Top Solutions for Premium Air QualityPublished on: July 15, 2013
Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a serious topic. While most homeowners don’t think about what’s in the air they breathe, government health groups believe that pollution and airborne contaminants are legitimate concerns. In fact, indoor air pollution is one of the top five environmental health risks, and it affects everyone.
Healthy indoor air is important for everyone, not just those who suffer from allergies, asthma or chronic breathing problems. Experts say that indoor air is significantly more polluted than the air outside. Plus, the average American inhales more than 3,000 gallons of air daily, and much of this air is re-circulated inside buildings.
For comfort and optimal health, the air that you breathe should be clean, fresh and properly humidified. These are the elements of premium indoor air, and they can be achieved by implementing one or more of these top IAQ solutions.
Anyone seeking solutions for air quality problems should start with their return filters. As a rule of thumb, filters should be inspected every 30 days and changed if necessary. Clogged filters make your system work harder and decrease overall efficiency. Since the return filter is your first line of defense, it’s important to make sure that the filter is cleaned or changed regularly. Dirty air filters permit dust to accumulate in ducts and on system components, which decreases efficiency further. While filtering the air that enters your HVAC system is essential, some people benefit from additional register filters that capture particles before they leave the ducts and enter your living space.
Choosing the Right Filter
Choosing the right filter for your air return is an important decision. By selecting the appropriate filter for your needs, you can minimize allergies and airborne illnesses. Understanding minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) ratings can help when shopping for HVAC filters. These standards were developed by the Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. MERV ratings range from one to 20.
Standard flat-panel fiberglass filters have MERV ratings between one and four. These filters are commonly used in residential HVAC systems. However, they only remove large particles.
Mid-range HVAC filters with MERV ratings between five and 13 are more effective at removing large and small particles. Filters with ratings around 10 are almost as effective as true HEPA filters. They are also more affordable than HEPA filters and have less air resistance, which allows the system to operate more efficiently.
True HEPA filters have MERV ratings between 17 and 20. However, they are seldom used in residential applications due to their high air resistance. Pleated HVAC filters with ratings between 14 and 16 are highly effective at removing all types of airborne contaminants, including pollen, dust mites and viruses.
Occasionally, regular maintenance and filter changes aren’t enough to prevent dust from building up in your ducts and inside your heating and cooling system. In these cases, a duct cleaning is the best way to have a fresh start. Professional duct cleaners will vacuum your ductwork thoroughly and clean mechanical components that become coated with dust. Duct cleaning is one remediation method that is suitable for correcting a number of IAQ problems, including the following.
- Mold and mildew
- Vermin infestations
- Excessive dust accumulations
- Contaminants from former residents
- Unpleasant odors
After a duct cleaning, it’s easier to manage dust accumulations and airborne particles that need to be removed with a secondary filtration system or an air cleaner.
Whole-house air cleaners do more than filter the air. They remove and destroy airborne pollutants. Mechanical air purifiers simply filter the air as it passes through the ductwork. Electronic air cleaners, on the other hand, trap and kill pathogens using an electrical charge. In-duct air purifiers are quieter and more efficient than portable models. One unit can filter the air in your home up to eight times an hour.
Whole-house air cleaners can be installed inside ducts and linked to your HVAC controls. This is a viable option as long as there is enough space around the ducts to complete the installation, maintenance and repairs. Depending on the technology and filter efficiency, whole-house air cleaners can remove between 95 and 98 percent of pathogens measuring less than one micron.
UV air sanitizers are another add-on that can help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your current filtration system. These UV lamps silently kill microorganisms and pathogens, including mold spores, mildew and bacteria. This technology can improve system performance while keeping your family comfortable and healthy.
Proper moisture levels are critical for maintaining healthy indoor air. The weather has a great effect on relative humidity, but other factors come into play too. Moisture problems can be caused by poor ventilation, leaks, improper drainage and leaky foundations. High humidity creates conditions where mold spores proliferate, dust mites multiply and moisture damages paint and building materials. High humidity is also uncomfortable.
In most cases, your air conditioner will successfully remove excess moisture and keep the air in your home cool and dry. However, there are situations that compromise this dehumidifying action. Oversized HVAC systems cannot fully remove the moisture in the air before the unit cools the space and shuts off. Condensate drains may also become clogged with algae or debris that prevents the moisture from trickling out of the drain. A simple HVAC inspection can reveal problems related to your HVAC system as well as moisture problems related to underlying structural issues.
If your HVAC system isn’t removing enough moisture from the air, you might consider a whole-house dehumidifier or a portable unit that can be placed in problem areas. For health and comfort, indoor humidity levels should be around 50 percent. Maintaining this level will minimize allergens and improve IAQ substantially.
Low humidity is typically an issue in the winter. Signs of low humidity include dry skin, throat irritation and static electricity. Humidification equipment adds moisture into your ducts. This helps dry air feel warmer and more comfortable, which means that you can set your thermostat a little bit lower and save money. Proper humidity also helps slow the transmission of airborne viruses, which tend to travel further in dry conditions. Irritated nasal passages caused by low humidity lead to nosebleeds and fissures that allow viruses to enter the body. Ideal humidity levels are important for achieving premium IAQ.
Ventilation is the cornerstone of clean air. By removing stale air and letting in fresh outdoor air, ventilation equipment enhances IAQ and dilutes airborne pollutants. Ventilation systems also help control humidity. In addition to attic vents that encourage healthy “attic wind,” mechanical ventilation can improve IAQ significantly. Spot ventilation in the form of exhaust fans is recommended in bathrooms and kitchens to control moisture. Building experts and researchers recommend whole-house ventilation systems for all homes.
One state-of-the-art ventilation option uses heat recovery technology to efficiently vent stale air and collect new air without losing heat. These systems bring in clean air and conserve energy. Energy recovery ventilators are used during the cooling season to release stale air and bring in new air while limiting humidity. Heat recovery ventilators work in a similar manner. However, they prevent heat from escaping and are used during the heating season.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers has precise recommendations on air change rates and ventilation practices. Ideally, homes should use a combination of natural, mechanical and spot ventilation to maintain healthy indoor air.
Achieving and Maintaining Premium IAQ
Reducing allergens and fostering clean indoor air requires a combination of efforts. Ventilation experts look at the whole picture and complete an in-depth analysis of homes and equipment to see where improvements can be made. Changing filters regularly and completing recommended maintenance aren’t always enough to reduce allergens and maintain a healthy indoor environment. While some causes of IAQ problems are obvious, others are difficult to detect. AC Southeast® contractors are trained to find deficiencies and recommend improvements. Properly sized HVAC units, matched air cleaners and appropriate humidity controls are all essential for improving indoor air quality. These solutions for air quality can help reduce heating and cooling costs while improving your comfort and quality of life. Use our locator tool to find an AC Southeast® contractor in your area.