We’re used to bad air. That’s right, we’re used to it. Think about all of the ways in which you suffer from potentially harmful, or at least annoying, air particulates and bacteria.
Got the sniffles? Yearly allergies? Does the neighbor cutting their grass or cuddling with your dog require an allergy pill? When one person gets sick in the family, does everyone get sick? Does dust seem to accumulate on your furniture faster than you can remove it? Does your home ever smell musty? Have you had any mold problems?
Are some of these an inevitable part of owning a home? Maybe. And are some seasonal or hereditary? Yes, of course. Despite all of that, one thing is still true:
There are steps you can take to stop each of them.
Homeowners often overlook indoor air quality (IAQ) products when choosing HVAC equipment. Not only are these products able to improve your quality of life, but they can also protect your family and even save you money in many instances.
Many HVAC air quality guides don’t cut to the root of the problem. They’ll have reasonable tips and tricks like having plants in your home, keeping the windows open when possible, and other day-to-day ways to maintain indoor air quality. These aren’t wrong, but they’re incomplete. There are entire months of the year when you’ll need to have the windows shut, and small tweaks to your home environment can only go so far.
An HVAC system, complete with IAQ products, can protect you and your home year-round. Let’s talk about some of the ways these products do that and look at the products themselves.
Discussing With an HVAC Professional
So you’re going through the estimate process with a number of HVAC contractors, and some of them are bringing up indoor air quality products.
Are they just trying to upsell you?
Make no mistake, some HVAC contractors will try to sell products you may not need. Identifying when this is can be important. However, good HVAC contractors will base these recommendations on your individual concerns.
At Fire & Ice, we have a brief survey that we cover with the homeowner. These include questions related to many of the problems mentioned above, like allergies, humidity levels, and odors, among several others. What we’re looking for is the specific issues you have in your home.
For example, someone with an immunocompromised family member may have a much greater need for a particular air purification product. By contrast, that same product could be a strong “want” for the house next door, but ultimately not strong enough for them to justify the added cost.
There are benefits to each of these product types for any home. Whether or not they are the right fit for you, though, is ultimately a personal decision.
You may not know the ideal humidity for your home, but your body can feel it when that humidity level is off.
Humidity control affects more than you might realize. These areas can include:
- Spread of bacteria, some of which can proliferate more easily in humid environments.
- Mold issues or similar problems related to odors.
- The house can seem hot more often.
- This, in turn, can cause you to use your air conditioner more often, putting additional strain on the system in the most humid months.
Have you ever heard of “dry heat?” Some claim that the temperature can be over 90 degrees, and if the air is dry enough, it still doesn’t feel overly hot.
This is an extreme example of what’s going on with your dehumidifier.
In a home with a lower relative humidity, you’ll be more comfortable at a higher range of temperatures. By contrast, muggy, humid air can decrease comfort dramatically.
This also allows you to use your air conditioner less, saving you money. Most look at dehumidification as a comfort product, but it’s also a money-saving one as well if you’re using it for years to come.
If all of that is true of dehumidification, the opposite is true for the humidifier.
Fast forward to deep winter, when you’ve been running your furnace for three weeks straight to keep the temperature in your home comfortable.
Your skin is probably dry. You may have breathing issues due to the dry air. Static electricity is at an all-time high, and you’re wondering if you can produce a full-size lightning bolt by rubbing your socks along the carpet fast enough.
While the lightning bolt might be temporarily cool, the rest aren’t, and there’s also the matter of your furnace having to work extra hard to keep things warm.
Humidifiers can help with things like dry, cracked skin in obvious ways. Less obvious is that, much like the dehumidifier makes it easier to cool, the humidifier makes it easier to heat. Or more accurately, it allows us to feel comfortable at slightly lower temperatures due to the extra humidity in the air.
Your furnace is designed to handle harsh winters, but over its 15-20 lifespan, if you can cut your yearly usage by even 3-5%, you’re giving life back to it.
What this looks like in practice is being able to change the “standard” thermostat setting in your home from, say, 72 degrees to 70. It might seem small, but it can result in hundreds of dollars saved per year, and thousands over the life of your system.
