As cold and flu season approaches, you can take steps to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and illness inside your home. One of the best ways to take action for yourself and your family is by taking care of your HVAC system, so it doesn’t harbor bacteria that can make you and your family sick.
Here are seven ways to help prepare your HVAC system for the upcoming season that can make a huge difference in preventing you and your family from getting sick this winter.
Seven Ways to Prevent Illnesses in Your Home
- Regular filter changes
- Changing the Type of Air Filter You Use
- Duct Cleaning Regularly
- Adding Anti-Bacterial Spray to Ductwork
- Keep an Eye on Humidity
- Regular Tune-Ups
- Consider Installing a UV Sanitizer
Furnace Filters and Air Quality
The first and probably the easiest way we will discuss is changing your air filter regularly. Air filters for your heating and cooling system catch particles and germs in the air outside so they are not transferred into the air inside your home.
For most homes, you should be changing your filter every three months. If you have small children, pets with hair, allergy sufferers, someone in your home smokes, or if someone lives in your home with an autoimmune disorder inside your home, you should be changing them more frequently.
Similarly, if you are not running your system as frequently or are gone for part of the year, you can probably change your furnace filter less often.
Additionally, the filter you use in your home can make a considerable difference in terms of the particles and bacteria entering your home.
Change the Type of Filter in Your System
Different levels of furnace filters have additional costs and, therefore, varying levels of filtration. Filters are rated through the MERV system or Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, assigned to filters based on how efficiently they catch particles of varying sizes. Higher is generally better and will catch more and smaller particles.
These include the following:
Fiber Glass and Entry-Level Filters
An entry-level filter is generally made of fiberglass material. They are usually thin (one inch) and are cheaper than other filter options.
Higher Quality Filters
Filters that are thicker and/or have higher CADR and MERV values will be the next step up from an entry-level filter. These generally come in four-inch models, and can have MERV ratings up to about 18 and CADR at or above 200. Here at Fire & Ice, we often install Aprilaire four-inch filters because they offer a nice mix of affordability and effectiveness.
Various companies have their own versions of high-end filters. They can have MERV ratings up to 20 and CADR ratings up to 1,200. Here at Fire & Ice, we sell the Trane CleanEffects. It’s more expensive than other options, but it’s washable. This means it doesn’t need to be replaced like other filters and can actually save you money over time.
Are Electric Filters Still in Use?
These aren’t as popular anymore but do still exist. Some electric filters can reach up to 700 CADR, so they can be very effective. Of course, you’ll want to check to ensure they don’t produce unhealthy ozone levels, but the best versions keep ozone levels to negligible levels.
What about Carbon Inserts?
Some do, yes, and this can be an excellent way to eliminate odors caused by smoke, cooking, or pets.
How Much Does a Filter Cost?
Entry-level filters can be purchased for as little as $20-$30 at department stores or online. Mid-range filters that last longer and capture more can run $50-$100. The most sophisticated filters are reusable and many times more effective than standard ones. Filter and installation for these can run as much as $1,600.
Why Would I Want the Most Expensive Furnace Filter?
It seems hard to justify spending over $1,000 for a filter, doesn’t it? But let’s look at the numbers. Say you spend $1,500 on installing a high-end filter when you have a new furnace installed. That washable filter could last you 10-15 years and could quickly save you $100 per year in replacement filter costs. So already, you can see how a high-end filter can pay for itself.
But the real reason you’d want to have one is air quality. If you have severe allergies, have lots of pets, or are immunocompromised in some way, this can be the difference between breathing easy and having a home that actively fights against your immune system.
That said, another way you can keep your home healthy and your filter from filling up too soon is by ensuring your air ducts are cleaned and sanitized.
How Air Duct Cleaning Improves Home Health
At Fire & Ice, we typically recommend an air duct cleaning every three to five years. Especially after you move into a new home or have construction on your home is also a good time.
Proper air duct cleaning includes cleaning numerous parts in your HVAC system, including supply vents from your air handler, return air vents, registers, and grilles, and can include the cleaning of internal chambers and parts of your HVAC system that facilitate airflow.
These parts can include parts located in the furnace, including drain pans, blower motors, heat exchangers, and evaporator coils.
