HVAC Care Helps Reduce Allergens in Your Home
Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz, famously declared, “There’s no place like home.” Little did the little girl from Kansas realize how those words would resonate today as many of us have been housebound due to the coronavirus pandemic. As we spend more time in our homes, it’s important to consider those things that make them safe and more comfortable, including the need to fight those pesky and sometimes dangerous allergens, and your HVAC can help reduce those allergens within your home.
Spring is a marvelous time of year, a time when the cold weather is disappearing, and the grass, flowers, and trees begin to grow. Sadly, however, there are several disadvantages to the season for some people.
It’s the time of year when allergies start affecting household members.
Airborne particles like pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and mold make their way throughout homes, making it difficult for persons suffering from allergies to breathe. It can mean red, itchy eyes, scratchy throats, and physically challenging sneezing fits. If you wish you and your family could enjoy yourselves during the Spring without dealing with the torture of allergies, there are a variety of things to be done that will keep those allergens from invading your home. It all begins with a top-notch HVAC system.
Bottom line: A properly installed and well-maintained HVAC system can make a massive difference in the ability to improve indoor air quality. Clean, filtered, and conditioned indoor air is vital to the reduction of allergic reactions.
Allergies and HVAC: What’s the connection?
It’s really rather simple. Your HVAC system moves air throughout your living space. When allergens get into your air conditioning, heating, and ventilation equipment, they get distributed around. You might experience an upsurge in symptoms when you first turn on the A/C in the Spring. That’s because the air conditioner or heater is blowing allergens into the living space. Your HVAC can help reduce allergens but it can also exasperate them if the system is not properly maintained.
Did you know that your home can contain levels of pollution that are two to five times higher than those found outdoors?
Pollen, pet dander, and dust mites are common indoor allergens that aggravate allergies and asthma.
Ways Your HVAC Can Help Reduce Allergens
- Step up your filter. Your HVAC recirculates indoor air to achieve the proper temperature, filtering it to remove contaminants that can dirty interior system components, as well as your air quality. HEPA-style filters allow for the removal of more debris and smaller particles. A HEPA-rated air filter with a MERV rating of 10 or higher will perform best. (Filters are measured by minimum efficiency recording value, or MERVs, ranging from 1 to 20. A value of 20 provides the highest level of filtration possible.) A professional HVAC consultation prior to upgrading your filter is advisable. Because your system pulls in air through this filter, airflow adjustments might be necessary to avoid system damage. A knowledgeable technician can you determine the HEPA filter to meet your goals and system needs.
- Change that filter regularly. The dirtier your air filter becomes, the harder it is to remove those pollutants from your home’s indoor air. It also causes your HVAC system to work harder, not as efficiently as possible, because it restricts airflow. It’s best to clean or replace your filter every 30 to 90 days, depending on the type of filter you use and how much your system runs.
- You might want to boost your filtration system. Electronic air filters, sometimes called ionizers or air purifiers, incorporated into your HVAC system, can help in the removal of allergens in your home. These electrically charged special filters attract and trap smaller particles as they pass through your HVAC system, preventing them from spreading throughout your home. Look for products with a MERV rating of 10+ for the best results. Highly effective in removing those nasty contaminants from the air, both the EPA and American Lung Association recommend air filtrations for asthmas and allergy sufferers.
- Keep your HVAC system clean. Allergens such as pollen spoors are tiny particles that can easily build up inside your HVAC system. As a result, as your system circulates air throughout your home, these particles spread around and affect your air quality. Keeping your air conditioning, heating and ventilation equipment clean is one of the easiest ways to reduce the number of airborne pollutants around the home. Regularly vacuum, sweep, and dust the area around your outdoor and indoor unit to prevent debris and dirt accumulation.
- Dust your vents. If dusting shelves, cabinets, and blinds are on your spring-cleaning list, don’t forget about air vents and registers. These two areas are often passed over when people begin dusting their homes; however, dirty registers and vents negatively affect the quality of air in your home. Make sure to dust or vacuum vents and registers routinely to allow you and your family to breathe easier.
