Ask Dirk: Pollen and COVID and smoke, oh my!

In Part 1, we looked at the first two of the Environmental Protection Agency’s three recommendations for improving your indoor air quality.
With smoke and allergy season upon us, and with COVID-19 still a concern, we’ll take a look at residential air cleaning devices. For reference, we’re using the EPA document “Residential Air Cleaners, A Technical Summary,” as our guide, along with our more than 30 years in the valley looking after your family’s comfort, safety and health.
Free standing filtration systems
While it’s hard to find empirical data to support the claim, many allergy and asthma sufferers find relief with portable air cleaners. What works for some, may not work for others, and it should be noted that some allergens, including pollen and mold, drop quickly to the ground and won’t all be captured in time.
Portable air cleaners are designed to filter pollutants or contaminants out of the air that passes through them, according to the EPA. This only works when the blower is running, and a high-quality filter is used.
Free-standing air purifiers will clean the air in a single room whereas a central system will clean the air in your entire home.
HVAC system filtration
The EPA advises consumers to choose furnace filters with at least a MERV 13 rating, or as high a rating as the system can accommodate. However, highly efficient filters with a MERV rating of 13-16 or High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, may hinder air flow in ductwork that may not be designed for such highly efficient filter media. To make this work, your trusted HVAC contractor can help to upgrade or modify your system.
Filters that have a higher MERV rating may increase infiltration from your ducts. Relative pressures in your return ducts may be decreased allowing them to suck more air in from where they’re located, typically your attic.
Be sure your filters are fitted correctly to prevent unfiltered air from sneaking in around the edges. Your HVAC technician can help you determine if you’re using the best size for your system.
UV lights
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, much has been said about UV light purification. While industrial versions can provide some protection, they’re not really suited for home use other than for keeping the HVAC system coil and drain pan clean of mold and bacteria.
Air moves too quickly through your home’s ductwork to be purified by UV lights, which have to be properly engineered to get the right air flow-to-time ratio. Plus, you need some really big ducts to accommodate enough UV light to clean your air.
Other drawbacks to UV light, according to the EPA, are that some materials degrade over time when they are exposed to UV light and some generate ozone, which may create problems with your lungs, so you need to be on the lookout for ozone-free UV lights.
Carbon Monoxide
Ventilation can help dilute minute amounts of carbon monoxide (CO) but won’t be effective against a major CO leak in your home. Install CO detectors in your home and be sure to change the batteries in them every time you change the batteries in your smoke detectors.
I heartily agree with the EPA when they say, “Your best bet is still source control, filtration, and ventilation for good indoor air quality, and that’s where you should start.”
My team of highly trained technicians can help you evaluate if your ductwork is properly sized for higher-efficiency filters and get your filtration system in top shape for allergy and smoke season and help you decide how best to manage your indoor air quality.
For more than 30 years, Roper’s Heating and Air Conditioning has been providing essential indoor climate management services to the citizens of western Nevada. Roper’s is a family-owned, community-oriented business that specializes in the restoration and preservation of Total Home Comfort. Roper’s is located at 2062 S. Edmonds Drive in Carson City.

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