Now that we’re spending more time in our homes to limit exposure to coronavirus, the quality of the air in our home may be making us more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses.
A look at enlarged photos of microscopic pollutants such as dust mites, pollen, mold and germs showcase how we’re living in a thick swamp of invisible contaminants that are harmful to our health.
Dander, the tiny flecks of skin shed by cats and dogs as well as other furry and feathered animals, kick it up another notch. Like other toxins, dander floats through the air, covering countertops and flat surfaces and clinging to furniture and linens.
All this helps explains why 50% of all illnesses are caused or aggravated by polluted air — even inside the house. According to the Environmental Protection Agency indoor environments are 2-5 times as polluted as the air outside.
The pandemic only makes things worse. In a March speech to the Coalition for Clean Air, Dr. John Balmes, professor of occupational and environmental medicine at University of California, San Francisco and member of the California Air Resources Board, notes the link between air pollution and increase risk of acute low respiratory infections. He adds this may have contributed to the outbreak in Wuhan, in Hubel province in China, considered the point of origin for the novel coronavirus.
But there are ways to clean up the air in our homes, says Dan Krygsheld, sales and installation manager at Illiana Heating & Air Conditioning in Cedar Lake.
The simplest steps include having your furnace serviced on a regular basis. A build-up of even .042 percent of dirt on a heating and air conditioning coil can reduce efficiency by 21%. It’s also extremely important to use the correct type of air filter and change it frequently. Factors involved in deciding what type of filter to buy include how many people and pets reside in the home and whether anyone smokes.
“How often you should change your filter also depends on their size,” says Christie Zumm, office manager at Popa Heating & Cooling in Highland. “One-inch filters should be replaced every month because they don’t catch and can’t contain as many pollutants; 4-5-inch high-end pleated filters can last as long as six months.”
Zumm also recommends looking at the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) ratings for any filter you buy. MERV numbers show how effective filters are at removing contaminants.
“The higher the MERV,” she says, “the more particles the filter is taking out of the air.”
In addition, Krygsheld suggests using ultraviolet lights (UV), noting that a recent study conducted at the Duke University Medical Center showed that UV lights kill mold, viruses and bacteria.
“Filters clean the air and UV bulbs purify it,” he says of the lights installed in HVAC systems.
“Air scrubbers mounted into the duct work remove about 99% of harmful air particles and also clean such surfaces as countertops,” says Zumm. “They’ve been shown to reduce MERS and H1N1, or Swine, Flu.”
Zumm refers to a chart on Popa's Facebook page — www.facebook.com/popahvac — developed by Kansas State University showing how ActivePure, a type of air and surface purification technology, eradicates contaminants including E. coli, H5N8 (bird flu) and H1N1.
“If you look at it in terms of health and well being these are not expensive products in terms of staying healthy and breathing clean air,” says Krygsheld. “The most important thing is that we want people to live more comfortably and be safe in their own home,” says Krygsheld.