Thursday, November 23, 2006

Air purifiers and humidifiers

Air purification, humidity levels, and water purification all act in harmony to heavily influence the life and health of a home’s inhabitants. Ideally, contaminant-free air should limit pet dander, pollens, dust mites, free-floating molds, and dusts as well as the gases given off by household cleaners and pesticides. Good quality air should also be at a humidity level that is neither too humid nor too dry.

Properly controlling the humidity of a home’s air will let everyone breathe easier, act to prevent dehydration, help extend the life of wood furniture and floors, and lessen the impact of allergens in the air. Dehumidification is rarely needed outside of Florida or Hawaii, but can help cut down on molds and make the air easier to breath when it is necessary. Our expert talks about the home humidification and air purification products he sells, and how they’re important to a home’s environment.

Did you know that indoor air is frequently two to five times more polluted than outside air? Stepping outside for a breath of fresh air really is just that for some people-an escape from harsh pollutants, dangerous contaminants, and other conditions that just aren’t good for your lungs. Unfortunately, these air problems aren’t just a problem when breathing. Particles settle in the lungs, and contaminants travel through the body to be abandoned in the tissues of the liver or other organs. Bad air stays with your body for years, and years of bad air in the home can add up to some sizeable health problems.

How big of a health risk is indoor air pollution?

It's always been believed that contaminants were more of an outside problem than an inside problem. However, it has been discovered that indoor pollutants are an equal problem. For example, there is a publication called the Congressional Quarterly, which reveals that indoor air is often 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air. It can be, at times, one thousand times as dirty. So, with that in mind, it's a serious health concern, and it is something that does need to be addressed.

Indoor air is not very safe for your home. There are a lot of different ways to look at the pollutants in indoor air. There are two prominent categories of indoor air pollutants. They are particles and gases. Particles are really a major threat to a person's health. The reason for this is that they're very small. Oftentimes, they can get through the body's natural filtering mechanism, and they can get deep into lung tissues and the liver. These toxic substances are obviously absorbed into the body. These would include things like dust mites, pet dander, mold spores, and pollen. A lot of these things already contribute to allergies and allergic reactions. These allergic reactions can be very severe. They can produce something like asthma or subtle chronic conditions like runny nose, watery eyes, headaches, lethargy, and snoring. All of these can be controlled by air quality.

The other serious category of indoor air pollutants is gases. You don't know they are there because they are invisible. These would be things like volatile organic compounds. There are 500 of those different types of gases that are possibly in your home. Those would come from things like cleaning solutions, carpets, building materials, and press board. It is quite a broad grouping of contaminants.

What is the benefit of using air purification systems in your home?

When you look at some of the contaminants in the home like aerosols, pesticides, smoke from fireplaces, even tobacco smoke, the ability to remove some of these items is just crucial. After installing air purification systems in your home, you will notice a vast difference in your overall health. You're going to find that health problems like asthma and allergies correct themselves. There is a hospital in Cincinnati that had a number of children who had severe problems like this. As an organization, we provided 20 of those products to this hospital in Cincinnati. To my understanding, all of these children are doing far, far better as a result of using the unit that I provided. The benefits are documented. There is one more item to consider. There have been a great many advancements in home building over the last say 10-20 years. As a result, houses are built with more gaseous and chemical containing substances. They are also a lot tighter. They allow for less air transfer. So contaminants, once they are in the house, are pretty much there to stay.

Where should you install air purifiers in your home?

Every area of your home has different possible contaminants. Your kitchen for example has things that aren't harmful, but they're bothersome. You've got your aerosols and your odors in a bathroom for example. You've got a lot of chemical impurities in the garage. You've got basements where you have possible mold growth. So, pretty much every area of your home is a good target for placement of an air purifier. It really does depend on the types of symptoms that you have. People have different tolerances. I think one of the key concerns with air purification is carpeting. I don't think there is one single thing that is going to address every issue in a home.

If there is one contaminant that is a factor in common with most allergies and most problems, it is carpet. Vacuum cleaning will do a wonderful job of getting rid of a lot of these contaminants, but it pretty much ends there. So if you have serious problems, you really have to look at carpeting as a start to solving the problem. The real key is to get ahead of the problem. A larger unit will cleanse 1400 square feet. The questions you need to ask yourself are: how much carpet do I have? and How open is my house? Obviously, air needs to move from room to room through your house. Generally, one unit is going to do the trick. If you have a smoker in the house or have a multilevel house, then you might get two or three.

How can you keep your home healthy?

