Trained Eye

 
 
 

Excess Dust in Condo

Question:

Dear Ari:

We have recently moved into a condo on Wellington Crescent and are plagued with dust. Someone suggested this was caused by the heavy street traffic. Our windows face the river and north, not directly onto the street. I would like some suggestions for how to curb the dust in our individual apartment as I don’t think I could get the condo board to agree to some overall measure for the building.

Our heat and air conditioning is forced air. The building managers replace the filter in our apartment once a month. We have purchased a room humidifier. It was suggested to me that we place thin layers of polyfill behind each register to act as a filter. Do you agree with this? Do you have any other suggestions as to how we can deal with this problem?

Answer:

There are many components to household dust and many variables that can contribute to high levels in a home. I will offer some possible factors that may be involved in your new condo, and one or two likely solutions. Unfortunately, I am mostly speculating as to the cause or causes of the heavy dust, which may be very difficult to determine without in-depth investigation.

Dust is made up of many different materials, some of which may be a surprise to those who have not heard this before. The first unusual component, which makes up a considerable part of household dust, is dead skin flakes. These typically fall off all the human occupants in a house without anyone noticing. Dust mites, which are microscopic parasites that live in dust, love skin flakes. Another similar naturally occurring component is pet dander, which may be considerable in a home with a large dog or several cats or dogs. The only preventative measure for these types of issues is good personal hygiene and lots of cleaning.

Other components of dust are due to natural deterioration of building components in the home, such as plaster or paint. These materials deteriorate over time and produce fine dust that can build up. Beyond these regularly occurring items and plain old dirt, the remainder of the dust make up can vary widely with different locations and environments. Speculation in this area is beyond my area of expertise, but a sample of the dust may be collected and analyzed as part of an indoor air quality analysis by a reputable laboratory, if so desired.

The possible causes of your high level of dust compared to your previous home may be due to other materials and mechanical systems in the home. If you have lots of thick pile carpeting in the condo, this may be the first culprit. Carpets are among the largest contributors to household dust, as embedded materials are constantly stirred up and re-circulated every time someone walks on the carpet. This dust will eventually settle back in the pile, only to be stirred up again after the next person walks by. Regular vacuuming and shampooing can help somewhat, but may be only a temporary solution. Replacement of heavy carpet with wood flooring, vinyl, laminate or ceramic tile may have a much greater effect.

The next place to look is indeed the heating system. Many condominiums with self-contained heating and cooling systems have these units installed in an area adjacent to the exterior walls or in a small room on the balcony. This is done to allow for easy venting to the exterior and an ample source of air for combustion and fresh air for the condo unit. I have seen several of these combination units with large grills on the exterior of the building that are very dirty, due to their location at the exterior. If these grills are over fresh air intakes for the ducting in the heating and cooling units, then this outside dirt may circulate easily within the home. In addition to the regular air filter changes you mentioned, these exterior components, as well as the circulation fans should be cleaned at least once a year. This should be done as part of annual service on the heating system, but may be neglected due to the difficult location of the grates.

I am not sure what the “polyfill” mentioned for the heating registers is referring to, but if too many layers of anything are installed in the registers, it may significantly restrict the airflow through these registers. Not only can this produce poor air circulation but severely reduced airflow over the heat exchanger and cooling coil can damage the furnace and cause icing of the air conditioner coil. I have seen some filters for registers that are commercially manufactured which are similar to the thin fibreglass type used for typical 99 cent furnace air filters. If you can find these at home centres to match the size of your heating registers, then they may help prevent some of the dust from circulating through the heating ducts, without significantly restricting air flow.

Excessive dust in a home is a common complaint. The solution is usually found by using simple common sense. Regular cleaning of heating systems and their components, window screens, and regular dusting and vacuuming may make a difference. Otherwise, removal of dust collecting carpets and furniture and regular painting of walls and ceilings may cut down on the annoying stuff.

 

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