Why should it be this thorough? Because removing particles from the airstream of a home ensures that your HVAC gets and stays clean. Clean ducts get dirty more quickly if the blower motor and related parts haven't been cleaned.
You can also add anti-bacterial spray to your ductwork to kill any germs that are not removed via duct cleaning.
Adding Anti-Bacterial Spray to Ductwork
You can add an anti-bacterial spray to your duct cleaning service to kill any remaining bacteria and germs.
Applying disinfectant after a duct cleaning can help kill germs, viruses, and other contaminants that the vacuum cleaner isn’t removing. It will also ensure that your ducts are the cleanest they’ve likely ever been and will last around six months. It will coat the inside of your system with a protective coating to help prevent germs and viruses from getting inside and dispersing throughout your home.
How is it Applied?
The concentrate is sprayed into the ductwork using a spray nozzle attached to a tube. It’s run through your system once it’s turned back on. You might notice a light botanical smell dissipates after 40 minutes. There’s no chance of blowback when done correctly. It’s also safe to enter the home after it’s applied.
What type of disinfectant do you use?
After a duct cleaning, you can use two different disinfectants. The primary disinfectant we use is called Decon 30. It is manufactured by Benefect and kills 99.9% of germs in 30 seconds. It requires no rinsing and no PPE. It kills germs such as; Pseudomonas, Salmonella, Staphylococcus, MRSA, E. coli O157 Mould/Mildew/Spores: Trichophyton, Candida albicans. Decon 30 uses thymol, an active ingredient derived from thyme, and active botanical ingredients that is proven by the EPA as having no known adverse effects on humans.
Keeping the humidity levels down in your home can also help to ward off any mold growth inside your home that can lead to health issues.
Managing Humidity to Avoid Allergens and Illness
Keeping your humidity levels consistent and installing a dehumidifier inside your basement, if you struggle with moisture issues, can help with any bacteria spread. The ideal home humidity is 30% to 60%. Anything above or below that can lead to health issues and problems with your home.
Problems Caused by High Humidity:
- Dust Mites. These absorb ambient moisture and can proliferate throughout your home. They draw spiders and other insects that feed on dust mites.
- Mold and Mildew. This is an issue in many basements and can also creep upward to other levels of your home if you’re not careful.
- Health and Allergies. If mold spores are in your air, you won’t breathe as easily. At its worst, it can affect your and your family's health.
- Hot Upper Floors. Is your main bedroom too hot? It’s not just a temperature issue. It’s a humidity issue since the most humid air will rise to the top of your home.
- Trouble Sleeping. This could be due to overall temperature or moisture that causes night sweating.
Problems Caused by Low Humidity:
- Dry Wood. Cracking floorboards and wooden infrastructure of your home.
- Illnesses. Low humidity is a suitable environment for many bacteria and viruses to exist. It’s a big part of why flu season hits over the winter in most parts of the country.
- Skin and Throat. Dry, cracked skin and a sore throat are hallmarks of the colder winter months. They don’t need to be.
- Cold Spots in Home. This could be the power of your furnace system, your ductwork, or drafty windows. But often, it’s related to humidity.
There may be other reasons we’re forgetting, but those are the issues most commonly faced by homeowners that we talk to. In addition, there are other steps you can take to help prepare your home.
Regular HVAC Tune-Ups
Tune-ups are the key to keeping your system in tip-top shape. You should schedule tune-ups before the season the system is being used. For example, you should tune up your air conditioner in spring and your furnace in the fall.
Lastly, you can consider installing a UV sanitizer.
Consider Installing a UV Sanitizer
A UV sanitizer can help kill germs inside your system and prevent them from entering your home. You can look into installing the Reme-Halo UV sanitizer, which removes 99% of bacteria and germs.
All of the options we’ve covered in this article should help you on your way to keeping you and your family healthy this winter and all year long.
At Fire and Ice, we understand the anxiety that comes with cold and flu season. We are here to answer any questions or concerns you might have. If you live in the Columbus, Ohio area and are ready to take the next step in preparing your home, check to see if you’re in our service area by using the zip code map below.
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