Keeping Allergens and Pollutants at Bay
Via Your HVAC System
Spring and early summer is a wonderful time of year. It’s the time when the cold weather is fading and the grass, flowers, and trees begin to grow. Sadly, there are some annoyances to this time of year for certain folks. That’s because it’s also the time when allergies start affecting lots of people.
Allergens can be a nightmare. Itchy, watery eyes, congestion, and coughing can keep you up all night and make your day miserable.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, it’s estimated that as many as one in four Americans suffer allergies ranging from mild to severe asthma, which can be dangerous and, in some instances, deadly.
If you’re among those affected by allergies, listen up!
While you’re looking to point the finger at pollen and other outdoor allergens, your home heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems could actually be the culprit. It’s simple. Your HVAC system moves air throughout your space. When allergens get into your A/C, heating and ventilation equipment, they get spread around. In fact, when you first turn on the A/C in the spring, you might have an increase in symptoms.
What’s more, most people don’t recognize that indoor air pollution levels are actually much higher than that outdoors – two to five times higher, says Julie McNairn, MD, an allergist and immunologist in private practice in Middletown, OH.
Below are a number of ways that your HVAC system may be a helpful ally in your quest to reduce indoor allergies and ensure a safe, healthy home environment for your family.
Note: This article is solely for informational purposes. It is not intended to provide medical advice. The publication of the following information does not constitute the practice of medicine and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care providers.
Start with your filter
Some people mistakenly believe that the typical filter in the HVAC system protects them from allergens. Truth is, these filters only keep large dirt and debris particles from damaging the equipment. They don’t do anything to protect your lungs.
An air filter’s effectiveness is determined by using a minimum efficiency recording value (MERV). MERVs range from one to twenty, with the higher numbers providing the greatest level of filtration.
Keep in mind that flat panel filters, put in place by most furnace manufacturers, generally have a rating of one to four MERVs and are designed to protect the furnace, not improve indoor air quality.
Because all the air in your home cycles through your HVAC system, equipping the system with a higher-efficiency air filter is one of the most effective ways to reduce the airborne allergens in your home. Not all air filters can trap the tiny particles of pollen, mold spores, pet dander and other irritants that trigger allergies, though.
To remove allergens from your indoor air, you need high-energy particulate air filters, more commonly known as HEPA filters. HEPA filters are made from layers of glass fibers formed into pleated paper-like material and are designed to trap most air pollutants. If your goal is to allergy-proof your home, look for a HEPA air filter with a MERV rating of 10 or higher.
Remember, too, to prevent dirty filters from re-contaminating your air, change the filter on schedule. Most high-efficiency filters last several months depending on the filter type and your indoor air quality. Check the product packaging for the recommended replacement schedule.
Air purifiers pick up where HVAC systems leave off
While centralized HVAC systems work best with medium to high-efficiency air filters, adding an air purifier with a HEPA filter option for trapping those allergens your HVAC can’t handle alone is a good idea.
Electronic air filters and air purifiers are designed to neutralize airborne allergens in your home and improve indoor air quality. An air purifier along with your HVAC system and high-quality HEPA filters is a great three-pronged approach to combating airborne allergens. Look for products with a MERV rating of 10+ for best results.
Highly effective in removing contaminants from the air, both the EPA and American Lung Association recommend air filtration for asthma and allergy sufferers.
It’s all about the humidity
When the level of humidity in your home is too high or too low, it can often cause discomfort and heighten allergies. If you are allergic to mold or mildew, then you’ll want to make sure you plan ahead for humid conditions.
Humidity allows mold and mildew to flourish, so keeping a constant temperature and low humidity can help prevent any growth. Remember, mold can do much more than just trigger allergies. It can make you really sick.
Maintaining proper humidity levels with humidifiers and dehumidifiers is indispensable to maintaining air quality and controlling the severity of allergy symptoms. A relative humidity of about 40 percent is best. Too much moisture and mild or mildew can quickly develop, producing spores that can worsen symptoms. Too little moisture and it’s easier for particles to remain airborne.
How do you combat high humidity in the spring and summer? The most convenient way is with a whole-house humidifier that operates using your existing ductwork to keep your home at a constant humidity level. A whole-house humidifier not in the budget? A couple of small room de-humidifiers will certainly help.
