Indoor Air Quality more important than ever !
Can’t stop breathing; Air quality and viruses in your home, what to know.
With the ongoing COVID-19 sheltering in your home, your exposure to multiple times the amount of airborne toxins is almost guaranteed.
Why…because the many products in your home are outgassing, wearing out (think rugs) and depositing a host of not so good products (gasses and particles) into the air your breathing. Did you know that the EPA says that the typical indoor air is 2-5x more polluted than outside ? For a good overview of indoor air quality see the EPA’s primer: “Introduction to Indoor Air Quality”
One of the keys to making your home air cleaner and harboring less viruses is to both minimize the large and small particles and produce the minimum amount of toxins in your home. “Coronavirus lives for hours in air particles and days on surfaces, new US study shows”
Where are these irritants coming from ? Think in terms of your home’s cleaning products to your furniture, paints, cooking, cleaning and outdoor air pollution. The subject is vast however, we know that it’s essential to have clean non-toxic air to remain healthy and especially in our current situation with the COVID pandemic.
You can make a substantial change in your air quality and get healthier with some minor adjustments.
Where to look:
The worst areas of your home tend to be the bathroom, basement, and kitchen both due to the moisture and heat along with the products used in these areas. However, it depends on how your heating and air conditioning system is configured. For those of us with a home that has a way to move air, think ducts the unit that houses your fan may also contain your filter. In some it may be installed in a duct or two. Finding this unit may mean a trip to your attic or garage or even under the house. If your using a window air conditioner, the majority only have a dust filter, not even worth talking about when we discuss viruses or bacteria. Some of the higher end machines do have slightly better filters, but in general you’re going to want to think in terms of a free-standing air cleaner that catches the smaller particles. For those of us with baseboard heating and no air conditioning again the concept of a freestanding air cleaner makes sense.
Kitchen: Cooking throws a ton of materials into the air, from oil droplets to other particles and your stove exhaust system being both functional and efficient is really important. When we char food as an example there is a release of
Bathroom: Do you have a vent and more importantly does the air go outside or recirculate ? You probably guessed that it’s essential for the moisture laden air and other gases to be exhausted outside. If your unit does not exhaust outside, changing the unit and find a way to rectify this problem as it can turn into a very serious health issue, with mold and bacterial growth everywhere.
Basement: Here is a problematic area from the potential excess moisture to the lack of ventilation. As all basements are unique, I’ll solely touch on a few generalizations. One easy assessment approach, purchase a humidity meter. They are generally in the 9-15$ range and with some tracking ability a bit more. See if your basement is in the ideal ~40% moisture range for comfort or otherwise. Are you storing items such as paints or volatile cleaners (alcohol/mineral spirits/paints/stains/etc.) Guess what, they are outgassing, meaning that they are slowly evaporating into your air and into your lungs.
Removing Viruses from the Air
Understanding the size of viruses and bacterial it becomes really clear that getting the smaller particles is essential both for your lungs and your safety. Yes the COVID virus is really small ( 50-200 um) but generally it’s attached to other materials including saliva, making it much easier to contain.
Before we start this discussion there are a few terms to know in the filter industry: MERV and MPR, MPR stands for Microparticle Performance Rating and MERV is known as the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value measurement scale, both report the effectiveness of air filters. As you do your shopping you’ll see a selection with both of these terms used with an equivelent of ~1500 MPR = to a MERV 11.
If you have a heating/cooling system that moves air you can install a filter with a high rating. One caveat, it’s worth looking for information from the manufacturer on the maximum level of filtration that will not void your warrantee or cause a problem with your unit. Why, as you increase the filtration level you also reduce the air flow and that can create problems with your unit, so check for details.
As an interesting note if you find that the filter you want is not going to work, as it reduces the air flow by too much, consider a retrofit of a 5″ not 1″ filter. When you pull your filter out of the unit, carefully so the dust is not going everywhere, you will typically see that it’s of the 1″ variety. You can actually do better with a 5″ unit if it will fit into your air handler or vent. They don’t have as much drag on the airflow and actually work better. So if your willing to spend a bit more you can actually get better filtration with a wider unit.
As another option consider an electrostatic air filter. Typically, these come in two formats. One is passive ther other active. One looks like a thick plastic weave and can be cleaned, while the latter is installed inside of the air handler assembly of your heating/cooling system and uses electrical power to charge the filters. Both of these filters will need to be periodically cleaned to remain effective.
And let’s not forget a HEPA filter. While a MERV 16 filter captures >95% of particles in the entire size range tested (0.3-10.0 microns), a HEPA filter captures 99.97% of particles with a size of 0.3 microns making it much more effective especially for catching viruses and bacteria. Only problem retrofitting it into a whole house system is prohibitively expensive and not recommended for any of the major manufactures units. The good news is that there are many really great free-standing air filters that can get the smaller particles effectively.
And then on to one more of the really great ideas to augment your air quality, a UV lamp that is place in the airflow. It has the capacity to really make a difference in the number of bacteria and viruses present and because it’s enclosed a much higher level of light is safe.
- If your range hood is recirculating or exhausting outside ?
- Does your bathroom fan exhaust to the outside, check ?
- Place a high MERV/ MPR filter into your heating/air conditioning system and replace regularly. ( Consider a MERV rated filter of 13 or greater)
- Never use VOC containing paints indoors, choose those with low or no VOCs.
- Open the windows and air out your home regularly.
- For finishes on your cabinets and surfaces, read the labels. (if it says use ventilation, its’ probably toxic)
- Store volatile products in another area, preferably outside of your home.
- Don’t have a ducted home, purchase an air cleaner with a HEPA filter.
PS: We should talk vacuum cleaners and which masks work……in our next blog.