Health Begins at Home: How to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality
You’re probably familiar with “spring cleaning,” where everyone throws open their windows to freshen up their homes. There’s a reason for this – staying inside all winter with minimal ventilation makes the air stale, and pollutants can easily build up. Your home’s air quality directly affects your family’s health, so taking steps to improve the air circulating in your home will have lasting benefits. Here’s everything you need to know about your indoor air quality and how to improve it.
How Bad is Your Air?
Before you do anything, consider buying an air quality monitor for your home. This version from Breathe measures even the smallest particles and will alert you when the air quality index (AQI) is too high. A “good” AQI is under 50, so if your air stays above 50 consistently, short and long-term health problems can develop (including asthma, allergies, trouble breathing, headaches, etc.).
What Are Indoor Pollutants?
The air inside our homes can be more polluted than outdoor air, especially in the winter. Dust, dander, and allergens get stuck in carpets/rugs, so make sure to clean these frequently. Carbon monoxide and radon are also harmful air pollutants, so install monitors to alert you when these levels are too high; in the winter, fireplaces are often the source of carbon monoxide leaks, so get yours serviced regularly. Other household products, like cleaners and home fragrances, can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, so check the labels on your products and switch to cleaner versions if necessary.
The first step to improving your indoor air quality is to decrease as many sources of pollutants as you can. But no amount of traditional cleaning will improve your air as well as filters and purification systems. Here are the important components to know about when choosing a purification system that’s right for your home.
What we think of as common air pollutants (dust, mold, dander, etc.) can be captured by a HEPA filter. HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters are designed to capture at least 99.97% of particulates that are 0.3 microns in diameter. Non-HEPA (or “HEPA-like,” “99% HEPA”, etc.) filters will have much lower rates of particle capture, so it’s best to avoid them. HEPA filters won’t do anything about gasses, odors, or some viruses and bacteria, and because they trap the unwanted particles, they need to be changed and/or cleaned regularly.
Activated Carbon Filters
Need to remove gasses, odors, or other VOCs? Activated carbon filters can trap gas molecules and effectively remove them from the air. The “activated” part of this filter means the carbon has gone through a process that adds tiny carbon pores where the molecules get trapped. These filters are most effective when they use higher concentrations of carbon and are changed regularly.
If trapping unwanted particles is good, wouldn’t destroying them be better? Photocatalytic purification (or just UV light purification) uses UV light to activate a process that sends energy to break apart harmful molecules, thus destroying rather than trapping them. UV light is harmful to human cells, too, so be careful not to expose your skin or eyes for too long (almost all systems have the UV light behind barriers, so you’re safe). UV light effectively kills many viruses and bacteria that HEPA filters can miss, but purifying air using UV light takes longer, so you need a big unit(s) and/or need to keep a UV purifier running longer for results. You’ll also have to replace the catalyst eventually (so read the manual carefully).
The easiest and most inexpensive way to purify your home’s air is to buy several standalone/portable purifiers. Each model will indicate the square footage it covers and what kind of filter(s) it uses. Look for models where it’s easy to replace the filter(s), and the air refresh rate is at least 2.5 times an hour. For a great model that uses HEPA, activated carbon, and UV, try the MOOKA purifier. For a wide range of sizes and price points, check out the models at Levoit – many have built-in monitors to turn off and on as needed.
Central Air Units
If you’d like to make sure that all of the air in your home is consistently purified, then look into attaching filters and UV light systems to your central air. Your HVAC technician can suggest options that fit with your current setup, like HEPA filters for your furnace and A/C. Whole-house UV light systems are becoming popular as a way to kill viruses and bacteria before the cold/warm air is circulated back into your home. While these system additions are expensive, they often have extended warranties and are ultimately the most effective way to tackle all your home’s pollutants at once.
Improving your indoor air quality by cleaning the air in your home not only makes it more pleasant but helps keep your family healthy. Invest in a quality air purification system today!
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