The air in your home may not be as fresh as you think it is. If you're not careful, indoor air can harbor not only benign entities, such as mustiness or a foul odor, but also bona fide pollutants that can exacerbate allergies and negatively impact your health over the long term.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cites a long list of contaminants that are commonly found in households around the country. These include, among other things, smoke (from tobacco or cooking), dust, mold and mildew, and emissions from combustion sources (oil, gas, kerosene, coal, and wood), not to mention pollution from building materials and furnishings-paint, insulation, carpeting, and pressed wood among them. To protect yourself and your family from the legitimate threats to health posed by any of these indoor pollutants, the EPA recommends two courses of action: Prioritize good ventilation, and eliminate pollutants through the use of an air cleaner (also known as an air purifier). These appliances are designed to do one thing only, and that is to directly remove toxins from circulation.
Indoor air quality takes on paramount importance during heating and cooling seasons, when homeowners tend to keep the windows closed, and natural ventilation comes to a standstill. “If you have a furnace or ducted air conditioning system, an in-line air cleaner is a no-brainer,” points out Daniel O'Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “The air circulating through your home can be full of dust, dander, mold, and other unpleasant particulates that can affect you negatively. An in-line cleaner blocks these particles from continuing to go around your ductwork and into the air you breathe. It also helps keep these particles from getting into your heating and cooling equipment, which could help prevent costly problems down the line.”
The in-line air cleaner O'Brian refers to is related to, but much more powerful and sophisticated than, the air purifiers you've seen in your local home center. Those small, portable units can be reasonably effective in one room, but people don't live in just one room. Although you could buy a portable unit for every room on every floor of your house, the better investment is a single, larger model that can serve the whole house. Most such air cleaners attach to your existing HVAC system, but that's where their similarities begin and end. SupplyHouse.com and other leading distributors offer a range of whole-house air cleaners that use different methods to remove airborne contaminants. Here's a rundown of the most common air-cleaning technologies:
• Electrostatic attraction: Air flows through an ionized sector within the filter. Here, particles are imbued with an electrical charge. The charged particles accumulate on a series of flat plates in an oppositely charged collector. The particles are neutralized, leaving clean air to flow out from the appliance.
• Ion generation: These air cleaners work similarly to electrostatic devices. Ionizers disperse charged ions into the air, which attach to airborne particles, giving them a charge so that they attach to nearby surfaces (for example, walls and furniture). These charged particles are then cleaned up in the course of everyday housekeeping.
• HEPA filtration: When combined with a forced-air furnace or air handler, a HEPA filter-based purifier passes air through a series of filters, each of which plays a role in capturing impurities. There are also HEPA systems that run independently of the HVAC system. These can be mounted in an attic, crawl space, or closet.
In addition to removing contaminants that can exacerbate allergies and asthma, air cleaners can help reduce or eliminate unwanted odors from the home, without the use of artificial fragrances, perfumed candles, or other products that simply mask odors rather than eliminate them. Using an air cleaner instead of a commercial fragrance product to get rid of smells reduces the amount of chemicals in the indoor environment and can help create a healthier and fresher home.
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