a window being cracked open showing a person's hand on the handle

Proper ventilation is the key to a fresh-smelling home and a healthy family. It also allows for a comfortable environment, increasing energy efficiency and reducing your heating and cooling costs.

Ready to learn more about healthy ventilation? This article should give you a solid understanding of how home ventilation occurs, and what you can do to improve the health, energy efficiency, and comfort of your family and home.

How Does Home Ventilation Occur?

Your home receives ventilation in four ways: through doors and windows, openings in the structure, spot ventilation, and whole-house systems, such as HVAC units.

Doors and Windows

Doors, windows, and skylights are probably your first thought when it comes to home ventilation. While opening doors and windows is inefficient for homes that rely on electricity for heating and cooling purposes, the practice does come with some perks. 

Take Germany as an example. Lüften, known to us as home ventilation, is the act of opening windows in the mornings and evenings to allow air circulation. Many Germans are in the habit of opening windows in their home for at least five minutes, twice daily, even in the coldest stretches of winter. 

This procedure allows trapped, stale, air-conditioned air to dissipate, replaced with nature’s fresh air from the exterior microbiome. Americans would also be wise to adopt this practice which alleviates odors, mold or other fungi, and bacteria from homes. 

Small Openings in the Structure

While we like to think that our homes are so tightly built that they’re waterproof, this simply isn’t true. 

All joints in homes have some degree of a gap through which air can pass in and out. The floor, walls, and ceilings also have micro gaps. Windows, doorways, and skylights, especially in older homes, are good sources of a draft.

The pipes, cords, lines, and ventilation ducts that run in and out of homes likely have small gaps in the seal, resulting in more ventilation. While these gaps are minimal, they can benefit home air quality. 

Spot Ventilation

Bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans are considered spot ventilation. 

These vents are intended to carry kitchen and bathroom fumes and odors outdoors and move some outside air back into the home. 

Exterior bathroom vents for spot home ventilation

HVAC Units and Whole House Systems 

Your heating and cooling units naturally ventilate your home with new air, as do whole-house ventilation systems. 

A HVAC unit outside a home

To learn more about heating and cooling units and how to prevent heat loss, click here

Attic Vents

Attic vents and air ducts can be energy-loss culprits via air ventilation. 

Some attics have intentionally placed vents to prevent mold growth and allow some heat to escape the building. Other lofts are attempted to be sealed but still have significant holes or gaps in them, usually around the ductwork or lines that run in and out of the attic. 

A carpenter installing an attic vent to improve home ventilation

Crawlspaces

While crawlspaces are recommended to be as close to airtight as possible to prevent mold and entry by insects and other critters, not all of them are. And not all crawl spaces have insulation, either. 

Crawlspaces lacking adequate ventilation can cause significant issues for your home, especially in the form of excess moisture, humidity, and the posed threat of mold or mildew.

Water vapor in crawlspaces can seep up from below into subfloors, floors, or even the entire home. The air ventilating through this area is unsafe and usually smells stagnant, moldy, or otherwise unpleasant. 

Why Does Your Home Need Ventilation? 

Proper ventilation ensures that moisture, odors, gases, pollutants, dust, and other particles don’t reach unpleasant or dangerous levels in your house. 

While opening your doors and windows can bring on ventilation, it can also welcome other outdoor sources of pollution inside. So opening doors and windows isn’t always the only or even best solution when it comes to improving air quality in your home. 

Is An Airtight Home the Solution? 

Your home needs ventilation for air quality. However, while ventilation can be helpful in some instances, it can be problematic in others.

Air ventilation through cracks and gaps in your home is more likely to carry dust and allergens, which is not ideal. Are you wondering how to keep dust out of your home? Read this handy guide for cleaning tips, advice, and prevention. 

Most homes with moisture and mold have these issues because of unsealed floors and wet crawl spaces. Allowing the air that has been stagnating under your house in a swampy mess to “breathe” back into your home is unclean, smelly, and potentially dangerous. 

Because of the abovementioned issues, it’s wise to choose a tight, sealed home and then employ proper air quality measures. For more on techniques for improving airtightness of your home, check out this article

A heat recovery ventilator or an energy recovery ventilator is a great way to circulate fresh air while maintaining low energy costs. 

Is Ventilation The Best Way to Protect Your Home for Air Pollution? 

While proper ventilation is an excellent method for improving air quality, proactive pollution prevention is the best way to keep your home smelling and feeling fresh. 

For instance, you cannot ventilate your home into good health if people are actively smoking or vaping inside your home or near its entrances. 

What Happens If Your Home Doesn’t Have Enough Ventilation

Energy Efficiency Will Increase

While energy efficiency is essential, too much efficiency can be dangerous and cause many other health risks listed below. 

Poor ventilation can cause your home to retain heat and conditioned air at exceptionally high rates, contributing to more affordable electricity or energy bills. Therefore, while desired, efficiency should be used within moderation. 

Pollution Builds Up

Everyone should be aware of the dangers of pollution. However, those with lung conditions, increased risks of infection, or overall poor health are at more significant risks of damage when it comes to pollution. 

