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Leaky ductwork can affect air quality

By Ken Sheinkopf, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Q: A local heating company did an inspection of our system recently and it said we had some holes and rips in our ductwork. When I told the inspectors that my wife and I had both been sick on and off for months, they said this could be the problem. Can that be right?

A: It sure can. I get a lot of mail about ducts, mostly related to high energy bills and frequent commercials by duct-cleaning and repair companies. Most people seem aware of the connection between leaky ducts and wasted energy, and ducts are certainly one of the most important potential problems resulting in high utility bills. But people often are not aware of the effects of poor ducts on a home's indoor air quality.

People usually realize that ducts need to be properly sealed to keep air flowing from the heating and air-conditioning system without escaping into me attic, garage or other places inside and out of the home. But the unwanted airflow goes the other way, too. Leaks in ducts draw in dust, pollen, humidity and other unwanted things from the attic, crawl space and other parts of your home as well as from the outdoors and then distribute this throughout the house.

The bottom line is that if an inspection of the ducts shows that they are leaky, you have to get them fixed. Ducts that are not tightly sealed will basically wipe out any other efforts you're making to save energy and make your home more comfortable.

There are a number of other fact ors that affect indoor air quality as well, and you ought to think about these if you've been feeling sick at home.

Strategies for keeping indoor air clean include vacuuming carpets and furniture on a regular basis. (An allergen-trapping vacuum cleaner is a good investment), changing the bed sheets and pillowcases every week, storing food in airtight containers to keep roaches and other pests away, inspecting the filters on the heating and cooling system monthly and changing them when necessary, and stopping smoking and burning incense and candles indoors. Also be sure to use your kitchen exhaust fans when cooking, and keep cleaning products, paint and other products that give off fumes in the garage or outdoors.

Ken Sheinkopf is a communications specialist with the American Solar Energy Society