in buildings that meet IAQ standards.

Let’s start with the basic concept that indoor air is typically filthy, but not as filthy as outdoor air. I cringe when people say they sleep with a window open for fresh air because that “fresh” air is loaded with nasty contaminants and pollens. Open windows make homes dirtier, and lungs suffer too as they filter out contaminants.

Only a good air filtration system will properly filter out all the nasty stuff. That air filtration works best IF the furnace fan is running full time (not automatic mode on T-Stat) and constantly scrubbing the air. It keeps homes cleaner too!

The best method of supplying fresh air is to have a separate makeup air system that brings in filtered fresh air while discharging stale indoor air. Bringing in more air than what is discharged provides a positive building pressure, which reduces air infiltration.

The makeup air unit at John Henry's Plumbing, Heating, Air, and Electrical has done a great job of scrubbing the air and diluting VOCs. VOCs are commonly all around us. The best way to describe VOCs is when you purchase a new item and are greeted with a strong chemical odor as you remove the packaging. That VOC odor is the off gassing of chemicals that were used to make that product. VOC off-gassing reduces over time but will always be present. The harmful effects of VOCs damage our lungs, organs, and overall health.

VOC producers include a multitude of things like paint, formaldehyde in building products like carpet, cleaning chemicals, and the list goes on. John Henry's Plumbing, Heating, Air, and Electrical reduces VOC levels from chemicals by eliminating air fresheners, and candles, using safe cleaning chemicals and eliminating anything that produces VOCs at a higher level.

It’s not realistic to avoid VOCs completely, but we can reduce the effects by improving makeup air. Are there chemicals in your home or business that could be eliminated?

Do you work in a “sick” building? Has your employer made a reasonable effort to improve the IAQ in your building? Do they maintain the heating and cooling system regularly? Has the ductwork been cleaned every three to five years or as necessary? Have they balanced the airflows? Do they meet basic OSHA guidelines of 68 to 78 degrees for temperature (68 to 78 degrees) and 30% to 60% relative humidity required for proper IAQ?

Professional IAQ support is available from experts such as OSHA, the City of Lincoln Health Department, professional engineers, and licensed HVAC contractors.

If an employee complains about reasonable IAQ issues, it makes sense to thank them and then make improvements that can improve the health of everyone involved. By working together reasonable solutions can take place.

Here’s to a healthier, happier, and more comfortable life!

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