According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the air inside U.S. homes may be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, and in some cases as much as 100 times more polluted than outdoor air. What’s surprising is that newer homes actually can test higher for poorer indoor air quality. In a rush to conserve energy in the '70s we builders, architects, and designers started to build tighter homes with better windows and doors, thicker insulation, and taking extra steps to seal out any potential drafts.
While we succeeded in lowering energy bills, we ended up also adding to the problem of trapping Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) inside our homes. These fumes can be from building products, furniture, animal dander, as well as indoor mildew and mold. While it sounds funny, a drafty home is usually a healthier home. Other issues compounding matters is that more Americans than ever before suffer from severe allergies/asthma, an estimated 57 million according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
Americans are spending millions of dollars a year on indoor air filtering systems, from small table top models to whole house units. There is major debate on which ones work the best. The HEPA filtrations units are one of the most used products, and are available in many different sizes depending on the size of the room you are trying to clean.
But there are some steps that cost little to improve the indoor air you breathe. These steps coupled with the right indoor air cleaning unit can help you breath a little easier this summer and beyond.
Step One: Keep your home as clean as possible. Staying ahead of dust and dust mites can dramatically improve the air you breathing. Dusting window treatments, around window and door trim and out or reach areas can help quite a bit. Use a vacuum cleaner that utilizes a HEPA type filter so that as you are cleaning you’re not just spitting the dust back into the air. Also consider a bag-less vacuum to avoid the plume of dust that happens whenever you change a bag. To control odors in your home stay away from fragrance products that only masks the odors and can actually irritate your ability to breath easily. Odor neutralizers will actually eliminate the odor. Fresh Wave® is one such product that has a commercial background. The natural oils in this product find the odor and take it out of the air and destroy it, leaving your home, car or boat smelling fresh and allowing you to breathe easier, and keep things smelling fresh. For more information visit: www.fresh-wave.com
Step Two: If you have a forced-air heating system have the air ducts cleaned, I am always asked the question “Is cleaning my air ducts worth it”? The answer is yes. Even if your home is newer you may have more construction debris and dust internally than a home older than 10-15 years. Make sure the cleaning contractor is a member of the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (www.nadca.com), and uses not only high velocity air but a whip that is fed through the ductwork to loosen up any debris stuck to the walls of the sheet-metal. The average cost to clean ductwork in your home is a about $300.00-$500.00.
Step Three: Improve your air filters on your furnace. For many of us the furnace filter is a blue spun glass filter that cost less than a dollar. While this filter will protect the blower motor it will do next to nothing when it comes to improving you indoor air quality. Upgrade to a pleated filter that captures smaller particles some so small the naked eye cannot see. There are many brands available, one of my favorites are from 3M (www.3m.com) the key is to change the filters regularly. Since these do a good job of filtering the air, when they become dirty the can restrict the air flow through your heating and cooling system. Plan on changing these filters once every couple of months throughout the year.
Step Four: Consider and indoor air purifier. While they can very in performance, size and cost, below are some of the most popular units and what they can do for you. One of the industry standards is put forth by The AHAM Air Cleaner council (www.aham.org) which is part of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. Their testing helps set certain parameters so that all of these units are put against the same criteria. It’s the “clean air delivery rate” www.cadr.org I would advise that you use their ratings as a guide, but try the different units for yourself to determine if they work for you. Many manufacturers will offer a trial run with these units for up to 30 days. By that time you will know if you are breathing easier and if the unit is worth the investment. HEPA filtration (High Efficiency Particulate Air) is one of the most common approaches to cleaning the air. A good quality HEPA filtering system can be up to 99.97% efficient at filtering particulates that are 0.3 microns from the air. For perspective, a strand of human hair is 150 microns. This filtering system has been widely used and accepted by organizations promoting indoor air quality standards to clean the indoor air of smoke, dust, pollen, mold spores and pet dander. Portable units when sized correctly can do a good job of cleaning the air in a particular room. But the key is to make sure that unit is sized for the square footage of that room. Also the faster the fan runs the more air is exchanged through the unit. While this does increase the noise, the units will work much better. Room purifiers can range in price from $30.00-$400.00. The units I showed from Holms® and the Filtrete® purifiers are available at hardware sores and home centers. For more information visit: www.holmesproducts.com. Or www.filtrete.com.
Another popular unit uses water as the filter. The Venta-Air-Washer® was designed in Germany; it circulates air through two squirrel cages. The airborne particulates are caught by the water in the pan and cleaner air is exhausted. As the water evaporates the particulates stay in the pan. You do not need to buy additional filters and this unit has the added benefit of adding humidity to the indoor air which can make your home much more comfortable in the winter months. This unit ranges in price from $199.00-$500.00 depending on the size, for more information check out www.venta-airwasher.com.
Finally there are whole house air purifying units that will filter 99% of the airborne particulate through your existing forced air heating and cooling system throughout your entire home not just one room. It works 24/7 using HEPA filters and other filtering systems including UV lights. The system requires filter changes once to two times a year and a remote sensor tells you when the filters require maintenance. These are professionally installed units that cost between $1,400-$1,800. But for allergy and asthma sufferers these whole house units offer a total solution for cleaning up your indoor air. The Carrier Infinity Air Purifier® claims to kill everything it catches and uses technology that was developed for secure government buildings and is very easy to maintain. Coupled with fresh air intake and UV lights the unit has outstanding performance. (Note, I have worked as a paid spokesperson for Carrier). Aprilaire® also makes a whole house system Model 5000 that received a top rating from Consumer Reports for overall air filtration, with exceptional clean air delivery. For more information visit: http://www.aprilaire.com.
And while we are talking about indoor air make sure you are thinking about safety as well. Check on those Smoke and Carbon Monoxide detectors. The batteries should be fresh and if the unit has celebrated its seventh birthday throw it away and buy a new one. For more information visit: www.firstalert.com
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