- Take your cleaning one step further with duct cleaning. Dirt, dust, mold, and other allergens will build up in the duct system over time. Every time your unit kicks in, it’s pushing pieces of that build-up through the air. Dirty ducts can also cause a moldy odor throughout your home. (Check out our previous blog for tips on How to Clean Air Ducts Yourself)
- Seal those air ducts. To understand how leaky ducts impact indoor air quality, think about how your HVAC system works. There’s a big fan inside the indoor unit that brings air into the system via your return ducts. Then it blows conditioned air (cooled or heated) out through the supply ducts.But when these air ducts are leaky – and it’s the return ducts that are the biggest offenders when it comes to indoor air quality – the unit’s fan isn’t just pulling air from your living space through the ducts, it’s pulling air in through the leaks, too. And these leaky ducts live in, um, let’s say, less than clean spaces. Typically, attics or crawlspaces. Basically, leaky air ducts let humid, dusty and possibly mold-laden air enter your home. Needless to say, this air is not good for your allergies! By sealing leaks, you can prevent these allergens from entering your living space. Your HVAC system will bring in air directly from your home and only from your home.
- Keep the right level of humidity in your home. When the level of humidity in your home is too high or too low, it can often cause discomfort and heighten allergies. A humidity level that is too high can cause mold growth while a low humidity level can lead to dry skin and clogged pores. By upgrading your system or using a humidifier throughout your home, you can be sure that the humidity level is just right.
- Check specific areas for mold. Mold thrives on moisture and humidity. Whenever mold is in your home, you have a potentially dangerous situation. Certain kinds of mold are toxic to humans, even if a family member doesn’t suffer from allergies. It’s a common but sometimes deadly problem that you’ll want to stay on top of if there are allergies in the family. After the rainy season, you might want to have your HVAC ducts tested for mold. As for the daily routine, in rooms that collect humidity like the bathroom, leave doors open and fans on to release the humidity that mild just loves. Since mold growth is usually indicative of a moisture problem, a mold inspection can also help you pinpoint larger problems in your home, such as water damage.
- Zap microbes with UV light. In Spring and Summer, your air conditioner’s indoor coil stays wet, 24/7. That moist environment is perfect for microbial growth and, rest assured, microbes will breed on your AC’s indoor coil. Then, when your A/C is running, the fan will blow that bacteria into your living space. Getting a top-notch air filter and sealing your air ducts will help reduce microbial growth on the coil because getting a better air filter and sealing air ducts will prevent the coil from getting too dirty. Microbes won’t grow on the coil in as great of a number because they’ll have less dust and dirt to feed on. But they’ll still grow. Think about a HVAC UV light. It’s basically a special lamp that resides inside your indoor unit and bathes the coil in ultraviolet light. This light kills the remaining microbes, so they never enter your indoor air. While it can be a fairly expensive technology to implement, UV lighting is perfect for households that have been dealing with poor indoor air quality.
Consider taking bigger steps
Implementing the above steps should take you from bad or so-so to above-average air quality that reduces the symptoms of allergies. But there are other things you can do to bring your air quality to a top-notch level if you’re willing.
- Adjust your habits. Sometimes, we create our own air quality problems. We don’t mean it; it just happens.For example, do you leave your shoes on when you come in from the outside? Did you know you might be tracking in outside allergens, like pollen, all over your home? Or, what about pet dander? Perhaps investing in a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter might go a long way in getting rid of virtually all the allergens that have made their way onto the floor.
- Get rid of curtains and carpets. This might seem a bit overboard, but if someone in your household suffers from allergies, you need be aware that draperies are dust havens that don’t get cleaned very often. Yes, you can clean them, but better yet, replace curtains with shutters you can dust easily. Carpets, likewise, are a poor type of flooring, open for allergy sufferers. Switch to hardwood instead.
- Air seal your home. We’ve already looked at how the gaps and cracks in your ductwork allow contaminants into your home. Well, the same thing happens with the gaps and cracks throughout your home. Humidity, dust, pollen, and other contaminants penetrate your air through these gateways. When you have a lot of air leakage – and most of our homes do – you may even be breathing the fiberglass dust from the crawlspace or attic. Will your air filter capture a lot of this bad stuff? No doubt. But it’s better to prevent it from entering in the first place. A blower door-guided energy audit will reveal the biggest areas of air infiltration. Then you can go about sealing those leaks, improving overall air quality.
Take it one step at a time.
In the end, acting on any of these suggestions should improve allergies of household members this Spring and throughout the year. Is it better to follow every step? Of course, but even something as simple as installing a better air filter or sealing your ducts can go a long way in making your house more comfortable.
Use the tips above to help maximize your HVAC ‘s efforts to reduce allergens in your home. Also, make it a priority to schedule regular maintenance to improve your indoor air quality and help you fight, reduce, and remove allergens in your home.