Your new home is finished and it’s moving day. You got the gorgeous granite countertops you wanted, the perfect stain for the wood floors and the walk-in closet of your dreams, but did you consider the air?
It’s such a simple feature that is often overlooked, but your home’s filtration system undoubtedly has a larger impact day-to-day than any of the fun stuff we mentioned above. And that’s why air quality has become the latest race to the top for home builders.
According to the EPA, some of the same pollutants that cause itchy eyes and sore throats or even headaches and nausea exist at levels up to 10 times higher inside the home than outside. These volatile organic compounds (VOCs) include everything from building materials to office equipment, disinfectants and even hobby supplies in addition to whatever we are bringing in when we open the door.
And oddly enough, part of the problem arose as builders started doing a better job with air sealing. It helped to keep a lot of allergens out, but we’ve learned recently that it may have been keeping even more of them inside.
Lucky for you there are a few options available on the market today to help control these allergens and keep your family safer and healthier in the home. They can primarily be broken down into two main strategies: whole house air purifiers or portable units. Both have their pros and cons which we will explore below.
Portable Air Filtration Units Start the Defense
While it may not be as effective, a portable unit is certainly more accessible and much easier to implement into the household immediately. These portable air purifiers, or air sanitizers, are meant to impact a specific room and are suggested for one that you spend the most time in like a bedroom.
Most of these units will use HEPA filters, which force air through fine mesh particles to trap pollen, dander, dust mites, smoke and other allergens. HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air. According to the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology, a filter must trap 99.97% of particulates 0.3 microns or larger to cary the HEPA name. Some are capable of capturing more, but that is the minimum requirement.
That sounds pretty good, but we need to understand how big a micron is for scale.
About 25,000 microns equal an inch and a single strand of human hair is about 50 microns wide. These filters are optimized to eliminate pollutants between 0.3 and 1.0 microns, which are far too fine for the human eye to see. Clearly these still pose a threat or we wouldn’t be having this debate about air filters at all.
One cubic foot of air may contain as much as 400 million unseen particles and the majority of them are smaller than 30 microns. Hair, plant spores, viruses and animal dander account for some of the largest sized microns. Viruses are usually the smallest, typically ranging from .003 to .05 microns in total.
The biggest weakness of this choice is that allergens do not exist exclusively in the air and certainly aren’t contained to one room. The portable air filter simply does not have the power to tackle some of the larger threats within the home given its somewhat limited capacity.
Portable air cleaners also require more general upkeep than a full-home solution. According to the EPA, air cleaning is limited to less than 25 percent of the 8,760 hours in a year. This is the result of a few different factors ranging from well-intended, yet improper maintenance to annoyance and eventual abandonment of the system due to noise or lack of enthusiasm.
However, with proper attention, they can still be effective as part of an overall strategy. The following tasks will help to maintain indoor air quality with or without the air purifier working in overdrive:
- Monitoring carbon monoxide and radon levels through detectors in danger areas like basements near utilities.
- Regularly vacuuming and dusting around the house to reduce exposure to the accumulation of allergy triggers in gathering spaces.
- Changing bedding, including pillow cases, and occasionally purchasing new linens that are specifically marketed toward those with allergies.
- Limiting pets to specific part of the home that exclude the bedroom and keeping them clean and trimmed to reduce stowaway allergens they may be carrying in their fur.
This room-to-room solution does receive some backup from the integrated home filtration system meaning that regular maintenance is still extremely important. This includes checks of the heating and air conditioning elements as well as scheduled filter changes throughout the year. A standard residential filter needs to be changed every three months for maximum effectiveness.
Relying on MERV for Quality Air Filtration
As we mentioned above the next option to improve air quality inside your home is to incorporate a complete home filtration system. This requires some pre-planning and is a little pricier, but may be well worth it in the long run.
Think about it as turning your entire home into a defense system that works to protect you from allergens from inside and outside your home by neutralizing them at the source.