Water purification, air purification, and humidity are all very closely linked. For example, humidity levels in your homes that are too low are going to have an impact on the air quality parameters. If your humidity level is too high, it will cause something like a mold to grow. If your humidity level is too low, it will cause things like molds to dry up. When they do dry up, they obviously move into the air. It's easier for them to be distributed throughout the air.

Something else to consider is something called radon. These are radioactive pollutants which originate in rock soil, ground water, natural gas, and mineral building material. The radons have been closely linked to types of cancer. If you find that you have radon in your air, there is a high likelihood you also have it in your water supply. So all the systems work together to keep your house healthy. When I am speaking with people about air purifiers and they indicate that they've revealed radon in their home, then obviously another topic of conversation has to be what sort of water filtration methods they use. The health of the house, a healthy living environment, isn't just one item. Oftentimes, there can be more that you need to look at to ensure that you're really keeping your home as healthy as possible.

What are the types of filters for air purification?

The first, and most important type, would be a HEPA filter. They are pretty much the standard filter. HEPA stands for High Energy Particulate Air Filtration. This was a medium that was developed by the US government during World War II. They used it to prevent radioactive particles from escaping from labs. These substances are made out of silicate, which is very glass-like, and this silicate is formed into sheets that are thin enough and effective enough to increase the surface area for filtration. So HEPA filters are simple mechanical filters that remove particulates from the air very effectively. They'll remove 99.9% of particles that are 0.3 microns or larger from the air. That pretty much covers everything. You can expand on that by using HEPA with activated carbon. Carbon is really nothing more than charcoal. It's made from nutshells, coconut husks, and things like that. The most important thing with carbon is that 5 gm of high quality carbon has an absorptive surface area greater than a football field. If you think about a HEPA filter with carbon, you have an amazing filtering ability. You not only filter out the contaminants, but you also contain them. So that would be one broad category.

There is another category. This would be an ozone generator. There are two schools of thought on ozone generators. The theory is that ozone purification converts chemicals in the air into other harmless substances, and a lot of researchers have shown us that this is not really the case. Studies recommend that you do not use ozone generating appliances in the home because it can have a damaging effect on health, especially for persons with asthma and other lung diseases. When you inhale it, ozone can cause respiratory problems in older people, children, and even healthy adults. It has been shown that long-term exposure can lead to premature aging of lungs and chronic respiratory conditions. So, it's a very difficult topic. There are two very opposing thoughts about this product. Our opinion here is that it is not healthy, and it is not a good thing to be using.

Another type of purifier that you've probably seen is an ion purifier. These generate negative ions. They strip them into the room's air, and they create a static charge, which causes these particles in the air to be attracted to surfaces. These would be table cloths, walls, and things like that. It removes them directly from the air, but it doesn't remove them from the room. It also creates ozone. The concern with a product like that is that the same electrical charge could also attract those materials to the lung tissue of anybody in the room. And so, once again, that is not a good thing.

What is the cost of air purification systems?

It ranges. You could probably go to some big box realtor, and you can purchase something that's an air purifier. It may be $79-$99. The question is, is it going to do the job? Chances are, it is not. The air purifiers can range from $79-$95 and all the way up into the $1000-$1500 range. My product that I sell, the Austin brand, is anywhere between $250 and $450. So on a balance between cost and quality, we consider ours to be the best bargain out there.

What is the benefit of having a home humidifier?

There are really four distinct categories. The first is health. One of the primary issues that people deal with is dehydration. Dehydration is something that you can avoid by drinking a lot of water. However, that's internal. Often times, if your humidification levels are low, you are going to have dry skin. Your skin will not have the elasticity it needs. Other symptoms could include joint pain, muscle pain, raspy throat, sore eyes, and even difficulty concentrating. In general, if your humidity levels are too low, you may experience a constant discomfort. When you have humidity in the air, you feel more relaxed, more at ease, and more comfortable.

Humidification also can calculate into savings in your home. Dry air makes you feel colder than humidified air. If you have the temperature at 69 degrees Fahrenheit at 35% relative humidity, it feels just as warm as 72 degrees Fahrenheit at 19% relative humidity. You have the ability to turn your thermostat from 72 to 69, but you still feel just as warm. So ultimately, that calculates into energy savings. One of the most important things to consider when buying humidifiers is wood furniture and wooden items. Low humidity levels have an enormous impact on wood products. Lack of humidity can cause cracking in hardwood floors. Some people have very old musical instruments: pianos, violins, and things like that. Low humidity levels can quickly damage those investments. Those are a few of the benefits of having a home humidifier.

