Dirk Roper: How can I reduce allergens in my house?
If you suffer from allergies, you might view spring with mixed emotions. Yes, it will be warmer and sunnier. But those conditions cause plants to grow and bloom, and pollen from those plants can be a problem for allergy sufferers.
What are we dealing with?
Northern Nevada is a beautiful place to live, but it is rich in allergens. Airborne pollens from rabbit brush, sagebrush, ragweed, and dozens of other plants can cause discomfort like sneezing, wheezing, coughing, itchy eyes, stuffed-up noses for allergy sufferers. In addition, you, your family, your pets, and visitors all bring allergens with them when they enter your home.
How can I avoid allergens?
While there’s not much you can do about allergens when you are outdoors, you can take steps to minimize them in your home.
Infiltration is a significant contributor to poor indoor air quality. Open doors and windows, pet doors, poor sealing of the building envelope, and leaks around registers are prime offenders. But remember, not all allergens come from outdoors. Pet dander, dust mites, mold, and other sources of allergens may already be inside your home.
A properly maintained HVAC system can help in removing these allergy-aggravating substances from the air. The addition of free-standing air cleaners may work even better, especially if your HVAC system isn’t designed to provide extra-clean air.
What can I do?
Remember, the HVAC system only filters when it is moving air. If you are not running central air conditioning in the summer, you may be able to set the fan to “on” if the system allows. This could increase your electric bill as well as accelerated wear on the blower motor.
You’ll want to choose a filter that collects more of the microscopic spores and other pollutants that may aggravate your allergies without stressing the system. Restricted airflow caused by filters that are designed to improve air quality can make the blower motor work even harder, so make sure you select the correct filters and change them regularly. Your service technician can help you choose the best filter for your system.
How will I know what filter to choose?
Filters are rated by the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV rating), and range from a value of 1 to 20 http://www.mechreps.com/PDF/Merv_Rating_Chart.pdf. Flat panel filters, installed by most furnace manufacturers, have a 1 to 4 MERV rating. Medium efficiency filters with a MERV rating of 5 to 13 are the most common types used in home HVAC systems. High efficiency with a rating of 14 to 16 MERV, are considerably more expensive, and should only be used in systems designed for them.
No matter what filter you choose, remember to replace it as directed on the packaging. Some homes require filters to be changed monthly at a minimum. If the filter is very dirty when you change it, replace it sooner next time.
What else can help?
Your ducts may also contribute to the problem. Duct leakage can occur over time, allowing dirty air from the attic or the crawlspace to enter the system. Increased pressure in these spaces can also cause that dirty air to leak in around the registers. If you suspect this is happening, have the system inspected by a professional, who will seal any leaks found.
The bottom line
Your first line of defense in reducing allergens in your home, next to a free-standing air cleaner, is regular filter changes with a good quality filter. It’s also a good idea to have your HVAC system inspected on an annual basis to prevent any problems before they occur.
Have a question for Dirk? Send it to dirk@roperHVAC.com and he’ll try to answer it in an upcoming column.
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 Heating and Air Conditioning is located at 2062 S. Edmonds Drive in Carson City. For information, go to https://roperhvac.com/.