Indoor Air Quality
What is Indoor Air Quality?
Most people want to live healthy lives, but staying healthy goes beyond just maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. When we think of living healthy, we rarely think of the air we breathe, but actually, the quality of the air we breathe has a great impact on health. This is especially true of indoor air.
Did you know that indoor air is anywhere from two to five times more polluted than outdoor air? It is according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which also states that some houses can be up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air! This statistic is difficult to believe, especially with smoke and smog in outdoor air, but it makes sense when you think of how tightly insulated most homes are today, especially with the need for lower energy costs. However, when too little outdoor air is allowed to circulate indoors, indoor air pollution becomes a problem.
What's In Air?
What exactly is indoor air pollution? Well, it may not be what most people consider pollution, mostly because indoor air pollution mainly consists of microscopic particles that cannot be seen. There are many different types of indoor air pollutants; the following are some of the most common:
- Dust mite debris
- Dust particles
- Mold spores
- Tobacco smoke
- Pet dander
- Grasses/pollen grains
- Chemicals and gases
Air pollutants can travel in the air, they can travel on pets, and they can lodge in carpets and on furniture, making them easily breathable. Without proper ventilation or air control, these pollutants can quickly become a problem, especially for allergen or asthma sufferers.
Dust Particles/Dust Mite Debris
One of the most common indoor air pollutants is dust mite debris. Dust mites are microscopic creatures that feed on dust and constantly expel feces into the air. They bed in places like pillows, mattresses, carpets, and furniture, and breathing their debris is a common allergen trigger.
Mold is a common pollutant that is sometimes found inside homes. It grows in moist areas or dark, damp areas such as bathrooms, basements, and areas of high humidity. Spores from mold growth can become airborne, where it is easily breathed. Touching or inhaling mold spores can trigger allergies, asthma, or other health problems.
Tobacco smoke is one of the worst triggers for breathing problems. Not only does it aggravate breathing, but large exposure can lead to serious health problems like lung cancer and heart disease. Tobacco smoke is not just an airborne allergen; it also sinks into carpets and furniture, where it is harmful to all, especially to little children toddling on the floor.
Though pets may be "part of the family," they are still animals, and pets are one of the worst sources for allergens. Not only do they carry allergens from the outdoors—such as grasses, grains, and spores—but they also produce pet dander. Pet dander is dead skin flakes from animals like dogs and cats; though pet dander can be carried into any home, with or without pets, it is greater in homes with pets and can be a harsh allergen.
Perhaps the worst summer allergens, pollen grains and grasses are allergens known for producing hay fever symptoms—sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, etc. They travel in the air, on clothes, and on pets and can easily become indoor pollutants that are easily breathed.
Odors are not harmful for your health and rarely cause allergic reactions, but they are indeed indoor air pollutants that are many times unpleasant. Odors are tiny gas particles that travel and linger in the air. They originate from several different sources—for example, cooking, garbage, bathroom, etc.—and can be bothersome and uninviting.
How to Maintain Good Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air pollution has steadily risen to become a problem in today's homes, and it definitely has negative effects. That is why it is important to regulate indoor air pollution. Although it is impossible to rid of indoor air pollution entirely, there are ways to lower the amount of pollutants in your home and to raise the quality of air your family breathes every day.
Home Air Filters
Can air filters really improve the quality of indoor air? Well, some can and some cannot; it depends on the type of filter that you have. Cheap washable fiberglass filters barely improve the performance of your HVAC system, and they certainly do not help improve your air quality. However, having a high quality air filter—such as a pleated electrostatic filter or a hospital-grade HEPA filter—can actually improve your air quality.
The air circulating through your home is pulled through the air system, which passes through the air filter and then is redistributed throughout the house. When you have a high quality air filter, the filter does not just trap large particles like dirt, dust bunnies, and lint, but it also removes the tiny microscopic allergens that ordinary fiberglass filters do not trap. The air that is then circulating throughout the house is cleaner, healthier air and is better for breathing.
There are many different types of filters, but it is important to know which ones are the best and which ones to avoid. Basically, cheap fiberglass filters are not recommended for use in home air systems. They trap large particles like dust bunnies, lint, hair, and dirt particles, but they do not trap microscopic particles; this not only sends allergens circulating through your home, but it also puts pressure on the air system.
