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Energy Conservation vs. Indoor Air Quality

Rowland Air fields a lot of questions about how to conserve energy, for sure, but the question of how to balance it with IAQ (indoor air quality) is a little less common. It is a good one, though, which is why we aim to address it in this post.

IAQ is a big deal. The EPA found in a study that indoor air pollutant levels can often be 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels. In some cases, these levels can exceed 100 times outdoor levels, which is a cause for concern. 

Maybe if we make IAQ a priority, we’ll use less energy to address individual health issues that directly result from it. 

How Much Energy Is Really Being Used?

Most sources suggest that the average home’s HVAC system uses about the same amount of power used to operate a water heater, which is around 3,500 watts per hour. In comparison, it takes 50,000 watts to fully charge the battery of one of those fancy new electric cars. 

One could argue that most electric cars aren’t driven until their batteries are completely drained, so they wouldn’t actually use that much. But both the water heater and the HVAC system cycle on and off while the car is taking it all in a single hit, which is a huge drain on the power grid, at least relatively speaking.

Additionally, the water heater and the HVAC unit provide a service that benefits an entire household. The energy the car consumes is usually only for one person, at least in the real world. In conclusion, a modern HVAC system doesn’t use much power, at least compared to other applications and the overall benefit.

Energy Conservation and IAQ: Finding the Balance

It’s a fact that dead, stagnant interior air is unhealthy. The reason this is true is because of the presence of unhealthy contaminants:

  • Humidity 
  • Pets
  • Dust
  • VOC (volatile organic compounds)

The HVAC equipment that services interior spaces must keep humidity levels within an acceptable range. Mold and mildew spread in an environment that’s too humid, and if the air is too dry, most people tend to have respiratory problems. 

Also, if your home is poorly ventilated, IAQ will degrade due to dust and VOCs (off-gassing materials like flooring and paint), and if you keep pets, it can get even worse. 

The most efficient way to ensure that these contaminant levels stay in check is for the home’s central HVAC system to cycle and filter the interior air regularly.

The Way Forward

We have a few recommendations as to how to go about finding the balance for your own home:

  • Keep your HVAC system well-maintained
  • Replace filters often
  • Use a smart thermostat so that when you’re not home, it doesn’t run as often
  • Close your blinds when you leave (in summer) and open them (in winter)
  • Keep doors and windows closed during extreme hot or cold conditions

Sometimes, using less energy actually just means being thoughtful and considerate about the decisions you make, including how you use your home’s HVAC system.