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Indoor Air Cleaning - Part 2

Part 2 - Indoor Air Cleaning & Filtration Technology

Is Air Quality Effecting Your Health?

Recently published studies have addressed the problem of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) in many offices and schools. And it seems not a day goes by without some mention in the news about poor indoor air and it's health effects. Some of the same irritants and conditions that cause building-related illness in these environments could be lurking in your home. As you might remember, there are three main components to unhealthy indoor air: particulate matter (like dust mite allergen, dander and smoke), micro-organisms (like bacteria, mold, and viruses) and volatile organic compounds (like formaldehyde, ammonia, and fumes from solvents). According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, 50 percent of illnesses are either caused and/or aggravated by polluted indoor air. Symptoms that could accompany having a "sick" home, office or school include:

  • Aggravation of asthma
  • Cold or flu-like symptoms
  • Eye irritation
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lung infections
  • Nasal stuffiness
  • Rashes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing

Practical Tips For Improving Home Air Quality

The good news about your home's air quality is you can take action to improve it without having to spend a fortune. The main focus of this article is air filtration products that can fit any budget. First, here are a few inexpensive steps you can take right now to minimize your exposure to unhealthy home air.
  • Prohibit smoking indoors.
  • Use air conditioning, particularly during high-pollen seasons and on high-smog days. (Note: Overcooling your home on high-humidity days can cause condensation and possibly mold).
  • Eliminate other mold-causing moisture:
    • Vent your clothes dryer to the outside.
    • Make sure dehumidifiers and humidifiers are frequently cleaned and maintained.
    • Monitor and fix potential leaks and spills.
  • Maintain your HVAC system by changing or washing your filters when appropriate.
  • Don't store old containers of paint, solvents, pesticides or other household chemicals.
  • Keep lids tight on cleaning products and consider switching to non-toxic, chemical free cleaning solutions.
  • Vacuum frequently and, for best results, use a HEPA filtered vacuum cleaner.
  • For more helpful tips on indoor air quality, visit the EPA website.

Considerations When Choosing A Room Air Cleaner

As discussed in the first Indoor Air Cleaning article, there are a number of different air cleaning technologies being marketed. But it's HEPA filtration that doctors recommend most often for effective air cleaning. Therefore, the following information will deal primarily with room air cleaners that utilize HEPA filtration. National Allergy carries a number of these HEPA room air cleaners made by top companies like Hunter, Honeywell and Austin Air.

Once you know you're in the market for an air cleaner, the next step is to know the room size of the room where the air cleaner will be used. For example, the Austin HM400 is good for larger rooms up to 20 x 25 feet, while our Vapor-Eze Clean Air 5000 unit is rated for smaller rooms (or vehicles) up to 12 x 15 feet. Many of our customers also have sensitivities to various odors and chemicals such as formaldehyde, chloroform, disinfectants, kerosene, exhaust fumes and others. If you or a loved one is chemically sensitive, or if you live in an urban environment with pollutant dangers, then a HEPA machine with added filtration for volatile organic compounds (VOC's) is a wise idea. Austin Air Cleaners include a filter canister filled with granular activated carbon combined with zeolite to effectively filter many of these VOC's and odors. The Austin Air HealthMate Plus takes VOC filtration a step further by a impregnating the granular carbon with potassium iodide for maximum chemical and odor filtration for compounds like formaldehyde and ammonia.

When guiding people through a room air cleaner decision, our customer service representatives are most often asked about noise level, required maintenance, and where to put the machine. We will look at these factors, but remember that the most important feature of an air cleaner is its ability to effectively filter the air.

The Noise Factor
The American Lung Association and others recommend that air cleaners have a motor to circulate air back to the machine for cleaning. Because of this, some people find machines like HEPA air cleaners to be noisy. Most of our customers would probably say the extra noise is a small price to pay for the peace of knowing they are getting cleaner air. In fact, many people cannot sleep without their air cleaner running because of the comforting "white noise" it provides. However, being able to control the noise is an important feature as well. For this reason, most air cleaners on the market today have variable speeds. A solution that we recommend for the noise-sensitive is to run the air cleaner on high during the day, or when it will not be bothersome to anyone, then during the evening, set the cleaner to a low setting. A variable-speed machine will be quieter on its low setting, however it should never be completely off.

The Question Of Maintenance
Any air cleaner that utilizes a HEPA filter and carbon pre-filter technology will require filter changes. Many customers appreciate any feature that makes this maintenance easier. All Hunter units contain filter change indicators, as do several of the Honeywell machines. Under normal operating conditions, the carbon pre-filter on Honeywell and Hunter units should be changed about every 3 months, while the main HEPA filter should be changed every 1-3 years. If you fail to change the filters on schedule, the air cleaner will lose effectiveness and may eventually end up with motor damage. National Allergy sells all available replacement filters for the brands we distribute. While they are more expensive initially, a benefit of Austin Air Cleaners is a very low maintenance cost because pre-filters only need periodic vacuuming and the main HEPA and VOC filters can be replaced together every 4-5 years.

