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Rewind even five or ten years ago and “indoor air quality” wasn’t on anyone’s shortlist of hot topics.

But today, with ever-worsening pollution, the onset of measurable climate change, an increase in weather disasters, plus the threat of global unrest, the subject of indoor and outdoor air quality is finally garnering some widespread mainstream interest.

As proof of this, witness the increase in air quality management products geared for residential as well as commercial use; the tightening EPA and Energy Star certification standards; plus the uptick in consumer interest in everything from air filters to environmentally friendly cleaning products.

In this post, we take a close look at air quality: how it is measured today, indoor vs. outdoor air quality, its importance and its impact on our daily lives.

What Is Air Quality?

At its most fundamental, the term “air quality” refers to a measurement of air cleanliness or purity. In other words, how much pollution is present in the air you are breathing?

Canada’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) measures outdoor air quality across the nation, rating levels from “low” to “very high.” Numerically, ratings range from 1 to 10. An area can earn a 10+, which is very polluted, during extreme weather events such as wildfires.

In the context of the AQHI, “pollution” is distilled down to three distinct components: fine-quality particulates, ground ozone emissions and nitrogen dioxide, which is produced primarily through burning fossil fuels.

The AQHI measurement effort focuses on measuring the quality of Canada’s outdoor air, which, despite its own known issues, continues to rate as some of the cleanest outdoor air in the world today.

But what about the quality of your indoor air?

Indoor vs. Outdoor Air Quality: What Is the Difference?

Canada’s AirNow rating system measures air quality on a scale ranging from “good” to “hazardous.” But this measurement is also designed to monitor outdoor air quality.

Why is it important to distinguish between outdoor and indoor air quality?

The single most critical reason why these two measurements must be separated is because they don’t have a lot in common!

For example, when you step outside your home each day, what kind of car you drive, how much fuel you burn, whether you smoke or not and similar choices will make a small, cumulative impact on the shared air we all breathe.

But when you step inside your home, every little choice you make will have a direct and, over time, measurable impact on your health and the health of your family and pets.

How Polluted Is Your Indoor Air?

Did you know the U.S. EPA states that the average person’s indoor air is anywhere from two to five times more polluted than the air outside?

There are two main reasons for this: first, because the concentration of pollutants inside the average home is so much higher in a smaller space, and second, because the typical Canadian today spends up to 90 percent of each day indoors.

This is also why the very young, the elderly and those with seasonal or chronic health issues are always going to be the most impacted by indoor air pollution.

The U.S. EPA states that increases in indoor air pollution in recent years can be traced back in part to increased use of toxic personal care and household cleaning products, synthetic building supplies and pesticides.

The Biggest Culprit: Energy-Efficient Construction

However, one of the biggest causes for increased indoor air pollution comes from a surprising direction: energy-efficient construction practices!

New homes and commercial buildings are increasingly built to minimize or eliminate air leaks. This is great for keeping seasonal energy bills low and for conserving valuable vanishing natural resources.

It is not so great for air quality, because stale indoor air has no means of escape and there is no influx of fresh outdoor air. So what happens instead is that the concentration of airborne toxins continues to build up and it makes people sick!

As the average person spends more and more time indoors—with some Canadians reporting that they spend less than five minutes of the average day outdoors—we are getting sicker quicker than ever before—and staying that way.

The Simple Solution: Ventilation

Throughout Toronto, contractors are now being required to include heat recovery ventilation in all new construction residential projects. Heat recovery ventilation, at its simplest, is a form of mechanical ventilation.

But heat recovery ventilation does more than just draw in fresh air and push out stale air. These systems also help keep the air humidity-balanced seasonally and they assist with removing indoor air toxins.

Heat recovery ventilation is also another form of resource conservation.

In the winter, these systems extract heat from the air to pre-warm incoming air, which lessens wear and tear on your furnace, boiler or heat pump. In the summer, the process reverses as heat in the air is extracted and pushed back outside, pre-cooling the air before it passes through your A/C unit.

Simple Steps to Cleaner Indoor Air

Here at Clean Air Solutions Hamilton, we recommend three simple steps to start cleaning up your indoor air at home and at work.

Indoor air duct cleaning

Having your indoor air duct system professionally vacuumed and sanitized ensures future HVAC cycles will be pushing only clean, pure, fresh air through your ducts.

Right now, save 10 percent on any duct cleaning package!


Heat recovery ventilation equipment can be retrofitted to work with any central (ducted) HVAC system.

Filtration or purification

Whole-home HEPA air filtration or ultraviolet purification systems can be retrofitted to work with any central (ducted) HVAC system. Portable units are also available.

You don’t need both systems—they accomplish the same goal through different means.

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