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Air Purifiers: 6 Steps Before You Buy

Life is good for the air purification industry. With studies indicating that the rising rates of respiratory ailments are the result of high levels of indoor air pollution found in American homes, residential air cleaning systems have been selling like hotcakes. To learn about air purifier supplier, click here.

But take a moment before you join the horde of consumers rushing out to a big-box retailer for the latest in air scrubbing technology. Finding a quality air purifier can be tricky, and a bad one might pollute your air more than clean it. But with a little preparation, you can up your chances of finding a system that’ll do the job. Here are some steps homeowners should take before purchasing a home air purifier.

1. Determine Your Needs

Many types of air purifiers fill the marketplace, and they operate in different ways and target different pollutants. Finding one that fits your needs requires you have a clear understanding of what those needs are. A person suffering from mild allergies has a very different set of needs from someone with severe asthma or autoimmune deficiencies. Clarifying your needs can help you avoid wasting money on a system that does too little or too much. Furthermore, upon reflection, many of you might find that you don’t need a purifier at all.

2. Stopping Indoor Air Pollution at its Source

You wouldn’t address a mosquito problem by lighting citronella candles while a plastic kiddie pool full of fetid water sits in your backyard. Similarly, when dealing with air quality it’s best to address a problem at its point of origin.

Pollutants come from a variety of sources within a typical residence and preventing their occurrence requires a comprehensive multi-step approach including:

  • Cleaning – Vacuuming rugs, dusting furniture, addressing mold and mildew build-up, and cleaning out your HVAC systems air ducts.
  • Dehumidification – Installing a dehumidifier to address high humidity levels which often exacerbate pollutant levels.
  • Maintenance – Ensuring that stoves, dryers, and your HVAC system are all in working order.
  • Ventilation – When possible, incorporate natural or mechanical ventilation to help reduce levels of indoor air pollutants.

Many times, addressing these problems will fix your air quality problems and eliminate the need for an air purifier.

3. Decide Between a Room or Whole House Purifier

Probably the most important decision you will make regarding an air purifier purchase is whether you want a central purifier that cleans your whole home, or a room-only purifier. Each type has distinct advantages:

Room Purifiers

These are the ones you’ll see in Best Buy, Sharper Image, or other electronic stores. They’re generally free-standing devices that don’t require professional installation and they range from under $200 to over $1000. Many manufacturers put them out and they can use a wide variety of processes to clean the air.

As you’d expect, these systems are ideal for maintaining clean air in a single room. If you’re suffering from allergies that interfere with your sleep then a single air purifier placed in the bedroom might be all you need.

Also keep in mind that most room purifiers are portable, meaning that you can move them around the house and thus avoid having to buy multiple systems.

Here are some pros and cons of the room only purifiers

Advantages

  • Often cheaper than whole-house alternatives
  • Generally don’t require professional installation
  • Don’t require a forced-air HVAC system for operation
  • Portable

Disadvantages

Take up space in the living area

  • Often noisy
  • Generally don’t work as well at lower(and quieter) speed settings
  • Occasionally produce smells
  • Whole House

These systems usually hook into your forced-air HVAC system, using its fans and ducts to draw air into the purification unit. Most systems are installed into your HVAC ducts.

The price and complexity of whole house purifiers range from cheap, do-it-yourself filters that simply replace the standard furnace filter; to expensive systems requiring professional installation and costing hundreds. Some of the priciest systems are freestanding self-powered units that rely upon ducting but operate independently of the HVAC system.

Advantages

  • Quieter than room only systems
  • Doesn’t take up space in your living area
  • Ideally situated, as HVAC ducting is often a prime source of air pollutants, mold, dust, etc

Disadvantages

  • Often expensive
  • Critics claim that whole-house systems don’t target specific rooms as well as a room air purifier
  • Generally require a forced-air system
  • Usually don’t work when HVAC is off

4. Learn the Different Methods of Purification

Air purifiers can use many processes in their operation, many of which target certain pollutants while missing others. Some excel at getting rid of particulates such as dust and pollen but miss gaseous pollutants such as carbon monoxide. Others only target viruses or bacteria. And some don’t target anything at all. i.e. some don’t work!

Common types include:

Media/HEPA Filters

These systems trap particulate matter through the use of physical filters. The majority of legitimate purification systems incorporate some kind of media filter technology. The most effective of these are HEPA or High-Efficiency Particulate Absorbing filters which are so effective in cleaning the air of particulate matter that they’re used in hospitals and other facilities that depend on sterile air.

Advantages

  • Excellent at catching particulate pollutants
  • Many of the top-performing purifiers are of this type
  • Require little maintenance
  • Often increase in effectiveness as they are used

Disadvantages

  • The more effective filters block airflow and thus can reduce the efficiency of HVAC systems
  • Replacing filters can be pricey
  • Filters that incorporate an electrostatic charge will quickly lose efficiency
  • Media filters can be hotbeds for bacteria

Ionizers

These purifiers pump ions into the air. The ions transfer their charges to airborne particles causing them to attach to walls or other surfaces and thus taking them out of the air. The process might sound bogus but it does work. Unfortunately, it also has the side effect of creating ozone, a toxic gas that can exacerbate asthma and which also happens to be the main component of smog.

