Although this summer’s wildfires have yet to affect Western Washington, recent years have shown that smoke and bad air quality could be on the horizon — both figuratively and literally.
Fortunately, with Barron Heating AC Electrical & Plumbing’s commitment to ‘WholeHome’ comfort, health, and energy solutions, local residents have multiple ways to combat bad air if it shows up in our neck of the woods.
“It seems like the ‘once-a-decade’ experience is happening every other year now,” says Merrill Bevan, Barron’s chief operating officer. “And while it wasn’t as intense last year in the PNW, if you follow the news, you know it’s happening across the country, and we could be in store for a tough smoke season.”
Ensuring your home’s air quality stays high when outdoor air indexes drop is obviously important for both comfort and health. And how to do so can be thought of in three general categories: sealing, filtration, and cooling.
#1 A Sealed Home
Most homes — especially those built more than 30 years ago — have cracks, joints, and other small openings in walls and duct work where air can flow through. Some of this has to do with changes in codes related to building homes; some has to do with good old wear and tear.
When smoke envelops the area around such a porous home, it can and will infiltrate those holes — many of which can be found in attics and crawl spaces — and worsen indoor air quality.
“Sealing the home, a.k.a. “weatherizing it,” is a really important step in keeping the smoke out,” says Bevan, who lives in an early 1900s-built Victorian that had no shortage of holes in its weather barrier. “When one of our Energy Advisors performed a Home Performance Test at my house using a ‘blower door”, I was stunned by how leaky my house was; it was almost four times leakier than the minimum code requirement for new homes.”
Barron offers attic and crawl space restorations that seal (also known as “weatherize”) all those openings, creating an air-tight envelope. And while many people think about leaky air ducts in terms of heat escaping, the opposite can also be true: negative pressure created by a leaky home can pull in unhealthy air from the attic or crawl spaces.
Barron repairs leaky ductwork with a technology called Aeroseal — developed in partnership with the Department of Energy
“Aeroseal® repairs duct leakage by basically sealing duct work from the inside out,” Bevan says. “It’s the number one thing you can do for heating efficiency and cooling efficiency in your home, and it also really helps keep the smoke out.”
Aeroseal doesn’t just seal duct work — it also repairs it. If you do opt for this service, Bevan recommends doing traditional air duct cleaning at the same time for maximum effectiveness.
“Our customers often share with us that the results can be like living in a new home,” says Bevan.
In general, air ducts should be cleaned every five years at minimum, or more frequently if renovations have produced more dust than usual. The same goes for if you have pets that shed hair.
The Barron team commonly hears three big benefits from their customers when it comes to repairing leaky ducts: the home is more comfortable, is healthier, and that their utility costs are considerably lower.
#2: Filter the Air
While filtration on its own can be of some help to indoor air quality, a properly sealed home maximizes the efficiency of whatever filtration your home has.
Standard air filters are typically put on the intake side of a furnace, where return air enters the machine. But these standard filters are mostly designed to protect the equipment, like an air filter in a car, and not necessarily helping you with indoor air quality. Opting instead for higher-rated MERV and HEPA filtration can help indoor air, removing not only smoke particles but also allergens, dust, and pet dander.
HEPA filtration is especially helpful and can be installed either in the duct itself or as a standalone installation when the home uses ductless mini-splits, Bevan says. He has two different HEPA filtration areas in his home: one upstairs and one downstairs. Having sealed his home prior, the filtration worked at its most effective levels.
After sealing his home and making these filtration changes, Bevan’s wife, for the first time in memory, found herself free from the work-cancelling illnesses she seemed to get every June.
“I’m not a doctor and I’m not a scientist, but that correlation didn’t miss me,” Bevan says.
For those interested in filtration, Barron offers an Ultimate Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) package that provides a combination of HEPA filtration, air purification and other filtering upgrades. The most effective combination for your home, of course, will depend on its size and the location of the systems requiring filters.
#3: Staying Cool
Because smoke season usually arrives in hot weather, those without air conditioning are usually presented poor options: suffer with clean air that’s hot or open a window and cool your home with less-than-pleasant air.
With a cooling system, however, this is no longer a worry. Whether it’s straight AC or the installation of a dual-purpose electric heat pump with AC, Barron will have you covered.
“Air conditioning is what makes your home livable in hot weather once you’ve sealed and filtered it,” Bevan says.
Once you’ve added air conditioning to a sealed and filtered home, he adds, you’ve truly done your best to create the best indoor air quality when outdoor air is bad.
Deals and Lead Times
With the summer’s hottest weather still to come, now is the time to consider maintenance or potential upgrades for your comfort system.
Barron is currently offering a summer performance maintenance special for only $119 through July 31. Normally priced over $250, this deal features a complete HVAC maintenance, as well as an opportunity to discuss filtration and weatherization options for your home with a Barron technician. Now may also be the best time to consider HVAC upgrades, as upcoming refrigerant and testing standards will likely make new HVAC equipment more expensive in the coming years.
“Right now is a good time to take a deep breath,” Bevan says. “Relax, schedule a performance maintenance, and take a look at putting in air conditioning before the summer heat comes in. We’re currently looking at lead times of just one to two weeks out, depending on the service.”
One of Barron’s goals is to make sure that anyone that wants AC can have it, and many customers take advantage of Barron’s secured low interest financing. Monthly costs for ducted AC can be as low as a $99/month, while ductless starts at $59/month.
While the smoke isn’t here yet, it always pays to be prepared. Your comfort and health will thank you.