Finding your house to be very dusty and not sure the root cause? Could it be your forced-air furnace? We uncover what might be causing excess dust and what to do.
Sneezing more than usual? Finding you have to get out the vacuum more often than you’d like?
Not only is an excess of dust a pain to deal with cleaning-wise, it can significantly impact your quality of life and even your health, especially if you’re prone to allergies, asthma, or other breathing difficulties.
Home air quality is important, even more so in a home with kids or elderly family members.
When looking for answers about particle build up, some may wonder if their forced-air heating system is to blame. If a unit is older or not properly installed or maintained, that may be the case, but it’s also possible that your HVAC system is only one piece of the puzzle.
There can be a range of factors that will have you dusting more often than you think you should. Some may be directly related to your HVAC system, but many of these issues can be easily resolved. Other reasons may surprise you.
Factors Increasing Dust in Your Home
You live in an older home.
In some cases, older homes never had adequate or properly installed ductwork. Building codes have changed over time, and it’s possible that your ventilation does not properly circulate air to all areas of the house. Older homes likely also have older plaster or drywall, aging paint and, possibly, older carpeting or rugs. All of these will be slowly breaking down and generating dust particles.
You live in a newer home.
That’s right, sometimes the ductwork in new homes is even worse! This is particularly a problem in housing developments where builders will often subcontract to the company with the lowest bid, which can incentivise a more hastily-done job. Newer homes can sometimes have the most leaks in their venting.
You have an unfinished basement.
Unfinished basements can accumulate more furnace dust which will can then be circulated throughout the house. Unpainted and unsealed walls, floors, and ceilings can generate more dust for instance. Thankfully most modern furnaces installed in Canada are designed not to draw in air directly surrounding the furnace, but inevitably some dust is likely to make its way into the return air vents or otherwise be drawn or tracked into the rest of the home from the basement.
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You have an older furnace.
Increasing household dust can be a warning sign that your furnace is reaching the end of its life. Decades old models of furnace didn’t have the same level of sophisticated air flow and filtration technology. Furthermore, if your system wasn’t professionally installed, wasn’t regularly serviced or if you don’t have an additional air filtration system, your home heating unit may reach its end of life before this range. Need a replacement and don’t know where to start? Check out our comprehensive guides to choosing your next high-efficiency heating and cooling system.
You don’t have an additional air filtration system on your HVAC unit.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Most people are familiar with the basic filters that a furnace has, but there are much more advanced whole-home air filtration systems which will actively remove particles from the circulating air, including HEPA level air filters.
You don’t regularly clean and replace your furnace air filters.
Your furnace can only be as efficient as it is well maintained. Build up of particles, due to a dirty air filter, can result in lower efficiency, an increase in service calls and early unit failure. And of course, an old and clogged filter won’t do as good a job of filtering out ambient dust particles.
You don’t have a central air conditioning system.
If you don’t have a central A/C unit, you would be opening your windows for extended periods of time during warmer months. This lets in more dust, pollen and other particles from outside. Furthermore, your HVAC system is not operating during the summer months and not helping to filter the air in your home.
Now that you’ve established what factors affect you and your home, what can you do?
Newer homes generally have better sealing, are made of new materials, have a finished basement and have a more efficient and a ventilation system that meets modern building codes. All of this will mean less furnace dust build up from the start. Be proactive in your maintenance and you can enjoy less dust in the years to come.
That being said, if you do have a newer home, especially if it’s in a new housing development, you may want to consider having your vents tested. If your ductwork turns out to be particularly leaky, there are a number of solutions which can ensure better air flow, making your HVAC system’s filtration more effective and preventing dust from being drawn in through holes and recirculated.
If your home is older, all hope is not lost. There are simple steps that you can take to minimize dust build up, no matter when your house was built. Implement the tips below and you are sure to see a difference.
10 Ways to Minimize Dust in Your Home
1. Upgrade your furnace to a new high-efficiency model.
Investing in a modern high-efficiency furnace will make your entire ventilation system more effective, which will indirectly help to reduce dust build up. Not sure which model or brand to invest in? We can help with our independent assessment of the top furnace brands in Canada.