How does a humidification system work?

There are two types of humidification systems. One type would be a whole house system that would generally be associated with your furnace. The other would be a small system that you would put in a room and it would work only for that room. There would be a little bit of humidity transferred outside the room. Those are the two classifications.

My particular humidifier, the Desert Spring Brand, is a whole house humidifier. It mounts on the cold air return of the furnace, and it is vented to the warm air side. So, it physically pulls the warm air over a rotating drum where the warm air picks up the moisture. Then, it drives that moisture into the furnace where it is vaporized, and it delivers it through the vent. The smaller one is just a small base. You would put it on a countertop or on a desk. You would fill it with water, and you would turn it on. It can be both either a cool mist unit or warm mist unit depending on how it is built.

One of the primary considerations with humidity is maintenance and cleanup. Obviously, as water humidifiers go or anything that vaporizes water, the water is going to remain in the basin. Depending on the water supply, this is really an important consideration that's going to dictate how much maintenance you have to do. You can use any type of water that you like. If you run a well and you are using water coming out of the tap, one of the things that you need to consider is using a filtration device. The reason for this is that some contaminants will go through the humidifier. They are going to end up being vaporized and they end up in your air.

Can you buy a whole house humidifier?

Yes! With a whole house humidifier, you have to look at both the effectiveness and the maintenance. Our unit, one of the standard humidification systems, uses either a foam filtration or some other material, like a wet humidifier. It picks up the moisture and exposes it to the air. If you picture a sponge that continuously has water being passed through it, the water supply has contaminants that will translate to the sponge. The sponge is going to become quite a mess over a short period of time. We can deal with this through a rotating drum within the base. It will pick up the water. We also have a unit that attaches to our humidifier called an auto flush unit. With an auto flush unit, it flushes out the basin two times a day and removes all contaminants. It's virtually maintenance free. There are no filters needed.

So, what we find to be really important, when speaking with customers about humidity, is having an understanding of their water supply. If somebody is on a well, then we strongly suggest that they use an inline filter. It is the same thing you would put on the back of your fridge for your icemaker. There are variables that are associated with each and every installation.

The price of a whole house humidifier will vary. It can be anywhere from $250 and $500, depending on the quality of the unit and the type of filtration system that it has. When you look at the cost of the humidifier, you also have to look at what the replacement cost for the various filtering mediums will be. The foam filters are quite expensive and laborious to install. So it's not just the cost of the unit - which really is not all that much when you think about the benefits it provides - it's the cost of maintaining it.

Can you install whole house humidifiers yourself?

Installation is generally not too difficult. Once again, there are many different types of furnaces. There are many different types of systems in our homes. I would say 95% of people with basic home mechanical skills, would be able to perform a basic installation. If you start dealing with wiring and things like that, you may want to call in a plumber or home handy man, somebody that really knows what they are doing. It depends on the individual.

The unit mounts on the cold air return of the furnace, and generally, the opening there is going to be adequate. If it is not, it's quite easy to cut into the sheet metal using the template. That's probably the most technical part of the installation. Then, it's just a matter of connecting the water supply. A lot of people think, "oh boy, I have got to connect it to the water supply. That's going to be a recipe for disaster." Nothing could be further from the truth. We provide something called the saddle valve, and you simply put the saddle valve over the water supply line, screw it in, tap the line, and you've made your water connection.

Should you use a single room humidifier?
Well, it's not something that we sell. The reason for this is that I am not entirely sure it is an effective system. There are some items you can install right on your shower faucet. They claim to generate steam when you turn on your shower, which ultimately is humidity. They claim to deliver this humidity to the whole house. I have a little bit of a problem with that. I just don't know how something like that could do it. How can they circulate humidity throughout the whole house? I can imagine that the bathroom or washroom will have tons of humidity. If you are looking for a single room humidifier, ask questions about how they work. Just do your research.

When should I use a dehumidifier?

Some regions have excess amounts of humidity in the air. You would use one if you are in very high moisture climates. High levels of moisture are just as unhealthy as low levels of moisture. A dehumidifier is going to remove those particles from the air, and it will assist in bringing down the humidity level. As a result, it will limit the growth of mold and other similar contaminants. Molds are damaging to your lungs. Moisture can also have a negative effect on your lungs too. Too much moisture is a bad thing. On our planet, things need to have a balance. So, if you are in a place like Florida or Hawaii, you may want to consider a dehumidifier. However, most of North America has problems with not enough humidity.

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