The typical furnace filter familiar to most homeowners—that cardboard rectangle with some fuzzy stuff behind mesh, meant to be tossed out every month or so—is not designed to help your family breathe better. It is intended to stop only the largest airborne particulate from entering your furnace and damaging its insides. For truly effective home filtration that can reduce allergy symptoms, you need a better filtration system.
For the duct work in your home you can use a range of filters, starting with those cheap disposable ones and going all the way up to hospital-grade HEPA filtration. With each jump in filter strength, though, you reduce airflow. The key to improving allergy symptoms is to balance filtration effectiveness with airflow. Some anti-allergen choices:
- pleated filters
- electrostatic permanent filters
- deep-media filters
- UV germicidal lights
Some filters and cleaners need professional installation and maintenance. The best method for selecting a home filtration system to reduce allergens and contaminants in your air is to discuss options with your professional HVAC contractor.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends a three-prong strategy to reducing indoor allergens:
- Reduce the source—smoke outside; purchase solid wood furniture that avoids formaldehyde used in composition wood; vacuum daily; use hardwood or laminate flooring and reduce fabric use in the home
- Ventilate—in fine weather, open your home to let fresh air in and remove stale air; use kitchen and bathroom fans frequently in all weather
- Clean the air—use mechanical filters and germicidal light
The Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) is a number on a scale from 1 to 20 that lets you know how effective a particular filter is, from the cheapest (MERV 3) to clean room-grade (MERV 19 and 20). This filter mechanically blocks particulates that are swept up in your home’s airstream as the return air ducts pull spent air back to the furnace or central air conditioner for fresh treatment.
High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters mechanically intercept micron-sized particles. A micron is one-millionth of a meter; a human hair is 50 microns wide. The HEPA filter:
- Blocks large particles in its fibers—10 microns and larger
- Alters the course of mid-sized particles, which stick to the fibers—one to nine microns
- Slows down the tiniest particles, which then stick—down to 0.3 microns
HEPA filters capture nearly every allergen that could cause symptoms in family members. Indoor air quality is greatly improved with a home filtration system.
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