Advantages

  • Quiet
  • Often Effective
  • Generally more affordable to maintain than HEPA systems. (No filters to replace)

Disadvantages

  • Produces ozone
  • Ionization results in pollutants clinging to home surfaces, which can eventually lead to the blackening of those areas.

UV Lamps

These purification systems consist of UV lamps, which work by irradiating germs with lethal doses of ultra-violet radiation. They are designed solely to kill germs however and thus should only be used in addition to a filter system.

Warning: While all UV lamps generate ozone as a by-product of their cleaning process, some are designed specifically to generate ozone. These should be avoided.

Advantages

  • Effective in killing biological contaminants
  • Affordable and require little maintenance

Disadvantages

  • Only kill germs
  • May produce ozone which assists in destroying viruses and bacteria but which can also prove harmful to humans
  • Whole-house UV lamp systems require professional installation as improper installation can result in damage to eyesight

Gas Filters

These filters use activated carbon or other substances to trap volatile organic compounds and other gaseous pollutants. They can be effective when used in conjunction with a particle filter. They tend to be found more in industrial and commercial applications than in homes. In residences, these filters are often found in combination with a HEPA-style filter in high-end purifiers.

Advantages

  • The best way to filter gaseous pollutants from your air

Disadvantages

  • These filters often can only target certain types of gasses
  • Cheaper residential models are often not effective

Ozone Based Air Purifiers

The villains of the air purification world, ozone-producing air purifiers intentionally produce ozone gas due to their ability to neutralize pollutants of all types including bacteria, VOC, and particulate matter such as dust and pollen. It can also eliminate unwanted odors.

In residential situations however these systems are largely ineffective due to the lower levels of ozone used, furthermore, they can prove harmful to residents as ozone has been linked to respiratory problems. Most reputable experts and publications advise that ozone air purifiers not be used in residences. California has gone so far as to ban them.

5. Learn the Lingo

Manufacturers will throw lots of terminology at you when trying to hawk their contraptions; it helps to understand just what they’re talking about. Some of the important terms include:

Microns

Effectively a millionth of a meter, the micron, or micrometer (symbol m) is the most common unit of measurement used to describe the size of particles a filter can catch.

To give you a comparison here are some common measurements of particles in microns.

  • Human Hair 30 m – 120 m
  • Particles visible to eyes 50 m
  • Pollen 10 m
  • Respirable particle 10 m and under
  • Bacteria.3 m
  • Viruses.003 m

Respirable Particles

Respirable particles refer to airborne matter 10 m in size or smaller. These particles can get deep into your lungs and cause both respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

CADR

Standing for Clean Air Delivery Rate, the CADR system was developed by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) to measure the volume of air effectively treated by a portable air purifier. CADR ratings are generally found on the unit’s packaging and consist of three numbers each representing the purifier’s effectiveness in catching major types of particle pollutants: dust, pollen, and smoke.

When trying to make sense of the number system, AHAM recommends you buy an air purifier with a smoke rating of 2/3 the square footage of your room. Thus a 10 ft by 15 ft room with a square footage of 150 ft would need a purifier with a CADR smoke rating of at least 100. This estimate assumes a ceiling height of 8 feet. A higher ceiling will require a higher CADR rating.

Keep in mind that while CADR is a widely respected system, many purifier manufacturers don’t use it, and don’t be surprised when while shopping, you run across brands without an AHAM CADR seal.

MERV

MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value and was developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers(ASHRAE) to measure a filter’s ability to trap dust and other particle pollutants.

The rating scale ranges from 1-to 16, with 4 being the rating for a typical dust filter used to protect your HVAC system and 16 being a filter so effective that it can catch up to 95% of particulate matter and even can be used for surgery. True HEPA filters meanwhile are not supported by this scale but would rate somewhere between 17 and 20.

Most homeowners won’t need or necessarily even want a MERV 16 air filter, as these filters restrict airflow to the extent of reducing the efficiency of the whole house HVAC system in which their located or, in the case of the room only purifiers, cause them to be noisy and energy-consuming. Furthermore, many filters that claim MERV 16 ratings or above actually prove to be much less effective than lower-rated filter systems; which brings us to our next topic:

6. Research All Models Before Purchase

Research is key to picking a good air purifier but unlike cell phones, computers, and other consumer products, finding quality research on air purifiers can be tough. Properly testing and air purifier requires proper facilities. Unfortunately, many of these proper facilities belong to the very manufacturers who produce the systems; a slight conflict of interest.

So do thorough research. Check out credible publications, consult HVAC and medical professionals, and take advice from any trusted friends or acquaintances using purifiers.

And for most people, don’t obsess over your home’s air quality. Unless you have a serious health condition you simply don’t need to invest thousands of dollars with the intent of keeping your home 100% pollutant-free and the health benefits you’ll gain from the clean air could very well be negated by the stress caused by your pursuit.

Read also: FTC Chair Lina Khan’s Plan To Take On Big Tech

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