Spring is in the air! So is pollen, mold and other irritants emitted from blossoming trees, flowers and grass. If you look forward to nicer weather, but not the sniffling and sneezing it brings, you may take to your home for sanctuary. But what happens when the air in your home is as bad as – or in some cases, even worse – than the air outside?
Don’t spend another season suffering. Take these simple steps to reduce allergens in your home so that it can be the safe, relaxing, comfortable, healthy space you need it to be.
Change Those Filters
It’s not optional! And no, it’s not usually the first thing on your to-do list, which means that your filters may be a dirty, grimy, awful mess before you get around to swapping them out. The best way around that scenario is to hook up with your HVAC contractor for bi-annual maintenance. Then you can be assured that your filters will be cleaned or changed at least twice every year – once in fall, and once in spring when allergy season is typically at its height.
But for allergy sufferers, even that may not be often enough. Depending on your lifestyle and the severity of your symptoms, you may want to change those filters at least every other month.
Make it a habit and you won’t regret it. Dirty filters will only continue recirculating allergens through your home, not to mention putting extra wear and tear on your HVAC system as it struggles to push air through clogged filters.
Know Your Acronyms
If you want to reduce allergens in your home and improve the overall air quality for maximum health and comfort, you want to familiarize yourself with a key acronym: MERV.
You may have heard it thrown around before, but it helps to understand why it’s important.
MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) is a measurement designed to rate the effectiveness of air filters. Filters are rated on a scale from MERV 1 to MERV 16, with those on the lower end able to capture the largest particles (like dust and pollen) and those at the highest end to capture the smallest particles (like bacteria and viruses).
When it comes to choosing a media filter, you want to remember two rules of thumb: one, the higher the MERV rating, the more airborne particles the filter will capture; and two, know the specifications of your HVAC system, so you can choose the highest MERV rated filter that your system can accommodate. Choose too low and you won’t be getting maximum air filtration. Too high and you’ll be restricting airflow and potentially damaging your system.
Clean The Registers And Return Vents
Even the most diligent house keepers may overlook registers and vents. So while you’re busily keeping dust off surfaces and floors, it could be accumulating in the louvers on walls, floors and even ceilings, only to be sucked in and spit back out over and over.
Worse, it could be affecting airflow and even reducing the efficiency of those high efficiency filters you just bought. It’s a simple task, but an effective one: vacuum the registers as a regular part of your cleaning routine. Better yet, periodically throw them in a sink full of sudsy water and rinse off all the accumulated grime. You might be surprised by just how much gunk the grills catch, and it could be hidden behind the visible parts, out of sight but not out of the air.
Have Your Ducts Cleaned
It’s not an inexpensive endeavor, but it can be an important one, especially if you notice an uptick in allergy symptoms that isn’t just about the change in seasons. If you’re experiencing a particularly bad year, or if other members of your household are suddenly exhibiting new symptoms, it might be a sign that dust and allergens are accumulating in your ducts. And no filter rating is going to help if dust and pollutants are being blown right back into your home through ducts, bypassing the filter entirely.
Beyond symptoms, there are other signs that it might be time to clean your ducts. If they never have been, that’s certainly a good marker. Even if your house is relatively new, construction dust and debris may have accumulated in ducts and never been removed.
If you’ve recently undergone a renovation, however small, your ducts may be harboring sheetrock dust, sawdust and more, all of which is being spewed back out into the air in your home.
If you notice any mold growth anywhere near or around your HVAC system or vents, then call a professional immediately. Mold is not just irritating, it can be deadly, too.
And if you notice an annoying accumulation of dust, that may not be a result of your cleaning routine. It could very well be a result of dirty, even leaking ducts, or other HVAC problems.
Vacuuming your own ducts, even with a high-powered industrial vac, is not enough. A professional cleaning by a reputable company is the only way to be assured of a thorough and effective job.
Maintain Proper Humidity
An imbalance in humidity – whether it’s too low or too high – can actually increase allergens and aggravate symptoms.
Low humidity leads to an excess of airborne dust, which is happy to travel to every room in your home as long as your HVAC blowers let it. Low humidity can also dry out your throat and nasal passages, making you more susceptible to the effects of airborne pollutants, from viruses to pollen and dust.
Humidity that is too high, on the other hand, can lead to mold growth and airborne spores that make asthma and allergy symptoms exponentially worse.
The sweet spot for humidity is between 30-50%. Given that it can range from single digits on dry, colder days to 60% or more if left unchecked during spring and summer, you’ll probably need a little help from your HVAC system to maintain ideal levels.
Both a whole-house dehumidifier and a whole-house humidifier can do the job depending on the season. In both cases, these units can be attached to your HVAC system. In both cases, they require only a small amount of space and you’ll never even notice they’re there.
You’ve got options – so before you have one installed, ask your HVAC contractor which type can work best for you.
Install An Air Purifier
If the thought of spring brings on a feeling of dread, then it might be time to pull out the big guns. Skip the portable units, which can actually make things worse, and have an air purifier attached right to your HVAC system. They’re tiny and ridiculously effective, killing up to 99% of harmful bacteria, yeast, allergens, viruses and mold, both in the air AND on surfaces.
In combination with a high efficiency filter, these air purifiers will not only reduce allergens in your home but get pretty close to eliminating them altogether. In fact, they’re even used in hospitals to create clean, healthy environments for very ill patients.
So why not a portable unit? Beyond the aggravation of cleaning and maintaining it, portable units don’t cover your whole house. And some of them emit ozone at levels that can actually make your asthma or allergy symptoms worse.
The Low Hanging Fruit
If you’re a long-time allergy sufferer, you may already be familiar with the standard advice, but it’s worth a refresher as spring looms.
Keep windows closed, as tempting as it may be to get a breath of fresh air. If you’ve got a good filter and air purifier, you’re a lot better off indoors.
Do be diligent about your cleaning routine, and even consider switching to a vacuum rated for capturing allergens.
Keep carpeting and upholstery to a minimum, which can attract and trap allergens.
And consult with your HVAC contractor to find out if you can make improvements to your system – whether a dehumidifier, air purifier, or some other change – to reduce allergens in your home and improve your health and comfort.
If you’d like to discuss the air quality in your home, contact us for a free in-home consultation and estimate. Spring is coming! Isn’t it time to finally enjoy the season from the comfort of your own home?