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  • Writer's pictureCorey Provencal

5 tips to improving your home’s indoor air quality

When you’re stuck inside because it’s too hot to go outside, you’ll be grateful if the air in your home is clean and comfortable.

As long as you’re indoors, why not spend time making sure it is?

A few simple changes and chores can upgrade the quality of your indoor air, make your family feel cooler on the hottest days and spruce up the look of your rooms. Here are five tips:

1. Upgrade your ceiling fans-or add fans if you don’t have any. Installation is an easy do-it-yourself project. Newer models are far more energy efficient, and it’s easier than ever to choose one that conserves electricity. Here’s how:

• Look for a fan with a label that says it uses few watts per cubic foot of air. Older fans use as much as 60 to 70 watts.

• Buy a fan with five blades. The more blades your fan has, the more efficient it is. Newer fan blades are pitched so they create a vacuum when they spin, which helps them propel with less electrical energy. That increased pitch also makes the movement quieter, so there’s less of that helicopter like chopping sound.

• If you raise your thermostat by 4 degrees and turn on the ceiling fan, you probably won’t feel any difference in comfort, but you could see a difference for the better on your cooling bill.

2. Update your window treatments – but don’t stop with the drapes and blinds. The sun will fade and ruin them unless you also add sunscreens, especially on the west and south sides of the house. You can mount sunscreens on the inside of the windows under your drapes. Or, invest in honeycomb shades with double cells, which are easy to install, reasonably priced and come in variety of colors.

A tip: Choose a style that allows you to lower the window cover from the top down instead of raising it from the bottom up. You’ll still get a lot of light and have a nice view of the sky without letting direct sunlight into the room or sacrificing your privacy. Other tips:

• If you have a skylight, cover it with a motorized cellular shade or screen to keep the hot sun from beating down on the room in the early afternoon. Just push a button to open and close it.

• For bedrooms and home theaters, consider blackout shades with a sliding track system on the sides to close the gap between the fabric and the window. The plastic track locks out the light and can reduce the loss of your cool, indoor air by up to 65 percent.

3. Switch all light bulbs to compact fluorescent lights or LEDs (light-emitting diodes). They cost more than incandescent lights, but they last far longer and use a fraction of the energy. Plus, they don’t get hot when they burn, unlike incandescent bulbs, which spend about 90 percent of their energy producing heat rather than light. Consider:

• Trying out a few LEDs in the kitchen to see if you like them. Good places: in a pendulum light over the kitchen island and under cabinets.

• Dimming your lights so they use less energy. Look into dimmer switches if you’re still using incandescent lights, and into whole-house lighting controls that allow you to turn the lights on or off from anywhere inside or outside of the house. Motion sensors also save energy because they switch lights off when nobody’s in the room.

4. Switch to non-toxic cleaners for big and small jobs. If you’re having your carpet professionally cleaned, hire a contractor who freshens the rugs with eco-friendly cleaners. And try mixing white vinegar with water to clean windows, floors, and kitchen and bathroom surfaces. In most cases, it works as well as chemical cleaners, and it does a great job of removing set-in odors.

5. Have your air-conditioning system checked. Hire a pro to check your ductwork for blockages and leaks, to inspect your clothes-dryer exhaust duct to make sure it’s working properly and to clean your air-conditioner’s air handler and coils. If you don’t clean the coils, there’s no sense in cleaning the air ducts.

• Toss your cheap, fiberglass air-conditioner filter and upgrade to a pleated filter with a MERV 8 rating (for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, which is a rating system of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers). The higher the MERV rating, the smaller the particles it will remove from the air.

• Change the filters every month, even if the manufacturer says you can go two or three. Arizona is a hot, dusty place, so the filters don’t hold up as long here as in other parts of the country.

• If you have a reusable electrostatic filter, clean it often. The most expensive reusable filter is less efficient than a $5 or $7 disposable filter if you don’t clean it.

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