Indoor Air Resources

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IAQ: Home is Where the Health Is

July 24 small image

By: Kevin Morrow, Business Development Manager, Kimberly-Clark Professional Partnership Products  |   07.24.14

From smoke, pet dander and dust mites, to pollen and other allergens, tiny particles are polluting the air inside our homes. But don’t worry: There’s an easy way to keep the air inside your home cleaner. It’s as simple as installing a new furnace filter every few months.

The statistics may be surprising: While 70 percent of Americans have forced air heating and/or central air in their homes, nearly 50 percent do not change the filter in their heating/AC unit every two to three months as recommended. And 10 percent have never replaced their air filter, even though indoor pollution levels in U.S. homes exceed levels of outdoor pollution by 2 to 100 times. 

What happens when we neglect our home’s heating/cooling systems in this way? A few things:

  • Clogged filters don’t allow air to flow as freely through them. This causes the heating system’s motor to run even harder to deliver the required air flow, which results in higher energy consumption and cost.
  • If filters become so clogged that no air can get through them, the air pressure within the heating/cooling system can cause the filters to “blow out” of their holding racks. This results in “bypass air” – when air flows around the filter instead of through it.
  • Bypass air is unfiltered air, so dangerous and annoying dust and particles are not being captured. Instead, they are re-circulated into the air you’re breathing.
  • Bypass air can also cause “fouling” of the coils and fans inside the system, which reduces airflow through the system and reduces heat transfer in the coils. All of this can add up to additional maintenance headaches and a significant increase in energy costs.

Many medical and health organizations recommend air filtration in the home to help prevent and protect against airborne allergens and promote respiratory health. And regular filter change-outs are crucial to avoiding the problems listed above. Refer to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule for change-outs, but keep in mind that if your home has allergy or asthma sufferers, elderly or infant family members, or people with compromised immunity systems, you may want to increase that frequency. 

What Type of Filter is Right for My House?

Replacement air filters are available at “big box” retailers and smaller hardware shops. Filter performance is labeled in a variety of ways. Some retailers use a “Good, Better, Best” approach, while others use numeric scales based on the size of the particles the filters are designed to capture. Regardless of the ratings scale, consumers who want to clean more particles out of the air should look for filters with higher filtration efficiencies. 

Check the filter packaging to see the size and type of particles it captures. Some furnace filters are designed to capture large particles like dust, lint, pollen and pet dander, while others are designed to capture small particles like bacteria and mold spores. Filters are also available to capture odor-causing particles. 

The size of the filter is critical. The proper filter size should be listed in your furnace owner’s manual, but if it is not available, you can measure the space where you will install the filter. Most people will be able to buy an off-the-shelf filter of the correct size. But if your system requires an irregular-sized filter, you may want to purchase a custom filter to prevent bypass air. 

In addition to the filter’s measurements, be sure to select a filter with the right thickness (which typically starts at 1 inch and ranges to more than 4 inches). This will help to ensure that your filter will be securely fastened in its slot, which helps to avoid the bypass air problems mentioned earlier. 

Beware of filters with flimsy cardboard frames. You want a filter that is sturdy enough to handle the constant pressure and airflow changes in your homes’ heating/cooling system. 

By selecting the right filter for your home and swapping it out every few months, you and your family can breathe easier.

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