How to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

A guide to getting the most out of the machines that make your home comfortable: air conditioners, air filters, and humidifiers.
Air Conditioners

How clean and comfortable is the air inside your home? Is it too dry? Too hot? Too dusty? You spend the majority of your life indoors, so it's worth it to pay attention to the quality of air in your home, notes Jay Portnoy, MD, chief of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.

There are so many machines available today for the sole purpose of helping us breathe easier indoors. But simply having an air filter doesn't mean your home air quality is perfect. Mold, dust, and other allergens can accumulate in your air conditioner, humidifier, and air filter to make the air you're breathing more polluted than ever. Here's what you need to know to keep these devices clean, efficient, and effective. (Note: In desert regions, mold is not an issue because of the already-low humidity.)

Air Conditioners

What they do: As anyone who lives in a hot-weather climate knows, air-conditioning is a must-have summertime comfort. But did you know that air conditioners do double-duty by cooling the air and also removing moisture so you feel less hot and sticky?

How to use them effectively: To cool down the entire house, central air-conditioning is usually the most effective way to go. Be aware, though, that a central air conditioner that's too powerful for the size of the house will cool the air down quickly, but won't have a chance to remove moisture from the air adequately if that's a concern. If you just want to cool a single room, a less-expensive option is a window-mounted air conditioner (probably too expensive too operate, though, in desert regions).

Safety alert: Because water condenses on an air conditioner's cooling coils, they can be a potential source of mold, Dr. Portnoy notes.

Upkeep tips: Whether you have central air-conditioning or a window unit, air conditioners should be serviced at the beginning of each season by a heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning professional who can clean the coils and make sure they're not contaminated.

Continued on page 2:  Air Filters