Ventilation is the process that allows fresh air into your home. Without it, the home's air becomes stagnant and unhealthy, full of pollutants and allergens. Properly ventilating your home provides fresh, clean air for your family while helping maximize your home energy use.
Why Ventilation's Needed
Ventilating your home properly is vital to your family's overall health. Stale air becomes full of pollutants, like dander and dust. These pollutants can make your family sick and decrease the quality of life in your home.
Poorly ventilated spaces can also have problems with moisture and humidity. Too much moisture in the air creates a breeding ground for mold, which is a serious health risk. Because of these risks, modern building codes require ventilating systems to be installed in most newly-built homes.
Types of Ventilation Systems
Many homes and buildings ventilate through air leakage. While this does recirculate the air in your home, it doesn't help improve indoor air quality. Unfortunately, if the air's leaking from places like your crawl space or attic, it could be coming in contact with mold, dampness, dust and pollen, all of which can get into the air and harm affect your home's indoor air quality.
Another problem with ventilating through leaks is the fact that it can increase your heating and cooling costs. With ever-rising energy costs, this scenario is something most homeowners want to avoid. In order to ventilate your home without increased energy costs and a decrease in overall air quality, you need to understand the basic types of ventilation outlined below.
Natural ventilation is the typical choice in the spring and fall when Chicago's outside temperatures are comfortable. You naturally ventilate your home when you open the windows, turn on the fan and even use an attic fan to draw in more air.
While fresh air through an open window is nice, it's not practical as your home's main ventilation tactic. Natural ventilation creates unreliable and uncontrolled airflow. In this situation, certain parts of the home, such as windowless rooms or the basement, aren't ventilated at all. Also, naturally ventilating your home allows allergens in, which is particularly problematic when pollen counts are high. While pleasant on a cool spring day, this form of ventilation is not ideal year-round.
If you have an exhaust fan in your kitchen or bathroom, you have an example of this ventilating tactic. Often fans are used in this way to control the humidity in a room, such as in a bathroom, or to deal with odors in the kitchen.
Unfortunately, many homes, especially older designs, have exhaust fans that vent into a crawl space or attic rather than outside. While this will eliminate the moisture and odor problem in the room, it will also create problems with interior moisture, especially during the hot Chicago summers.
Properly sizing the fan is also important when setting up a spot ventilating system. Too little power and the fan won't do the job you need it to do, while too much will draw more air out of your home that is necessary, impacting your energy efficiency. Look for a fan that offers 50 cubic feet per minute of airflow if you're installing one in a bath, and 100 cubic feet per minute for kitchens.
Whole-house systems, regardless of the type you choose, install directly onto your existing HVAC system, which allows controlled distribution and mixing of the air. Components may include:
- Electronic controls to run the fans on the HVAC system
- Exterior air intakes
When installing a whole-house system, you'll need to decide which type is the right fit for your home. To do so, consider your existing setup, your climate and the amount you're willing to spend on the system. Categories of whole-house systems include:
- Exhaust systems: Inexpensive to purchase and install, these systems push air out of the home by depressurizing the home, pulling air through leaks in the home or through passive vents installed on the property. They work well in cold climates, although they can add allergens to the air. They may increase energy costs slightly.
- Supply systems: These systems use fans to pressurize and pull air into the home, rather than pushing it out, allowing better control. Filters minimize pollutants while dehumidifiers help control moisture in the air. Supply systems work best in mixed or hot climates, but they can cause moisture problems in cold climates.
- Balanced systems: Balanced systems are appropriate for all climates, which makes them preferred in Chicago with our mixed climate. When installed correctly, balanced systems pull in the same amount of air that they send outside, so they don't pressurize or depressurize your home. These systems are more expensive than exhaust or supply systems, and they can increase energy bills.
- Energy and heat recovery systems: These cost-effective systems work well in areas like Chicago that experience extremes in the winter and summer months. More expensive to install, they have to be freeze- and frost-protected. However, they don't increase the energy costs like other systems.
Each of these has its own distinct benefits and drawbacks. Trying to figure out which one will work for your home can be challenging. A qualified HVAC technician is the best person to help you decide which one to install in your home to adequately and affordably ventilate the property.
If you're considering adding a whole-house system to an existing property, make sure it's properly sized for the home or building. Talk to an HVAC contractor to learn more about sizing and installing these units.
Chicago area homes have attic systems that ventilate the attic through roof and soffit vents. The most effective setup is a system of continuous ridge vents along the roof's peak and another set of continuous soffit vents on the eaves. The Department of Energy recommends 1 square foot of net vent opening for each 150 square foot of attic space.
Your home probably already has attic vents, but it's a good idea to check your existing setup to see if you have enough of them. If you find that your home has individual vents rather than soffit vents, make sure they're evenly space throughout the roof to provide adequate ventilation.
Adding Ventilation to Your Home
Some of these systems, like vents in the bathroom or attic, can be installed without professional help, but you may want to consult with an HVAC professional to ensure that your vent's properly sized for the space. Whole-house units need to be professionally sized and installed.
For help upgrading the ventilation in your home, contact the heating and cooling experts at Comfort24-7. Serving the greater Chicago area, including northwest Indiana and southwest Michigan, we offer a full list of HVAC services and we're proud to help.