Home pollution caused by poor ventilation can include: 

  • Asbestos 
  • Cleaning supply chemicals and fumes
  • Perfumes, hair products, makeup, and other beauty products
  • Building product chemicals
  • Paint product chemicals and fumes
  • Dustmites, and dustmite droppings
  • Formaldehyde
  • Lead
  • Nitrogen dioxide
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Pen dander
  • Radon 
  • Volatile Organic Compounds
  • Candle fumes
  • Smoke from smokers or residential wood burning
  • Cockroaches and cockroach droppings

Carbon Monoxide Becomes a Serious Threat

Carbon monoxide is created by household appliances, especially in instances where fuel doesn’t completely burn. 

Cookers, gas fireplaces, boilers, central heating units, water heaters, and open-flame fires all emit traces of carbon monoxide. In addition, unvented gas heaters are hazardous, creating unsafe levels of carbon monoxide within the home. 

Radon Increases, Especially In the Western US

While radon can be found throughout North America, it is especially prevalent in houses in the Rocky Mountains, high plains, and great plains. 

Radon is a byproduct of decaying uranium, common in highly mineralized areas, especially the Rocky Mountains. Radon can be found in the soil everywhere and may radiate through the ground into crawlspaces, where it eventually seeps into the home. 

Radon can be primarily concentrated in homes with natural spring or well water. Because radon can linger in water, when the water is introduced into the house through the faucet, radon gases escape into rooms of the home. 

It is crucial to test for Radon in your air and water. There are a few symptoms of radon exposure: difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, difficulty speaking, or trouble swallowing. 

Indoor Humidity Levels Increase

With unregulated ventilation, you lose control over what enters and exits your home, and that includes moisture. Ideally, humidity levels should remain below fifty percent in your house at all times. 

Too much humidity damages the dwelling and your health. Moisture leads to mold, mildew, decay, unpleasant odors, and eventually rotting. 

Additionally, dampness can worsen immune functioning and asthma, and lead to a sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, rhinitis, coughing, and increased risk of infection.

Always run your bathroom fans when your shower or bathtub is running, ensure your dryer vents outside correctly, and run dehumidifiers as needed. 

Proper Home Shock Ventilation

A rapid and intensive shock ventilation treatment is the best way to quickly and efficiently ventilate a home. Open every window in your home entirely for three minutes if it’s, windy and up to ten minutes if it is not windy.

The key here is to open the windows entirely rather than leave them slightly ajar. Completely open windows ventilate the whole house in minutes; meanwhile, slightly cracked windows may take two hours or more to ventilate thoroughly.  

Open windows and doors more than just a crack for more efficient shock ventilation.

Much hot air will dissipate during that time, meaning heating the home back up will use significantly more energy than quickly blasting the house with cold air for five minutes or so. 

How to Protect You and Your Family’s Health

Open Windows and Doors Regularly

Shock your home. You can ventilate it as often as needed. Some practice this twice a day, while others only utilize this method as part of their monthly cleaning schedule. It’s a good practice if your home doesn’t run any heating or air-conditioning systems. Otherwise, it’s wasteful and generally should be avoided. 

Use Bathroom Exhaust Fans

Always turn your bathroom exhaust fans on when you shower or take a bath. Some people even wire their exhaust fan to their overhead light, alleviating the need to remember it. 

While the fan may create an irritating sound, the health issues and mold that it prevents are well worth the sacrifice. 

Use Kitchen Exhaust Fans

A kitchen stove hood in use to improve home ventilation

Kitchen exhaust fans and ventilation systems are helpful for more than whisking away smoke and odors. Gases, fumes, and sometimes dangerous inhalants are created when cooking; it’s essential to get them out of your home. 

If you don’t have an exhaust fan, open a window and use a small, portable fan to create a makeshift venting system.  

Check That Combustion Appliances Appropriately Vent Outside

Hire a contractor or check yourself, but please be safe and ensure that these fumes leave your home and do not get trapped inside.

Ensure That Your Dryer Vents Outdoors as Well 

Dryer vent hoses come detached from the wall or your dryer surprisingly easily. So make it a habit to peek behind your dryer to confirm it’s still snugly fashioned to both the wall and the machine. 

While you’re at it, clean your lint trap, vacuum out the area near your vent trap, and clean out the dryer duct too. You can save yourself from a severe fire. 

Always Use Ventilation When Painting, Sealing, and Staining Indoors

Open windows, run fans, and use air filters or anything you can to rid your home of the fumes of these products. 

Test Your Home for Radon

Whether by hiring a professional or using a hardware store kit—just make sure you do it. Here’s a helpful guide from Cancer.org to assist your home radon test.

Use a Dehumidifier or Humidifier, and Clean it Regularly

While most people will need to run a dehumidifier, others will need a humidifier, especially if fireplaces or woodstoves heat their home. 

A homeowner emptying the tray of a dehumidifier

Either way, make sure that your humidifier or dehumidifier has an appropriate filter in place and that the filter is being cleaned or replaced as needed. 

Use an Air Filter, and Clean it Regularly

Like the humidifier, air filters also require cleanings and filter changes to keep your home clean, safe, and smelling fresh.  

Never Idle Vehicles in Garages, Under Carports, or Near Entrances

The fumes and dangerous gases can get sucked right into your home, causing an unsafe environment for you and your family. 

Use Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERV) or a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV)

An energy recovery ventilator captures air that has already been exhausted from your home and uses that air to create more energy to ventilate your home. It acts as an energy saver, a filter, and a ventilator, all in one handy device. 

A heat recovery ventilator works very similarly to an ERV, except it transfers only heat, not any moisture. 

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