Pleated Electrostatic Filters
If you want better quality indoor air and better performance for your HVAC system, then you need a more advanced air filter, such as an electrostatic filter. Electrostatic filters are made from charged material that attracts oppositely charged air particles like a magnet. This allows the filter to capture a much larger size range of particulates, as well as a larger amount. Electrostatic filters capture tiny microscopic pollutants such as allergens, smoke, and bacteria.
The performance of electrostatic filters is increased by adding pleats. Pleated filters have a larger dust-holding capacity, meaning they can trap and hold more pollutants, which means longer-lasting, more efficient performance. Electrostatic filters, which use static electricity to draw pollutants, become less efficient with the more pollutants they trap. For this reason, they must be replaced on a regular basis. Regular replacement ensures higher efficiency for your filter, better performance for your air system, and better air quality for your home.
Another highly efficient home air filter is a HEPA filter. HEPA filters are made of specially designed filtration technology that traps up to 99.97% of all airborne particulates as small as 0.3 microns. This means that they trap a wide range of microscopic pollutants, including particles like dust particles, dust mite debris, mold spores, tobacco smoke, pet dander, pollen grains, bacteria, and even some viruses.
HEPA filters are commonly used in hospitals, laboratories, sickrooms, and other professional venues, as well as for residential applications. Like electrostatic filters, HEPA filters must be replaced regularly for optimum performance. This merely increases the quality of the filter's performance and the quality of the air circulating back throughout your home.
If you want to get the best results for your home air quality, using a pre filter can be a big help. Pre filters, just like the name suggests, go before the main air filter and trap large particulates that easily clog a filter. Pre filters keep the main filter more efficient for trapping smaller, more harmful microscopic allergens by removing large particulates like dust, lint, and hair before they enter the main filter. This allows for longer-lasting filtration and better filter performance. For the best air filtration results, pre filters are always recommended.
Carbon filters are made specifically for removing odors. Like mentioned above, odors are tiny gas particles and cannot be trapped by ordinary filters, even highly efficient filters like HEPA or electrostatic filters. However, carbon filters are made of carbon that has been treated with oxygen in a process that opens up millions of extremely tiny, highly absorbent pores that trap tiny particles. Carbon filters do not just trap odors; they also trap smoke, gaseous vapors, and even some chemicals like VOCs. If you have a problem with unpleasant odors or if you want fresher indoor air, then carbon filters might be what you need.
Air Purifiers and Humidifiers
Air purifiers and humidifiers are also good ways to get higher quality indoor air, especially if you need better air concentrated in one room space. For example, allergy and asthma sufferers sometimes need extra relief from indoor air pollution, so do infants and young children. Air purifiers or humidifiers can provide that extra relief.
Air purifiers, or room air cleaners, are designed to remove particulates from one particular room space. They use the same types of filtration as home air filters, and they remove the same types of particulates. Air purifiers come in a variety of different sizes, types, operations, and filter types; it really depends on your air quality needs, and they can actually provide better air filtration because it concentrates the cleaner air in one area. This makes air purifiers perfect for bedrooms, living or cooking areas, playrooms, offices, etc.
Air purifiers work by pulling air from the room, which is passed through a filter. The filter traps particulates present in the air (sometimes going through several different stages of filtration), and sends purified air back into the room.This keeps purified air circulating throughout the room. Air purifiers are a great way to keep higher quality indoor air inside your home, whether it is in the bedroom, the living room, nursery, or kitchen.
Just as heavy insulation can lead to the accumulation of indoor air pollutants, a very dry indoor climate can also have negative health effects. Dry air really becomes a problem during the dry, cold winter months, especially when you have dry, warm air blowing constantly in your house. This dries out indoor air, and constantly breathing dry air causes dry, inflamed sinus passages, leading to breathing problems. Constant dry air also causes damage to furniture and wood floors, meaning high costs for replacement.
This is when a humidifier can come in handy. Humidifiers are designed to release moisture into dry air, which keeps the humidity level better regulated. Breathing moisturized air keeps the throat and sinus passages hydrated, which helps soothe inflamed membranes and allergies, helping to keep a humidified home and a healthier family.
Though it may seem like a given, cleaning regularly can lessen the amount of indoor air pollution inside your home. Dusting and vacuuming are extremely important. Vacuuming carpets and cloth furniture can go a long way for reducing the amount of indoor air pollution; this reduces the amount of dust, dust mites, dirt, dander, and other pollutants in areas you frequent. It is best to use a vacuum that contains a filter, which traps dust particles and other microscopic particulates, rather than spewing them back into the air.
