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Indoor Air Quality – Breathable Air

28 Jun 2022

Author: Jeff O'Hara

Everyone needs clean, breathable air to survive.

There’s a good chance that you came across this page because you’re looking for something that can help you improve your home’s indoor air quality (IAQ). The importance of IAQ was on our minds long before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it continues now as we look for ways to reduce the risk of exposure to harmful contaminants around our homes.

Indoor Air Quality Has Never Been More Important

If we can take anything positive away from our collective pandemic experience over the last couple of years, it’s a renewed awareness of how our environment affects our health. Before Covid-19, people spent about 85 – 90% of their time indoors, and since March of 2020, that number has reached closer to 95%. As a result of all that time indoors, we find ourselves exposed to many airborne irritants, both chemical and naturally occurring.

It wasn’t that many years ago that air purifiers were reserved for the more eccentric or wealthy, and were considered kitsch at the time. Today, such a vast range of options available relating to air filtration and purification can be overwhelming. It’s essential to remember that good air cleaning systems are still pricey, but some more inexpensive choices can provide positive results.

The Air You Breathe Has a Direct Result on Your Health

The World Health Organization estimates that roughly 7 million people die every year due to inhalation of fine particles in polluted air. Heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, emphysema, respiratory infections, and pneumonia can all be attributed to the pollution in the air around us. To combat these fatalities and aid in treating conditions like asthma, allergies, and other respiratory ailments, it was necessary to devise a way to clean the air inside our homes.

The mid-1800s saw the introduction of the first air filtration devices that used charcoal filters in gas masks to protect miners and other workers. In the 1940s, HEPA filters were invented with the intention for them to filter air contaminated by radiation. The first standalone air purifiers came along in the 1960s and were great for relieving allergy symptoms and making the house feel “cleaner”.

What Kinds of Air Purifiers Are There?

Air purification systems, whether standalone room units or whole home setups, essentially fall into two categories, those with filters and those without.

Filtration Purifiers: HVAC filters, HEPA filters, carbon/charcoal filters

  • Flat Fiberglass Filters: Disposable filter that is usually between ½” and 1″ in thickness of layered fiberglass with a reinforcing stiff cardboard or metal frame. Most often seen in apartments and townhome HVAC systems, this filter suffers from a meager MERV rating. Flat filters cannot remove smaller particles from the air, allowing irritants to continue recirculating through the home. Flat filters are also wholly ineffective against odors.
  • HEPA Filter: HEPA is an acronym for High-Efficiency Particulate Air. These thicker, pleated filters can remove 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, or any other airborne particles with a size greater than .03 microns. Thicker layers of fiberglass with a tighter weave are used in HEPA filters. They have become the standard for not just HVAC filtration but also vacuum cleaners to eliminate recirculated dirt.
  • Carbon Filter: Useful in homes where excessive dust, smokers, pet dander, and damp basements can create oppressive and often offensive odors, carbon filters can help significantly in reducing those smells. Carbon filters are used in conjunction with or as an addition to a regular fiberglass HVAC filter.

These filtration-based air purifiers utilize some form of physical media to trap airborne particles that can be irritating to noses, eyes, skin, and lungs. HVAC system filters can be highly effective at reducing the number of airborne irritants in the home, but only when quality filters are used. Those “3 for $5.00” AC filters you can pick up at the grocery store will not cut it for adequate filtration, especially if you live in a high-pollution area.

Depending on the quality of your air filters, your HVAC system can help reduce the number of airborne irritants to levels suitable for hospitals. The key to finding the best possible air filters for your home is checking their MERV Rating. Always ensure you’re using filters with a MERV rating above 8, but the best results will be achieved with a 12 – 16 rating. It isn’t a good idea to install filters with a MERV rating higher than 16 in residential HVAC systems as they will overwork those units.

What Are Air Filters Filtering?

Every home’s most common airborne irritants are dust, dirt, skin flakes, pet dander, cooking smoke, and cleaning products. Also present are biological pollutants like bacteria and viruses, mildew, mold, and radon. Less common but still an issue for those with breathing difficulties are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals in building materials, furniture, flooring adhesives, paint, and even arts and crafts supplies.

Non-Filtration Air Purifiers: Ionizers, Ozone Generators, and UV Germicidal Lights

Designed to be used in tandem with an already effective air filtration system, this line of air purification uses various chemical reaction processes to provide cleaner air. Some air purifiers can be integrated into your existing HVAC system for whole-house coverage; others are standalone units that can treat one room at a time.

  • Ionizers: These standalone units work by charging air particles in a room so that they can be attracted to –and settle on—tables, shelves, and other surfaces and be wiped up. Ionizers do not employ any filtration media, nor do they control odors. Additionally, ionizers generate ozone, which in many people can be a source of lung irritation and can be harmful with overexposure.
  • Ultraviolet Germicidal: While the goal of all air filtration systems is the elimination of as many airborne irritants as possible, your HVAC system alone is powerless against viruses, mold, and bacteria. Installing a germicidal ultraviolet (UV) light system in your HVAC air supply plenum can prove 99.97% effective in killing these harmful pollutants, allowing your whole family to breathe easier. Unlike ionizers, UV germicidal lights will also eliminate odors, from mildew and mold to pet odors and cooking smoke.

As the air outside of our homes becomes more toxic, it is imperative for those with sensitive respiratory systems, diminished immune systems, or anyone who just wants to breathe easier at home.

If you’re considering taking steps to reduce the number of pollutants and irritants in your home’s air, give Nick’s Air Conditioning a call. Our indoor air quality experts are ready to answer any questions you have about improving your IAQ and set up an appointment for an indoor air assessment.

Call Nick’s Today; We’re on the Way.

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