Louisiana-based Alvarez Construction Company addresses this problem with top-of-the-line MERV filtration. But wait, who or what is a MERV? The acronym stands for the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value and it measures an air filter’s effectiveness on a scale based on the effectiveness of removing particles between 0.3 and 1.0 micrometers. These tests are run six times each beginning with a clean filter and then advancing to the addition of synthetic ASHRAE dust loadings through an aerosol generator.
The MERV Rating Application Guidelines are listed below:
- <20% Intended Dust Spot Efficiency
- 60-80% Average Arrestance
- > 20 μm
- <20-60% Intended Dust Spot Efficiency
- 80-95% Average Arrestance
- 3.0-10.0 μm
- 40-85% Intended Dust Spot Efficiency
- > 90-98% Average Arrestance
- 1.0 – 3.0 μm
- 70-98% Intended Dust Spot Efficiency
- >95-99% Average Arrestance
- 0.30-1.0 μm
The rating includes two primary tests: The Dust Spot Efficiency Test, which measures ability to remove microscopic particles from the air, and the Arrestance Test, which involves injecting synthetic particles into the air for testing purposes. Most of the high-quality filters tested can remove 90 percent or more of the injected particles, which makes the second test more of a standard. The first test is far more variable since atmospheric dust is much lengthier and less predictable pattern of exposure throughout the run of a filter.
According to Filter Buy, most residential air filters have a MERV rating of 1-4 which is just strong enough to eradicate pollen, dust mites and fibers. That might sound pretty comprehensive, but on the far end of the scale, the MERV 13 and higher are powerful enough to be used in a hospital surgical environment. The U.S. Green Building Council lands right in the middle requiring a minimum rating of 8 for recirculating systems.
Now that we have the science out of the way, let’s get back to integration.
Integrating Whole House Ventilation Techniques
Every new Alvarez home is equipped with a comprehensive air filtration system that includes a MERV 16 filter which is installed at the unit instead of the return for maximum effect. This means the main influx of air into the house is controlled and filtered at the source to create a solid foundation for your holistic strategy.
This is a part of Alvarez’s larger “Healthy Homes” initiative which includes plate seals on the exterior walls, Low-E vinyl windows and ENERGY STAR appliances to help homeowners conserve energy, save money and live more safely at the same time. The insulation, SEER HVAC system and tankless water heaters boost the company’s energy efficiency standing.
They describe their philosophy on the Build Smart page:
“We’ve raised the standards in Louisiana for smart, healthy, and energy-efficient homes—because we want to protect every aspect of your investment, which includes the most valuable one: your family.”
Homes By Taber in Oklahoma City took a similar approach also basing their system on a highly rated MERV filter. This starts with their fresh air intake system and continues through a MERV 13 filter meant to eliminate the high levels of pollen and other allergens they see in Oklahoma.
This is a part of their “Proudly Overbuilt” pitch that includes standards for quality, safety and value. Air filtration falls under safety along with the hardwired security system which comes with integrated smoke and CO detection.
Getting Ahead of the Air Quality Trend
Even if builders aren’t quite this far along, many are moving away from some of the traditional building materials to try and improve air quality from the start. One easy way is to cut down on the carpeting in a home because it tends to collect pollutants that are extremely difficult to remove after they become intertwined with the fibers. Eliminating carpet also takes away the need for heavy duty cleaners that are often used to make up for pet messes and other spills on the flooring.
Builders are also trending toward low or no-VOC paints to minimize the “new home” construction cocktail of pollutants as they go because the effects of new paint linger for far longer than the familiar fumes we all recognize.
In conclusion, as homebuilders try to stay ahead of the trends and offer top-quality construction to new homeowners, air filtration systems may be one of the best routes in 2019. It’s still a fairly new or uncommon trend, but as awareness grows it’s sure to influence customers as they learn the health and general safety benefits. Plus, you already have to choose a system, why not find one that will continue to work for you and your brand as the home matures.