Also, it is important to remember to wash sheets and pillows often. Dust mites love to bed in pillows and mattresses, so it is important to wash pillows along with sheets to reduce allergies from dust mites. Sometimes just the little things like sweeping, dusting, washing, and vacuuming can make a huge difference in keeping healthier indoor air and in raising the quality of your home breathing environment.
How to Choose an Air Filter
How do you know which filter is right for you? When you are looking for an air filter for your home, the search may not prove as easy as you expect. There are so many different types from which to choose, and they all have specific purposes. There are many different factors that you should consider when choosing a filter.
Things to consider when choosing a filter:
- Filter size and model
- Original vs. aftermarket
- Home air quality
- Specific breathing needs
- Type of filter
- Filter performance
- Filter cost and replacement
Filter Size and Model
Before you begin to choose a specific type of filter, you need know both the size of the filter that fits your air system and the model. It is very important to know the size of your filter because you want your filter to fit; also, you don't wish to lose money purchasing the wrong filter size. Most filters already have the size printed on the side, but sometimes this is a rounded measurement, and sometimes filters are undercut up to half an inch of the actual size. To be certain that you have the exact measurement, use a measuring tape and measure the height, width, and depth of the filter.
Also, it is important to know the filter model. Knowing the model will allow you to quickly find the filter you need. Also, there are many aftermarket filters that are made to fit specific models, and when looking at a large variety of filters, you need to know which filters fit which models.
Original vs. Aftermarket
There are air filters that are manufactured by specific brands to fit the brands' models, and these are known as original filters. For example, Aprilaire manufactures original Aprilaire filters for Aprilaire air systems. Aftermarket filters are filters that are manufactured by other companies to fit other brands. For example, AirFilters.com offers Accumulaire filters that are manufactured to fit Aprilaire air systems. Aftermarket filters are designed the same as the original filters and offer the same quality, but they come at a cheaper price.
Home Air Quality
One thing to consider when choosing a filter is your home's air quality. If your home has poor air quality, then you might need to consider a higher quality air filter. Some common factors that lead to lower indoor air quality include:
- Poor ventilation
- Tight insulation
- Outdoor environment
Some homes are built tightly insulated, which actually increases the amount of indoor air pollution. Poor ventilation of outdoor air leads to the accumulation of indoor air pollutants inside, which means more pressure on your air system as it pulls in air with more particulates. Homes with smokers or homes with pets also contain higher levels of indoor air pollutants and would require a higher quality filter. Another factor to consider is the outdoor environment where you live. If you live near fields or in a big city, for example, the outdoor air seeping into your home will contain higher levels of pollutants.
Specific Breathing Needs
Some people need a higher quality air filter because of breathing problems. For example, people who suffer from allergies, asthma, bronchitis, sinus problems, and lung problems require a higher quality filter because indoor air pollutants trigger these problems. Also, infants, young children, elderly people, and anyone with existing health problems also benefit from having a higher quality filter. This is definitely something to consider when choosing the filter that is right for you.
Type of Filter
What type of filter do I need? This is a very important question when choosing a filter. There are many different types of air filters on the market, and most are designed with specific needs in mind. Here are the most common types of filters:
- Electrostatic filters
- HEPA filters
- Carbon filters
- Pre filters
- Electronic filters
If you suffer from breathing problems like asthma or allergies, then you probably need an electrostatic filter or a HEPA filter. These filters are specifically designed to remove microscopic allergens like dust mite debris, mold spores, tobacco smoke, pet dander, pollen grains, and bacteria. Electronic filters also trap a large range of microscopic particulates, but they are not the most common, and some of them produce ozone. If you have a problem with odors in your home, then you need a carbon filter, which is designed to reduce odors, gaseous vapors, and chemicals. Pre filters keep your main filters working more efficiently by trapping large particulates that easily clog a filter.
Once you decide on the type of filter that you need, the filter's performance is the next factor to consider.
- How is the filter rated?
- What types of particulates does it remove?
- How efficient is it?
Some air filters are given a MERV rating, some a CADR, to help you determine the quality of the filter's performance. MERV, which is the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, is a number designated by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to help you compare filters. A CADR is the Clean Air Delivery Rate, which is another rating to help determine filter performance.