2. Keep your home, especially your basement, and its contents clean.
Nothing collects dust more than clutter. Clutter also prevents you from cleaning and vacuuming effectively, since dust loves to collect in even the tiniest corners. Get rid of things you are no longer using, organize yourself with plastic tubs and keep closet floors clear for easy upkeep. This should also help improve airflow, leading to better overall filtration.
3. Make sure your vacuum is up to the task.
Look at the effectiveness and quality of your vacuum. Some studies claim that vacuums actually propel more dust into the air than they collect. If you’re in need of a new one, consider investing in a vacuum with a HEPA rated filter. A true HEPA filter is designed to remove at least 99.97 percent of airborne particles that are 0.3 micrometers in diameter.1 HEPA rated filters trap large amounts of very small particles, such as bacteria and construction dust, which may be missed by other vacuums. A good vacuum is especially important if you have pets.
4. Consider doing some home improvement.
A fresh coat of paint and the replacement of old carpeting, either with new carpet or with hardwood floors, will cut down on sources of dust. Having your home sealed, including around windows and doors, can not only make your home more energy-efficient but also more dust-proof!
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5. Add a dedicated air filtration system to your home, or a media filter.
Whole home air filtration systems work to treat the air within your home, as well as the air coming in. Flat filters and the more advanced, media filters, are a physical barriers that catch particles as air moves through the filter. Media filters are, essentially, a larger, better version of the standard filters on most furnaces. Electronic air filters are another option and they work by attracting particles with an electrostatic charge. Any kind of air filtration system can extend the life of your HVAC system by preventing the build of dust and dirt in the ductwork. Not sure which home air filtration system is for you? Check out our article on Home Air Filtration Types, Comparison, Prices & Brands and get a free quote.
6. Replace or clean your furnace air filter regularly and fit it properly.
To work at top efficiency, a furnace air filter should be checked once a month and replaced every three months, according to ENERGY STAR®.2 Spend a few more dollars and invest in a higher-quality pleated filter that will catch more particles. Many filters will have a MERV rating, which will give you an idea of what size and percentage of particles the filter will capture. Also, make sure the filter is securely installed so air won’t flow out around it. Keeping your furnace air filter clean will also prevent the accumulation of dust in your ductwork and can extended the life of your unit.
7. Install a central air conditioning unit.
A central A/C unit will allow you to keep your windows closed during warmer months, resulting in less particles from the outside world coming in. Air will also continue to flow throughout your house via the HVAC system, allowing it to be continually filtered.
8. Have your ducts cleaned every season.
Although this is unlikely to be a magic cure, especially if some of the other issues in this article are not also addressed. But there is a general consensus that this is particularly important if you have pets. Pet hair builds up in ducts and inevitably traps dust particles moving through your duct work, impacting upon efficiency and air quality.
9. Invest in a whole-home humidifier or a heating system designed with this in mind.
Dry air can accelerate dust formation and a humidifier will help keep your air from getting too dry. You can also invest in a high-efficiency gas or propane heating and cooling system that allows you to independently adjust the humidity of your home, which is usually done with an add-on unit.
10. Ensure your heating ductwork is properly sealed.
According to ENERGY STAR, 20 to 30% of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks, holes and poorly connected ducts.3 They recommend, if you chose to do it yourself, sealing air leaks using mastic sealant or metal tape (not duct tape). You can also enlist in a professional contractor to help you with improvements and the contractor will be able to get to those hard to reach places in your home. Many HVAC contractors will also do assessments and upgrades.
We cannot completely eradicate the dust in our homes, as a large percentage of dust is either produced or brought into our spaces by pets, open windows and, let’s be honest, us. While many of us are not going to forgo the pleasures of fresh spring air or a furry best friend, we can take a number of measures to minimize the build up and breathe easier.
Keeping your forced-air system lean, mean and working at maximum efficiency, through professional installation, regular maintenance and consistent cleaning habits, will mean the only thing you need to do is figure out how you’ll spend your freed-up dusting time.
What are your best tips for keeping a furnace dust-free home? Anything we forgot to mention? Share your thoughts with us below.