Preparing Your Home for Cold and Flu Season
With the holiday season behind us, we might think that the cold weather is behind us as well. But many areas still have at least 2-3 months of cold, damp, and unpleasant weather. Which means that there are still 3 potential months for colds, flu, and other illnesses.
If you’ve prepped your house for the winter, then you may have already taken steps to get ready for cold and flu season. However, there are several, specific steps that you can take to get ready for the season before it ends, especially when it comes to your HVAC system.
Here are some basic steps you can take towards your heating and cooling to stay healthy this flu season.
Change Out Your HVAC Filters, and Install the Right Filters
Air filters serve a huge purpose when it comes to the prevention of illness. As air circulates through your home, it gathers dust, pollen, and other particles (including germs and bacteria). An air filter in your air return catches these particles and removes them from circulation. However, certain air filters only catch certain particles (depending on size), and all filters are only rated for a limited number of months before they need changed out.
So, step one is to get the right air filter. When purchasing an air filter, buy one that catches the finest particles so that you are filtering out as much as possible. Most filters state what kind of particles they can filter out on the label (ranging from things like smoke, mold spores, mites, etc.). Many filters with higher ratings can also filter out bacteria and virus-carrying organisms.
Ratings are typically listed through one of three different rating systems:
- Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, or MERV, is one of the only nationally-rated and independent rating systems. All filters will have this rating.
- Microparticle Performance Rating, or MPR, is a rating system used by 3M for their filters.
- Filter Performance Rating, or FPR, used for filters sold through Home Depot.
Filters with multiple ratings can be confusing, so most filters will also denote what they can filter out. When in doubt, know that a filter with a MERV rating of 13 or higher will filter out many bacteria and virus-carrying particles.
Having a good filter doesn’t matter if it isn’t working at full capacity. So, note the lifespan of your filter and change it out accordingly. If it lasts for three months, set a calendar alert and put in a new one at three months.
Schedule a Ductwork Cleaning
Having a filter is great as a stopgap measure against particles. But make sure to take care of your ductwork so that you minimize harmful particles.
As air circulates through your home, it picks up all the particles we talked about previously. But, those particles—especially the heavier ones—can end up in settling in your ductwork. When that happens, they tend to cause problems both in the circulation of air and the quality of that air. If clean air from your home is constantly running through dust and debris in your ducts, then that dust is going to lower the quality of air in your home, shorten the lifespan of your air filters, and lower the efficiency of your furnace.
Have a professional duct cleaning before the winter settles in, at the very least. Depending on the age of your ducts, you might consider a twice-yearly cleaning before fall and before spring. This way, you clean out the dirt and dust that settles in over the previous six months and lower the chance that virus-carrying organic particles are settling into your HVAC system.
And, if you’re asking, “doesn’t heat kill germs?” the answer is “depends, but not really.” Concentrated heat above a certain threshold can kill germs and bacteria—this is why your water heater is set to a certain temperature. But your HVAC system isn’t going to get that hot. And, since it will be warm in your ducts, but not hot enough to kill germs, it is going to provide an even better space for those germs to grow.
Think About Additional Ventilation Methods
There are several new technologies coming onto the market that can provide an extra layer or protection for your family during flu season.
- Add extra air purifiers. Your professional HVAC technician can install additional air purifiers as part of your existing HVAC system to add even more filtering options for your home. These filters can clean your circulating air even more and support your existing air filters to keep you healthy this flu season.
- Install UV Light Filters. New HVAC Ultraviolent Light technology provides an even stronger layer of protection to your air system. UV lights not only kill organic materials like bacteria and viruses, but they also kill larger particles like mold spores. UV lights in your air circulation system can not only keep your family germ free, but they can also remove additional particles that cause allergic reactions.
- Control your humidity. Too much moisture in your air can make your HVAC system a breeding ground for germs and make you and your family more susceptible to sickness. Talk with your HVAC professional about options for dehumidification and moisture control. They can provide an assessment of your home to tell you what you might need (more or less moisture) and the solutions for that problem.
Be Proactive This Flu Season
This run-down might seem like a lot but having an HVAC system geared toward flu prevention is an investment that keeps on giving year after year. Once in place, these technologies only need regular maintenance and care to keep your air clean and free of germs.
Of course, consult with your trusted HVAC service provider to learn more about your homes’ specific needs and the solutions available. Some of these approaches are simple, and some require professional attention to really provide the level of cleanliness you need.
And finally, don’t use these tips as a stand-in for general preparedness. Keep medicines and soothing foods available for anyone who starts to show signs of illness. Rest and relax during the holiday seasons and beyond to keep your strength and use immune-boosting teas and foods regularly to stay in tip-top shape.
If you do all these things, then you can say that you are ready for the current flu season.