For reference, there’s no “best” humidity level, but there is a range within which we tend to be the most comfortable. That range can be anywhere from 30% to 60%. This range will maintain comfort and according to the CDC will also reduce mold growth. This will fluctuate depending on the time of year as well.
In addition to being comfortable at that level, and the problems mentioned earlier, as you creep up toward 60% (and beyond) you’re going to have more dust mites in your home. These minute creatures absorb moisture from the atmosphere to thrive.
This, in turn, brings spiders. Yup, spiders. Dust mites are a regular part of their diet.
So beyond feeling more comfortable, you can avoid the bug and arachnid infestation with these indoor air quality products.
HVAC Air Filters
Humidity control helps, but what if your air is simply dirty? This could be a result of the local area (plants, pollens, etc.), pets in the home, or other sources of odors, allergens, and contaminants.
Air filters are a part of any complete HVAC system. They’re the first line of defense for your air quality. But they’re not all created the same.
A typical air filter is a one-inch filter. The HVAC industry has been using one-inch filters since around 1950. Can you name any piece of technology that hasn’t changed since 1950? It’s probably pretty tough to think of a technology that hasn’t changed in the last 10-20 years, let alone 70+.
At Fire & Ice, we also install four-inch filters. While it’s possible that a system can’t properly handle a four-inch filter, most can, so it’s a quality of life upgrade for many homes.
The better filters do a couple things:
- They catch more particulates, plain and simple.
- You can go (slightly) longer between having to replace the filter.
While the initial cost is again going to be a bit more, the longevity combined with added air quality makes this a logical addition for many homeowners.
It’s possible to change your own filters, but many homeowners don’t want the extra responsibility that comes with remembering and executing this.
Since your HVAC system should always have regular maintenance from a licensed contractor, these service visits are a great time to co-schedule your air filter changes.
Reme Halo & UV Light
You’ve probably heard about the cleansing effects of UV light. One product we offer that has this technology is the Reme Halo. The Halo has two different styles, one that uses UV light and another that uses LED light, but the underlying technology works the same way.
The Reme Halo’s dual ionizers reduce airborne particulates such as dust, dander, pollen, and mold spores. Its zinc ions also kill 99% of bacteria, mold, and viruses on surfaces.
While it hasn’t been tested regarding COVID-19, the Reme Halo has been shown to be effective at eliminating certain viruses.
For the immunocompromised, or families simply looking to stay as happy and healthy as possible, this can be a great addition to your HVAC system.
Initial Cost vs. True Cost
Ok, so you’re convinced that one or more of these are good investments. The initial cost can often seem scary, but most IAQ products pay for themselves in less than five years compared to the extra workload placed on systems that don’t have optimal IAQ equipment.
That general advice will change depending on your particular needs, though, so it’s best to weigh your options with an HVAC sales professional before making a decision.
Another question we hear a lot is: Why not just get a portable humidifier or dehumidifier? There are a couple of important reasons:
- Cost. Wait, cost?! Yes, the initial cost of a portable unit will be less, but a whole-home unit will use less energy over the course of the year. If you’re using a humidifier or dehumidifier regularly through the winter or summer, respectively, your savings can be as much as $300 per year.
- Power. Most portable units are designed to service a single room, at best. Even a non-ducted dehumidifier will benefit your entire home due to how dramatically it can reduce humidity levels.
As with almost anything, you get what you pay for. Often, this means not just a worse product, but more long-term costs for a cheaper product.
What’s Right For You
As we stated at the beginning, we’ll reiterate here: the right choice for you and your home is a personal decision that only you can make.
That said, a good HVAC contractor is going to be able to assess your wants and needs concerning air quality, then make recommendations based on your budget and goals.
Do you suffer from one or more of the things we discussed in this article? Are you interested in seeing what your options are for IAQ options that will benefit your home, your comfort, and your health? Check below to see if you’re in our service area, then schedule an estimate and we’d be happy to come out and discuss all of your options.
And if you live outside of Columbus, Ohio, these products can still help. Talk with a trusted HVAC partner to see what’s right for you!