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What's in Your Air? Make Indoor Air Cleaner

By Jason Earle Google+

Source: Habitat Quarterly

Home. The safest place for you and your family. Warm beds, comfortable furniture, clean air... Or is it? What's in your air? Could it be cleaner and safer? The answer is most likely yes.

The US Environmental Protection Agency says that indoor air can be as much as 100 times more polluted than air outdoors, even in the most polluted cities in America.During cold weather, indoor air pollution can become even more intense, with windows closed up tight for several months.

So, even without a mold problem, your home's air can be a serious threat to your family's health. Indoor air is typically loaded with billions of microscopic particles, as well as a variety of gaseous chemicals you would not knowingly choose to inhale. But inhale them you do.

Mold spores are everywhere, whether there is active mold growth or not. So your indoor air is full of spores. Also common are: pet dander, pollen, dust mites (and their droppings), viruses and bacteria.

Then there are the gases emitted by household cleaners, furniture glues, upholstery, carpeting, synthetic flooring, air "fresheners," and myriad other sources. These are called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and include formaldehyde, a notoriously carcinogenic chemical.

Here are some more numbers to consider as you sit and take a deep breath:

  • Every day you inhale and exhale up to 30,000 times
  • If you unfolded your lungs, they would be the size of a tennis court
  • We spend 80 percent of our lives indoors, and 60 percent at home
  • A typical 2,000-square-foot home is likely to have 16 billion particles in its air
  • The smallest particles are easiest to inhale, and comprise 80 percent of the pollution in indoor air
  • These "ultra-fine" particles are also the biggest health threat, because they are inhaled deeply
  • 90 percent of homes have unhealthy air
What can you do? Obviously, you can acquire an air purifier, or several, depending on the size of your home. The question is, which one? Which air purifier will do the best job? Which ones work at all?

You probably have a filter on your HVAC system, and maybe you change it regularly. But don't count that as an air-quality improvement device. That filter does nothing for you. It's designed only to protect the equipment from debris and particles large enough to harm the machinery, and to prevent a buildup of dust that would slow down the works.

There are various kinds of devices sold that claim to improve indoor air quality. Generally they fall into three categories:

  1. Electronic (aka "ionic"): Made famous by Sharper Image, these devices use electricity to put a charge on particles, which are then drawn to a plate of the opposite charge.
  2. Ultra-violet: Bathes passing air in UV light, intended to kill microbes
  3. Media: Use a variety of physical barriers designed to remove particles from a stream of moving air; in other words, filters.
First, the electronics: Avoid them like the plague itself. They do very little to remove micro-particles from the air, and worse, they produce ozone and charged particles, neither of which is good for the human body. If you have one, unplug it.

Ultra-violet: May or may not kill microbes, depending on contact time (air speed); does not remove particles; and often creates ozone.

Ozone is a highly unstable form of oxygen, consisting of three oxygen atoms rather than two. That third atom is easily given up and combines readily with many substances, including living cells, oxidizing them. That's why it's touted as an anti-microbial substance. But it also kills human cells.

So we're left with media-type air purifiers, typically referred to as air filters. Unless such machines are using HEPA filters, they aren't doing much. HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance. It was developed during World War II by the Atomic Energy Commission to capture radioactive dust in atomic research labs. It is still the gold standard in air filtration.

But a HEPA filter is only as good as the case it's in. So unless it is a very well-made machine, it's likely to be trapping only 37 percent, on average, of what the filter cartridge may be capable of, because poorly fitted cases allow air to bypass the filter.

The other categories to consider are stand-alone units versus whole-house systems. Most whole-house air purifier systems that are built into an HVAC system are fairly ineffective. If a HEPA filter is involved, the added resistance is too taxing on most blowers.

The best standard you can expect a whole-house air purifier to meet is called MERV 16, which is the highest efficiency possible, without being HEPA, on the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value scale, a rating system developed in 1998 by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

So with all the scary numbers and technical jargon behind us (well, maybe not all of it), it's time to start talking about which air-quality improvement devices work best. Let's get down to specifics.

First, the stand-alone variety: Without burdening you with the makes and models of all the machines we have examined and tested, here we can share with you the winners. As luck would have it, the winners are all made by the same company, IQAir. There are a number of good reasons for this, perhaps the biggest one being that IQAir is a company dedicated to only one thing: creating clean indoor air.

IQAir offers what it calls "HyperHEPA" filtration, its trade name for Ultra Low Particulate Air (ULPA), which captures particles as small as .003 microns across, which includes such ultra-fine irritants as bacteria, mold spores, pet allergens, dust mites, and even viruses. They guarantee a minimum efficiency of 99.5 percent.

High-quality manufacturing is another major factor. The company's stand-alone air purifiers are made in Switzerland - think Swiss watches - and come fully tested and certified for efficiency. Independent testing has shown that many popular air purifiers fail to live up to even 10 percent of their claims on the label.

Our favorite IQAir stand-alone, the HealthPro Plus, includes a gas and odor filter that eliminates volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are the gases that cause odors, some of which, like formaldehyde, are harmful, and MVOCs - gases emitted by fungi - a major factor in many negative health effects of indoor mold.

The HealthPro Plus is programmable, so you can set it to run the way you want, when you want. For example, if you feel it's too noisy running at high speed when you're watching TV or sleeping, you can tell it to run on high while you're out all day, and switch automatically to low when you get home.

And the best convenience feature of all is the filter life monitor. It tells you when to change the filter, and even how much life is left in your cartridge.

For people with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) or environmental illness (EI), the IQAir GC MultiGas is an amazing machine, which even traps nano-particles and destroys harmful airborne chemicals.

None of IQAir's products create ozone. They are also among the few air purifiers on the consumer market that are registered as Class II Medical Devices with the FDA.

If you think you need a whole-house system, the only one we would consider is the Perfect 16, made by IQAir. It's named for the fact that it delivers MERV 16 results. There really is no other whole-house system that comes close to its efficiency, plus it creates the smallest pressure drop of any other systems we know of, meaning your HVAC system will work better and last longer.

IQAir says the filter cartridges in the Perfect 16 will last up to three years before they need to be replaced. And the company guarantees the system will deliver air 10 times cleaner than before, and backs it up with a test and a certificate.

So, whether you think you have an indoor air quality problem or not, it's a good idea to ask yourself, "Could my indoor air be healthier?" If your answer to that question is, "Yes," then in our experience there is no better solution than an IQAir machine.

Choose the right one(s) for you and your family and experience the difference clean air makes. IQAir air purifiers are available online.


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What's in Your Air? Make Indoor Air Cleaner
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