Indoor Air Quality: The ABC’s of Allergen-Free Air
Allergy season is upon us, which means a lot of discomfort for those of us sensitive to allergens. What works against those of us with strong allergic reactions is that the air in our home can’t be sealed off from contamination. This means that the allergens from outside have a way of making it inside, and these particles can circulate through our air conditioning, stick to our clothing and fabric, and continue to cause issues long after the season is over.
Here, we’re going to talk about the basic steps you can take to prepare for the season. We’ll discuss what allergies are, how they affect you, and the things you can do to protect yourself this spring.
What Are Pollen Allergens?
According to Berkley Lab, allergens are particles from plants that make it into the air as part of the pollination process. These particles, because they are organic material, can float in the air for extended periods of time and travel into our nasal passages. Once there, they trigger allergic responses, such as swelling, sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, and running noses.
The big pain in the rear with pollen is that it gets everywhere. This is especially the case when spring starts and pollination season gets underway. As most plants and flowers start to release pollen for reproduction, the air is full of reactive pollen. This means that the pollen, often invisible to the naked eye, essentially saturates the air.
Those of us who are sensitive to specific spores and pollens will find that it is difficult to breathe or walk around outside without having a reaction. More problematic is how pollen and other allergens can make their way into our homes without us even being aware of it.
What Is Indoor Air Quality?
Indoor air quality can mean many things, but primarily it simply means the breathable quality of the air in our homes, or the cleanliness of that air despite the dirt and allergens.
Indoor air is a bit more complicated than outdoor air because most modern homes have circulating, climate-controlled air.
Why is that significant?
The air in your home circulates through a heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) system. This system includes an AC unit and a furnace that pumps in cold or hot air, respectively. The HVAC system pushes air into your home, which is then recirculated through the system through a series of air returns.
This means a couple of things:
- Any dirt, dust, or pollen in the air gets recirculated with that air. This can make getting rid of such particles difficult.
- Heavier particles can deposit in your ducts, meaning that even if your indoor air was cleaned through a filtration system, it would still circulate these particles.
- Opening doors and windows can bring pollen back into your home, which will then enter the air circulation.
With that in mind, there are several things you can do to minimize the impact of allergens in your home and reduce your allergy stress this spring.
Beginner Steps: Keep the House Clean
The most basic need: keep the pollen out of your house as much as possible. There are several places where pollen and other particles can get caught up in your home:
- Avoid opening doors and windows. It might be a beautiful day, but the more you open your windows and doors, the more pollen can come into your home.
- Clean all your fabric and carpeting. Carpeting, upholstered furniture, stuffed animals, and bedding can all collect pollen. And while you can’t get rid of these things, you can keep them clean.
- Vacuum your home daily and use proper HEPA filters in your vacuum cleaners to catch smaller and finer allergen particles. HEPA filters are rated for dust, mold and other allergen particles that would cause issues in a home.
Keeping your home clean is step one. This doesn’t mean that you must hermetically seal your home against pollens but getting relief from allergic reactions does require some extensive cleaning and maintenance.
Check into Duct Cleaning and Maintenance
As stated before, dust and pollen can build up in your vents and ductwork over time. Season after season, those allergens will build up in your ductwork.
There are two ways to handle this. First, take control and manage your air filters. That means purchasing high-quality air filters that block fine particles and that specifically state that they remove pollen, mold, and dust from the air.
Comparing different rating types might be a different conversation for a different article, but as a general rule of thumb filters that catch particles that are 10 microns or smaller will catch most dust and pollen particles. Finer filters can filter out even smaller particles related to mineral dust and chemical gasses but will typically cost more.
The cost really shouldn’t be an issue with an air filter. Buy a high-quality filter that covers these sizes and make sure to replace them on the schedule they suggest, and not later.
To maximize your filters, make sure to get your ducts cleaned regularly. Under normal conditions, a cleaning every 3-5 years should keep build-up from affecting you. However, if you live in a high-pollen area, or suffer extensive allergies, then more regular cleanings might be in order.
Think About a Filtration System
Most importantly, think about filtration. There are two major forms of air filtration that can help those suffering from allergies:
- Whole House Air Purifiers. This is a wide category that lacks some specificity, but here we are talking about the kinds of air purifiers installed within HVAC systems. Sometimes people will refer to air filters in an HVAC system as “whole house” air purifiers, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Real whole house solutions will typically replace part of the ductwork in the air return and provide an extra layer of air filtration.
- Portable air filters are a less expensive option for air purification. They won’t typically cover an entire house, but in many cases, they can provide an excellent filter for large rooms and living spaces.
If you have severe allergies, then at the very least you should consult with your heating and cooling company as to the best air purifier options available for your home.
Maintaining Indoor Air Quality
Finally, always get an indoor AQ test for your home. Your HVAC company most likely can help you with this. They can provide a test that can tell you the volume and types of particles in the air of your home. With this kind of test, you can pick the proper allergy filter for your home.
With that in mind, it’s clear that fighting allergies in your home is a significant battle. But you can win it with the proper coordination between cleaning and maintenance efforts, as well as consultation with your trusted HVAC company.
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.