How do you know what your indoor air quality actually is? And how do you improve it? What products can you trust, and what services make sense? These are all questions the average homeowner will likely be faced with when trying to improve their air quality, and ones that we consider, too!
Many HVAC companies simply provide products and services without considering their effectiveness or whether they make sense for customers. They also fail to truly understand indoor air quality, and don’t take the time to investigate whether certain products are scientifically proven to work or not. In an industry that has plenty of snake oil, this is no good for the consumer.
At Punbar Air, we work very hard to ensure the products and services we provide for our customers are effective solutions. It’s why our motto is “Your comfort is our goal.” Let’s dive into what you should know about indoor air quality, the rise of electronic air cleaners, and other IAQ products with extraordinary claims.
Understanding The Air You Breathe
So, what’s in the air you’re breathing at home? The first thing to consider is really that no matter what’s in it, it’s very likely more polluted than the air outside. In fact, the EPA estimates that indoor air is around 3-5 times MORE polluted than outdoor air. Why is that?
Well, one thing to consider is that modern homes are designed with energy efficiency in mind. That means insulation. In the summers and winters when we’re depending on our HVAC systems for comfort, it’s very likely that we keep our doors and windows closed. Without any ventilation or treatment, what’s in your air is being trapped and circulated – for better or worse.
What is in My Indoor Air?
Inside your air is a range of particulates and gases – some potentially harmful, others quite normal and no cause for concern. These particulate are of varying size and can be things like VOCs (volatile organic compounds) – commonly introduced by regular cleaning and cooking products, dust mites, mold spores, viruses, bacteria…the list goes on.
It’s important to note that these two types of airborne pollutants are categorized in two different categories – particles, and gasses. Airborne particles are things like virsues, bacteria, mold, allergens that travel through the air. Gasses are things like the aforementioned VOCs, carbon monoxide (CO), radon, ozone, and others.
What is the Danger, and How Do We Measure it?
Just like the water you drink, contaminants in your air can range in potential danger from virtually harmless to potentially life-threatening. It really depends on what it is, your health, and other factors. Something like a common cold might not be a major concern for a healthy adult, but for a child, the elderly, or someone immunocompromised – this can be a big deal. Without treating your air, it makes it much easier for airborne viruses and bacteria to get into your respiratory system.
Measuring the exact chemicals and pollutants in your air is very expensive and not feasible for the average homeowner, so it’s generally easier to monitor what is referred to as “total chemicals” (or TVOCs, for short). This just means the total particles within a certain size range that exist in the air. We know that size matters when we’re dealing with airborne particles. Small particles might be harmless, but particles that are small enough can cause breathing problems, worsen asthmatic symptoms, or even get into the bloodstream and cause heart complications or even premature death for people with preexisting heat or lung conditions.
The 3 TVOC sizes monitored are generally PM10, PM2.5, and PM1. Without getting too complicated, these just mean how large the particles are. Those within the PM10 range are large enough to be less of a concern, whereas the PM2.5 and PM1 particles are small enough to consider swift action.
Did You Know? Homes Don’t Have IAQ Standards
While commercial buildings have codes, standards, and regulations for indoor air quality, residential properties do not. The IAQ standards for commercial buildings are regulated, monitored, or enforced by organizations such as ASHRA, OSHA, the EPA, and the ICC. There are even organizations that provide ratings and certifications like WELL and LEED to promote healthier commercial IAQ practices and incentivize property owners to invest in them.
On the residential side, there really isn’t much of this at all. There are no regulating bodies for residential IAQ standards, and most homeowners simply don’t care. At best, some homeowners will implement DIY solutions to varying degrees of success – and without understanding of what works and what might even be more harmful (looking at you, air fresheners!) to introduce in their home environment.
To make matters worse, many HVAC companies don’t place adequate importance on IAQ for residential customers, and don’t have the foundational understanding of how these services and products actually work – if at all. Without any real expertise leading the way, most homeowners are simply left with poor IAQ inside their homes.
Electronic Air Cleaners: Avoid?
Now that you have that foundational understanding, it’s time to discuss for the real topic at hand. During and still after the pandemic, electronic air cleaners (EACs) have exploded in popularity due to their promises to eliminate over 99% of bacteria and viruses like COVID-19. But do they actually work?
Well, it depends on who you ask. While some of these products have been tested in laboratories, many of these laboratory test environments simply do not replicate a real-world situation. Your home will contain a unique collection of chemicals and pollutants along with varying levels of each. Basically, it may work in the lab…but your home is not a laboratory. In fact, there are even companies like PuriFi Labs that understand this and have taken the steps to try and replicate real-world testing environments to better measure the efficacy of their systems.
The conclusion? EACs may work, but we simply don’t have enough science and real-world to truly back up the claims made by manufacturers. Their efficacy levels may be proven in laboratory settings, but more research needs to be done to understand how they may positively or negatively impact the air quality in residential applications.
What’s the Conclusion?
Along with electronic air cleaners, other IAQ technologies like ionization, UV lights, and photocatalytic oxidation may show promise in laboratory settings, but there’s more to consider. Like with any new science, there are often unexpected consequences — and that’s what’s at the heart of this discussion. In theory, most of these IAQ products supplied by HVAC companies work. But what happens when you put them inside your home, with its own unique set of environmental factors and unique air composition?
In some cases, these devices may even decrease your air quality. At other times, they might only slightly improve it. Really, all manufacturer claims for IAQ devices like EACs should be questioned – and that’s at the advice of the EPA.
With a wide range of products out there, it’s hard to know what one should actually do to improve their IAQ. Do all these devices work as advertised? Are they actually laboratory-tested and scientifically proven to work in real-world conditions? How might these products interact in your own home, and will there by any unintended consequences?
The best thing you can do is contact a trusted expert that will give you plain, honest answers and advice based on a real understanding of the science. If you’d like to discuss your IAQ options for your home, we’d be happy to speak with you!