If you feel like you have a dusty home, these tips can help you solve and start breathing clean air again!
Do you ever feel like vacuuming your home and dusting once a week doesn’t seem to do anything? Where does this dust come from and how do you resolve it? Years of research shows us that the air we breathe inside of our homes can often times be worse for us than the air outside! The good news is that a dusty home can be remedied with some careful planning.
Of course there is no complete remedy to totally remove all of the dust from our homes but with some simple elbow grease and good knee pads, we can certainly get close to a healthier and happier home
With a few simple investigative steps, you can do a lot of the leg work and find where this dust is coming from into your home.
Newer homes fall under improved building codes that regulate the specific amount of duct leakage and air loss through the whole home and hvac contractors are often required to provide documentation and 3rd party testing to verify the integrity of the duct system. Minimizing the dust in your home is like science!
According to ENERGY STAR, the typical home loses about 20-30% of the air flowing through the forced-air system’s ductwork, mostly through holes or gaps around fittings or from unsealed joints between duct sections.
This allows dirty, dusty air from unconditioned spaces into the ductwork, blowing it to your conditioned spaces.
Dusty Home Remedies
With the insulation and all of the penetrations inside and outside this can often be the culprit. You will want to look all the light fixtures as it attaches to the drywall. Many of these are often left unsealed during construction and even during retrofit applications. Also check the ductwork. This is the usually the largest culprit of dust getting inside your home. Leaky ductwork can bring small particles such as insulation, fiberglass, etc. directly into the air stream of your heating and air system. Also pull off the registers for the returns and check the gaps between the metal and the drywall. If there are gaps those should be sealed with siliconized acrylic latex caulk.
Pro Tip: If your home is 8 years or older you should check these vital health signs.
Below are few examples of poor duct design and how they cause homes to get dusty.
This heating and air system is located in a basement. All of the ductwork is right below the floor framing. These are obviously easier to inspect and spot problematic areas. Note the return register right above the floor- this is a poor location because it will pick up dust easier and bring it into the system and your home. We would recommend to move the register up higher in the system.
old ductwork in basement
Some older systems and homes utilized “duct board” instead of sheet metal or tin for running return and supply registers. The outside is laminated with a foil tape but the inside is uncoated fiberglass. This material should have been outlawed everywhere! The joints are sealed with tape which can often fall part and begin sucking in dusty air. Our solution and recommendation would be remove all of the duct board and build fully insulated plenums out of sheet metal.
duct board system
Note this return plenum with different sizing and transitions. These types of systems are problematic because the joints and connectors are often sealed partially or not at all. These are wrapped with foil insulation on the outside and can be difficult to inspect without removing the foil insulation. Here again, you would want to seal the joints and connectors with caulk. Another point to inspect is where the ductwork comes through the drywall. Sometimes the ductwork is screwed to the drywall instead of ran through the drywall completely. As we inspected this duct system, we found that the round ductwork was only flanged out and screwed into the drywall in 2 places. There were large enough gaps to fit fingers through!
old return plenum
Note in this system below that there is no door to cover the air filter located right above the furnace. This will pull in all sorts of dust bunnies! Also, this home was uncomfortable in different parts of the house and so a previous “contractor” came in and stabbed the flexible ductwork into the system. The hole in the drywall was not trimmed out to protect air leakage and the there is no connector for the ductwork to attach to the existing duct system. Work like this will surely cause a dusty home.
We removed this ductwork and installed a complete new plenum that penetrated through the attic where we could properly attach and run new insulated ductwork. What a difference this will make!
bad duct design
In the picture below, notice the connectors inside of the duct plenum. This allows a great seal and close to zero air loss. This can only be inspected from inside the attic.
complete new return plenum
And of course, if your cats are hanging out on the ductwork, chances are good that there are multiple leaks throughout the ductwork system!
old ductwork with cat
repairing dusty home
I know this can seem daunting but have no fear! Get a great flashlight with good batteries, a pair of great knee pads, a long sleeve shirt and BAM you’re good to stay under there for hours! (kidding). Also make sure to tell someone you are going under there!
The critical point you will want to inspect for dust entering the airflow is directly underneath the furnace. The “supply plenum” is where all of the ductwork takes off to the various parts of your house.
Below is a perfect example of major loss of airflow. Think of the dust that enters into this home! This type of degradation will certainly cause a dusty home!
The condensation from the air conditioning system had been leaking into this ductwork and eventually rusted through this inferior sheet metal. Yes, there is inferior sheet metal materials- more about this in a later blog article.
If you zoom in on this picture you can also see through the connectors attached to this box. This is more common than you’d think.
faulty supply plenum
It doesn’t take a trained person to know this isn’t right… But wait- didn’t a “trained” hvac person install this wrong years ago??
This is why a visual inspection on your existing duct system can be so valuable.
poorly installed duct system
Enough can not be said about the quality of your filters for your hvac system. If you find that you are constantly changing dirty filters every couple of months or more often, seriously consider making an investment in a better quality air filtration system. There are many options now available; from UV lights, to odor removing charcoal systems.
There are many other potential and problematic areas for dusty homes but this is a perfect start. As you inspect your attic and your crawlspace, look around at other systems tied into your home- bathroom exhaust fans, plumbing connections in and out of interior walls, can lights are another major culprit of causing dusty homes…
Take pictures of the problems you see as this can be helpful in finding solutions and remedies either if you do the work or if you hire someone in to complete the work.
Who should you hire to diagnose and complete this work? Many hvac companies are competent and perform great services in this area. That being said, your dusty home is probably due to inferior work in the first place. So make sure to check prior work and if the hvac company makes repairs to existing duct systems. It is helpful to let the technician fully inspect and diagnose without any guidance from you, the homeowner. Compare your findings with his and see what he finds (or misses).
Home inspectors are great resources for finding remedies for a dusty home; not just when you decide to sell your home. If you are suspecting that there is excessive dust in your home, seriously consider contacting a licensed and certified home inspector.
Another valuable resource is a local duct blasting company These guys provide test equipment that can determine the exact amount of loss through your duct system and can provide remedies to start freeing up your time- because life’s too short to be dusting your home. Especially when it can be fixed!
Drop us your questions in the comments below!
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