Keep in mind, however, that humidifier that is not properly and regularly cleaned can hold a pool of bacteria and molds which are vaporized into the air along with water droplets.
Even with these precautions, you should still inspect the damp or humid portions of your HVAC system every few weeks for signs or mold. This means keeping a check on your condensate-drip pan/drain, air handler, evaporator coils, and air ducts. If you spot any mold here, you can simply remove it yourself. If there is a sizeable amount of mold in any one of these spots, it might be better to call in a professional.
Get rid of debris around the outdoor unit . . . and the indoor one
The outdoor A/C unit pulls air from outside through your HVAC system, and that air eventually circulates throughout the home. The outdoor HVAC unit is going to pull anything close to it into your home. You need to check for debris and dust and clear it away from the unit as often as possible to keep these contaminants as far away as possible.
Don’t forget about the indoor unit, either. Just like the outdoor component, if dust and debris are around it, these particles will eventually end up circulating throughout the home. Sweep, vacuum and dust around the indoor unit often to reduce the excess allergens in your system.
Don’t forget those air ducts
When your HVAC system blows air through your ducts and the ductwork is coated with dust, you will inevitably have dust circulating throughout the air in your home. This will impact air quality and eventually increase allergy symptoms. Poor air quality could also cause your symptoms to ramp up, meaning you’ll probably notice your allergy symptoms continuing.
But you don’t have to live with nasty ductwork. You can eliminate odors in your ducts, remove dust completely and improve indoor air quality by having your ductwork thoroughly cleaned. Contact our team at J&A South Park for a thorough duct and vent cleaning. In a matter of a few hours, you’ll have clean ducts and be able to breathe the air in your home knowing that it’s clean.
If you do see mold particles growing near the ducts or on other components of the system or if you smell a musty odor coming from the vents, you absolutely need to consult a duct cleaning professional to check for mold accumulation. Again, call the pros at J&A South Park.
Before we move on. If dusting shelves, cabinets, and blinds are on your spring-cleaning list, don’t forget about vents and registers. These two areas are often passed over when people begin dusting their homes. However, dusty registers and vents negatively affect the quality of the air in your home. Make sure to dust or vacuum vents and registers often. Just another small task in the battle against allergens.
Sealing allergens out
Keeping your home tightly sealed can help block allergens from sneaking in. Seal gaps and holes with caulk, spray foam and weather stripping. Keep pollen out by leaving windows and doors tightly closed at night and especially between 5 to 10 a.m., when pollen counts are high. Leave shoes outside and wash your clothes and body following outdoor activities to avoid accidentally bringing more allergens into your home.
Asthma protection and your A/C
HVAC systems play a bigger role in alleviating asthma symptoms more than you may think, as they reduce allergens and improve your indoor air quality.
Modern air conditioners are designed with energy efficiency in mind, meaning they run constantly at lower outputs to achieve the same results as your good old-fashioned air conditioner (you know, the one that could make your house 65 degrees in about ten minutes) but just over a longer period of time and in shorter bursts.
As such, keeping your doors and windows closed constantly actually increases your air conditioning efficiency, but it also does something else: It decreases the allergens that are introduced into your home and decreases the likelihood of an allergen-induced asthma attack. So, if you forget everything else in this blog, remember this: If someone in your home suffers from asthma, keep windows and doors closed and the A/C on at all times.
Have regular HVAC maintenance
We said it in previous blogs and we cannot say it enough! It’s absolutely critical that you keep your HVAC system cleaned and maintained regularly. Regular maintenance is important for every homeowner, but for those with allergies, it’s especially important.
It’s really the only way to keep allergens from spreading all throughout your house.
Allergy prevention is a real challenge. Properly maintaining your HVAC system is one of the best weapons you have in the fight to prevent your allergies from ruining your spring and early summer.
Your HVAC system can really make a difference when it comes to your allergies. In some instances, people have claimed that their HVAC system has reduced their allergic symptoms so much that they did not have to take medications when at home. Put simply, your heating and cooling system works more efficiently and can reduce allergens when it has been tuned up.
Don’t forget, regular maintenance does more than helping reduce allergens. It increases the system’s efficiency to lower your cooling costs, extends the operating life of the system and helps prevent common breakdowns during the cooling season.