Basically, the higher the MERV or the CADR, the more particulates the filter removes and the higher the filter's efficiency. These ratings are generally given for pleated, electrostatic, or electronic filters. At AirFilters.com, because most of our filters are rated by MERV, we recommend at least a MERV 8 for residential use or one with a higher rating for those with breathing problems like asthma or allergies.
HEPA filters are easy to rate. All true HEPA filters are 99.97% efficient at removing microscopic particulates as small as 0.3 microns. They are highly efficient filters, whether for residential, commercial, or industrial use. They provide satisfactory results for those with breathing problems.
Though carbon filters are not given a rating, you want an activated carbon filter or a carbon filter that has been impregnated. Activated carbon is carbon that has been treated with oxygen, which creates tiny pores with high absorption quality. Some carbon filters have been impregnated—for example, with potassium permanganate—to have a greater capturing ability, especially for trapping larger amounts of chemicals and gases.
Filter Cost and Replacement
When choosing a filter, of course there are financial considerations as well. How much does a high quality filter cost? The cost really depends on which filter you choose, whether it is an original or an aftermarket, and the size of the filter. The higher the rating and the larger the size of the filter, the higher the price is going to be. Also, not all filters come in standard sizes; you may not be able to find your exact measurement in the type of filter you want and you may have to have one custom made, in which case the price is usually a bit higher. However, even though high quality filters are a bit more expensive than the cheap fiberglass filters, they are well worth the money, both in providing higher quality air and in keeping your air system working properly.
No matter what type of filter you choose, however, there is one final consideration. Replacement is extremely important for high quality filters. Though some filters are made to last for several years, most filters last about three to five months and must be replaced for optimum performance of the filter. Replacement costs should be considered, as well, but replacement is definitely a necessity for proper functioning of the filter and the efficiency of your air system.
How to change your filter
Following these steps will make changing your air filter easy. But, always make sure to read your HVAC system's manufacturer instructions to ensure you understand how to properly change the filter.
Step 1. Buy a new filter.
Before you buy a new air filter, check your owner's manual to identify the right number or size (it should also be printed on the side of your existing air filter). You should be able to get a replacement filter at a hardware store, or some department stores sell them.
Step 2. Turn off the unit.
Be sure to turn off your HVAC unit before attempting to change the filter, for your own safety. If you can't figure out how to turn off the unit itself, you should turn off the breaker.
Step 3. Remove the old filter.
Most air filters are located on the right side of the unit. The filter should easily pull out of its slot in the furnace. It's not common, but sometimes filters are found in air vents in your home. If that is the case, you will likely need to contact a professional to change the filter.
Step 4. Insert new filter.
when installing new filter check air flow indicator often on the side of the filter for direction of air flow often marked with an arrow for easy installition. if no arrow remember to alway keep the metal or card board material on the inside of the return box or not visible when looking from the "front".
Should I Have Ducts Cleaned?
Due to growing concerns about indoor air quality, it's easy to convince homeowners that their ducts need cleaning. But unless ducts are really dirty, there's no reason to clean them. The EPA takes a similar stance on the issue, recommending cleaning only if the ducts and HVAC unit are contaminated.
If done properly, duct cleaning doesn't hurt; but it's not something that needs to be on your regular home maintenance list. You probably don't need to have your ducts and HVAC system cleaned unless:
- Renovation: If your home has been remodeled – especially if there was asbestos abatement, lead paint removal, or significant dust – your ductwork may need to be cleaned. Ducts should be sealed off during home renovations; but if they weren't, dangerous dust and debris may become lodged inside the ductwork.
- Animals: If there's evidence of animal infestation or nesting in your ducts or HVAC system, have the animals removed then clean the ductwork and HVAC unit.
- Mold: If there is visible mold growth inside the ductwork, the ducts and HVAC system should be cleaned.
- Contaminants: If noticeable debris, pet hair, odors, or other contaminants are being released into the room through the ducts after the registers have been cleaned and vacuumed; then the ducts may need to be cleaned.
- Illness: If someone in your family is suffering from an unexplained allergy-related illness, and you've taken every other possible step to decontaminate your home, you may want to consider having your ducts cleaned to see if the HVAC system was the culprit.
The entire HVAC heating/cooling system should be inspected and cleaned as well.