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The Ever-Growing Importance of Indoor Air Filtration

Written by: Dan Whittaker, ESG Environmental Investigator

The exciting era of energy efficient buildings is evolving and growing, but did you know that improving the efficiency of your house could be affecting your health? Every time a gap in a house is sealed and improvements are made, fresh air can no longer easily pass through that space, which can lead to an unwanted rise of indoor contaminants. The lack of natural fresh air in today's buildings in combination with an insufficient air system often leads to a recirculation of these indoor contaminants. These contaminants sources often include pets, thick carpets, furniture glue, moisture problems, mold, or even your own presence. Contaminants such as these can travel in the form of gasses and particles, which put a strain on our lungs and can cause us to feel sick.

The gaps shown in the picture above illustrate how older houses allowed for fresh air exchange naturally. With today's standards for building energy efficient houses, gaps like these are becoming rarer, and fresh air is now brought inside with the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning)system. To function properly, HVAC systems need to be protected from dirt and dust, and the earliest air filters were invented serve this purpose. Today's widely used HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arrestor) filters were originally developed during World War II to control radioactive iodine and finer particulates, and they became available to the public in the 1930s. The information on filtration has improved drastically over the last hundred years, allowing for a range of possibilities that can meet the needs of your home.

The picture to the right illustrates the commonly used 'economy' grade filter. HVAC technicians will often recommend this type of filter in an attempt to allow more airflow. However these filters allow many smaller particulates to pass through and are mostly useful for just keeping larger debris out of your ducts.

The commonly used HEPA filter is shown to the left. The effectiveness of filtration is rated by a MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) scale ranging from 1 to 16 (most effective). We recommend using a minimum MERV-8 rated pleated filter for your indoor air return.

As an upgrade from the pleated HEPA filter, a thicker pleated filter (shown to the right) can be directly installed onto your air handler. A few types of these filters exist and work great, but we have found that clients have always been pleased with the performance of Trion Air Bear charged-media filters. They can be found here.

Other options for optimal indoor air include using an activated charcoal filter, or introducing ionization. These can be added directly to your air handler, or found in certain brands of portable air filter units. Activated charcoal can be very effective in removing chemicals and other odors from the air. Ionization can be effective in removing excess particles from the air, but should only be used when a sorption bed (such as activated charcoal) is present. The image to the left shows on our our favorite portable filter units, the Rabbit Air MunisA2, which can be found here.

Houses will differ in terms of how much filtration may be needed in order to maintain correct air pressure and flow. Environmental Solutions Group can help you to determine which filtration option is best for you.

Extra Tips for Keeping Contaminants at Bay:

  • Operating exhaust fans can be very helpful in removing contaminants from our bathroom and kitchen
  • Seal around the edges of your return air filter using painters tape to maximize your filtration
  • Consider scheduling periodic monitoring and checkups for your HVAC
  • Use a MERV-8 (or higher) rater pleated filter and replace at least every 30 days

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