Q&A / 

Home Dust Control Systems

DEAR TIM: Can cellulose insulation in our attic cause dust in your house? The insulation was put in about 40 years ago. Our house is so dusty I can’t keep up with it. If it’s not the insulation, what else is the cause and what can I do to minimize it. How can I figure out what is really the problem? Too much of my time is spent getting rid of the dust! Linda B., Colorado Springs, CO

DEAR LINDA: You’re not alone in the war against dust. It affects just about everyone I know of, except those who work in labs and factories where dust can seriously affect the outcome of tests or the manufacturing of certain items. The Center for Disease Control, electronics factories, etc. all come to mind.

Look at the dust on this small table. This happened because of remodeling in the house. PHOTO CREDIT:  Tim Carter

Look at the dust on this small table. This happened because of remodeling in the house. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

I’m sure you’ve seen commercials or shows on television where the workers wear special coveralls, masks, even hooded suits to eliminate contamination. One can only imagine the massive multi-stage air filtration equipment that’s capturing all the dust around them.

You may have it bad where you live, but I feel there are others who suffer even more. Last spring I was on a road trip out West and got to finally visit the famous Monument Valley with the amazing rock formations. The hotel we stayed in was in the middle of the desert on a small butte.

As I was walking to dinner that night I looked down at the floor at an emergency exit to see a orangish-brown cone of dust where the bottom of the door closed against the jamb and threshold. I then looked at the corners of the windows in the hallway and saw the same thing, actually there were miniature dust dunes at these locations. This micro dust from the outdoors was finding tiny gaps in the weatherstripping and getting inside.

You and I and everyone else who owns a home or business fights the dust war each day. It’s huge business. I’m sure you’ve seen dust-control sprays, mops, and other tools that arm you in this battle. What a business to be in as dust is just not going away.

It’s absolutely possible that some of the dust from the cellulose is making it down from your attic through similar air leaks between your living space and the attic. There can be drafts of air that leak around holes drilled in your wall framing that were used by plumbers and electricians to get pipes and wires into your attic. These may never have been sealed.

But I suspect there are many other sources of the dust in your home. The list is endless. Let’s start with the things inside your home. Your clothes (especially lint from dryers), carpets, food, paper products, cardboard boxes, upholstery of any kind, concrete, etc. all can produce dust. Think of what happens when you use flour to bake.

If you really want to see dust in all it’s glory, use a flash light in a totally dark room. It works best with some of these bright LED flashlights that produce a narrow beam. Turn one on in a dark room and look at the dust that’s swirling about.

Now add to that all of the airborne dust that’s outdoors trying to invade your home. There’s dust from pollen, rock dust, fibers from trees and other vegetation, etc.

To determine what is causing the dust, use a 10X or higher-powered magnifying glass to inspect the dust. I prefer to capture the dust with a piece of clear tape that’s got a mild adhesive on it. Apply the tape to a dusty surface and peel it away immediately. Using good light, look through the magnifying glass at the dust. You’ll be shocked at how distinct some of the particles are. You’ll be able to clearly distinguish between clothes fibers, pollen, food dust, rock or dirt dust, dander, etc.

The best way to control dust in your home is to use a central vacuum to clean. But it’s mission critical that it exhausts outdoors. You want any ultra-fine dust that makes it past the bag or canister to get outdoors.

If you don’t have a central vacuum, then you must use a regular hand-held vacuum that has a top-quality bag that only passes the tiniest of dust particles through the bag. Just the motion of running the vacuum creates a dust storm, so it’s tough to get it all with the machine.

To prove this, operate a vacuum over your carpet in the dark while a friend holds the flashlight near the machine as you use it. You’ll think it’s snowing inside your home, because you running the machine over the floor disturbs the dust and the air passing through the bag swirls this dust into the room. This is why I prefer to use a central vacuum as it doesn’t discharge air into the room as you work.

Check all the weatherstripping on your doors and windows to ensure hardly any outside dust is getting in your home. Inspect for other air leaks. Be sure you always clean the lint filter on your clothes dryer. Realize that it’s a never-ending battle.

If you have a forced-air heating or cooling system, be sure you have excellent air filters and change them regularly. Some of the newer pleated paper filters do a magnificent job of capturing dust.

Here is an email that I received from Kuba Ober about how she handled her dust problem.

"Tim, here's a dusty first-hand anecdote. We bought our 30 year old house a year and a half ago. After moving in, there was plenty of dust settling on everything for 2-3 months. We then replaced the cheap "one per month" HVAC air filters left by the previous owner with highest grade 3M filter one could get. The first replacement was almost clogged after 3 weeks, the second one lasted 3 months, and from there on: smooth sailing with filter changes every 6 months. It looks like there was simply a dust in the ducts that was being blown around and not removed by the cheap filters. As far as I'm concerned, the cheap air filters should be taken off the market, because people don't know any better and keep breathing in the dust. Cheers, Kuba Ober"

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One Response to Home Dust Control Systems

  1. I am suffering from dust and insulation being blown inside my house from our AC unit. I went into the attic and discovered there were areas where the insulation has been damaged due to age and appears dusty with specks of fiberglass. I had the ducts and worms ducting replaced it helped and now its' getting bad again. The insulation is not even it has some areas where there are gaps and could possibly be sucked into the ductwork or any windy day could move it around the attic.

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