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I'm having minor breathing issues and suspect the home air quality, which seems to be excessively full of particles/dust. The air quality is visually noticeable daily, regardless of basic cleaning/outside air steps take the day before.

Background: I bought the home last fall, it was a DIY 1700sq ft remodel built in CO in 1980 and the home inspection found nothing substantively wrong. It has central air - electric single unit AC/Heat Pump.

Just before the winter I had the attic insulated and sealed with cellulose. A short while later I started noticing the breathing issues and dust in the air. There is no HVAC in the attic, and it started getting cold around the installation time, so perhaps it's just a misleading coincidence.

I have replaced the HVAC filter several times and use one of the higher quality HEPA filters (rated for smoke particles). I had a company come in and clean the ducts. I have vacuumed, dusted, and had all the windows open on days 65F+ to circulate new air in, without engaging the HVAC system more than a couple of times. The picture is less than 24 hours after such a complete clean and open window day and shows the density of particles in the morning sun. enter image description here

Couple of edits from comments - I have basic home air filters in the basement and in the master bedroom and I leave a humidifier on in the kitchen area constantly (definitely a hard water area though). House is still low though... about 34% humidity in the basement. No one smokes in the home, and I moved about three miles... my last place I never recall seeing the air quality so low (gas central air in a studio)!

What can I do to identify and fix the excessive dust/air quality? Are there tools, a likely suspect, or a professional service that I need to source?

  • To be clear, you did not have this problem before blowing in the insulation, is that correct? – Tester101 Feb 24 '16 at 10:16
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    Do you, or anybody in the home smoke? – Tester101 Feb 24 '16 at 10:18
  • When you bought the house, did you move to a new geographic area? Perhaps it is the geographic area. When I moved to my current large city location from several hundred miles away in a smaller city, my wife noticed she had to dust every 1-2 days rather than every week or two in our old house. We also cleaned the ducts and put in a fancy filtering system. Nothing has helped. I hope you get some good suggestions. – Yehuda_NYC Feb 24 '16 at 13:33
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    I have horses in the summer all the dust is two much for normal filters to keep up with. I added a electrostatic grid to my HVAC system on the intake side of the air handler. I need to pull the grids and screens every 2 weeks in the summer months but it really takes much more out of the air without killing the flow like so many pleated filters do. filter link this may help. – Ed Beal Feb 24 '16 at 14:43
  • Related. When I lived in AZ this was a fact of life. User A Shu could be on to something with humidity levels. – Mazura Feb 24 '16 at 16:20
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The biggest culprit is likely environmental: your dry Colorado mountain air and low humidity. We have the same problem south of you in New Mexico. Raising your interior humidity will help a lot. There are several approaches, ranging from using a humidifier constantly (cheap up front, expensive to run over time) to sealing your house up airtight and using an ERV system to bring in fresh air and exhaust house air (expensive up front, cheap to run over time).

Electrostatic filters and air purifiers will help too, and falls into the category of "expensive to run over time." High maintenance, too.

Another possibility is that the contractor didn't do a very good job with the attic floor air sealing and the dust from the cellulose (it is basically dust, after all) is making it into the house. Likely entrance methods:

  • Poorly-air-sealed can lights and ceiling electrical/light boxes
  • Poorly-air-sealed pull-down attic hatches
  • Poorly-sealed ductwork and registers in the attic, if any
  • Poorly-air-sealed bath fans and their ductwork
  • Gaps around chimneys and flues that penetrate the ceiling and roof
  • Giant stupid egregious holes that should not be there (you might be surprised)
  • Thanks for the likely entrances... I highly suspect that attic insulation which definitely changed the air flow dynamics (passed a rebate air flow test) while putting a lot of junk in the attic. I may wait till spring to investigate based on air quality changes once the HVAC system stops running so much. – Volvox Feb 25 '16 at 0:50
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I tend to start simple and work my way up from there.

How humid is your air? Try adding cool mist humidifiers to your rooms and giving it a few days. That should help settle the dust, and help with breathing. If that doesn't stop the breathing issues, I would take a trip to the doctor to rule out any new medical issues and then start looking at investing in beefier home filtration systems. There are several options from store bought purifiers you place in a corner to filtration systems. Hope you feel better and get the dust under control!

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    Just a warning that if you have very hard water, cool mist humidifiers will actually add to the dust problem. As the mist evaporates it leaves the minerals in the water behind as a very fine dust... – Netduke Feb 24 '16 at 18:12

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