Air Flow & Placement
You will find that the majority of machines sold currently vent the clean air upward to enable the most effective air circulation and to avoid stirring up dirt and allergens by blowing air across the floor. Air cleaner manufacturers realize that it is impractical for most people to have their air cleaner in the middle of a room. Thus, machines like Hunter have front air intakes so they can be placed against a wall and still circulate air effectively. Other machines feature 360-degree air intake and are best placed 2 to 3 feet away from a wall. Because we believe airflow is such an important factor, we recommend using a unit powerful enough to circulate the air through its filters at least 6 times per hour in the room used. How much air a unit moves is one of our main litmus tests in evaluating whether or not to offer a particular air cleaner.

If you would like more information about finding the right air cleaners for your home, we've compiled information about room size, filtration technology, replacement parts and price on our Air Cleaners At A Glance chart.

Simple Whole House Filtration

For most people, the best strategy for having safe air quality in the home involves a combination of technologies at two different levels - the individual rooms AND the whole house. A great way to get whole-house filtration, if your home has a forced-air (HVAC) system, is by using a high-efficiency furnace filter. Traditional furnace filters are fiberglass and do very little to remove allergens and other dangerous particles from the air. In fact, they have an efficiency rating of only 2% for those smaller particles as compared to the HEPA filtration efficiency of 99.97%. However, because furnace filters have to balance filtration with airflow through your ventilation system, thicker filtration media like HEPA does not work as a furnace filter. The airflow in your ventilation system is not powerful enough to move air through a HEPA filter without risking damage to your system.

Electrostatic filters are a good choice for HVAC systems because the filter media is negatively charged to attract allergens and other small particles something like a magnet would to metal shavings. Electrostatic filters are available as permanent washable filters or as quarterly disposable filters. Permanent electrostatic filters are a more economical choice in the long term and National Allergy's permanent filters have a lifetime warranty. However, their filtration is not as efficient as disposable filters and they need to be cleaned monthly in order to maintain their electrostatic properties.

There are several highly efficient disposable electrostatic furnace filters available, like the 3M Filtrete Ultra Allergen 1250, the Filtrete Micro Allergen 1000 , and the Filtrete Ultra Allergen Furnace Filter. Did you know that 10% of Americans surveyed by 3M and the American Lung Association admitted to having never changed their furnace filter? It can be easy to forget, but if you are considering using disposable filters, they must be changed quarterly in order to maintain their effectiveness against small particles.

Once filtered, the air still has to travel through the ductwork where it can pick up particulate matter. One economical way to add a bit more protection is to cover incoming air vents with our electrostatic Vent Filtration Kit. The easy-to-use kit is made of a high-grade polyester media that attracts many of the larger particles that may blow in from your ductwork. Vent filters work best in conjunction with a furnace filter and will not remove particles already in the room nor very small particles.

Back To School, Back To Allergies?

As you have read, indoor air quality can be managed in the home, but there are often allergy and asthma triggers lurking in environments outside of our homes as well. Here are some air-quality action points to consider as we approach fall. College-bound students should keep in mind that dorm or apartment rooms are small and often allergy-filled. We recommend a portable room air cleaner like the Honeywell QuietCare or the Austin Air HealthMate Jr. for cleaning a dorm or small apartment room. Many of these buildings are older and may not be well ventilated so they can harbor mold, chemical contaminants and of course, dust mites. So, along with a portable air cleaner consider sending some comfortable, low maintenance encasings like those made from our SofTEK2 fabric so your college student can rest (and study!) in allergen-free air.

Many elementary, middle and high schools have also discovered troubling indoor air quality issues. This year school openings have already been delayed in towns and cities from Washington to Ohio, mostly because of mold. In addition to mold, typical classroom allergens can include dust mites, chalk dust, animal dander from class pets and pollen. You might consider talking to school officials about the air quality safety of your local school. Some might be willing to place an air cleaner in your child's classroom or take other measures to prevent harmful air. Both your child and his or her classmates will benefit from the reduced exposure to airborne contaminants. We offer special pricing for local schools interested in purchasing quantities of air cleaners for their facilities. Here is a source for additional Healthy Classroom tips.

Poor air quality is a serious issue, but one that you can have some influence on by doing your homework and making smart choices. We encourage you to visit to a local allergist if you think you may have a "sick" home, school or workplace. They can help you identify what triggers you truly need to avoid and clean from your environment. It is always wise to consult with your doctor first about your specific condition, treatment options and other health concerns you may have. Our goal is to keep you informed and educated so, ultimately, you and your family can breathe better and find relief from allergy, asthma, and sinus symptoms.

Go Back To Part I

This information is for educational purposes only. Always consult with your doctor first about your specific condition, treatment options and other health concerns you may have.

Article Quick Read
  • Particulate matter, micro-organisms and volatile organic compounds contribute to poor quality indoor air.
  • 50% of illnesses are either caused and/or aggravated by polluted indoor air.
  • Maintain your HVAC system by changing or washing your filters when appropriate.
  • Vacuum frequently and, for best results, use a HEPA filtered vacuum cleaner.
  • Doctors recommend HEPA filtration most often for effective air cleaning.
  • A HEPA machine with added filtration for volatile organic compounds is better for those with chemical sensitivities.
  • Air cleaners lose their effectiveness if filters are not replaced on a regular basis.
  • Air should circulate through air filters at least 6 times an hour.
  • Electrostatic filters are a good choice for HVAC systems.