Winter Allergies and Your Home’s Air
Many people consider the winter to be the offseason for allergies. This is assumed because the pollen count in the air is considerably lower in the winter than it is during the spring and summer months. Truth is, allergens never take a break. Indoor allergens can survive year-round, and can settle if careful action is not taken. Some people don’t even realize that winter allergies are a real thing. Often times, winter allergies are mistaken for colds. In many instances, indoor air quality is overlooked.
In the winter, allergens such as dust mites, dander, and mold are all alive and present in your home. In some situations, winter allergies can be worse because people tend to spend more time in their home during this season. The symptoms are the same as seasonal allergies. People experience runny nose, headaches, dizziness, sneezing, and congestion. Since it is the winter, it is hard to tell if these are allergy or cold symptoms.
There is no cure for allergies. With persistence, winter allergies can be easier to control. There are several different measures a homeowner can take to get the allergy relief they need. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America outlines different tips for reducing exposure to allergens in your home. Such as: vacuum daily, use air cleaners and purifiers, wash sheets and curtains weekly, and keep pets off of the furniture. The one we want to focus on is your HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) air filter. The right air filter in your home’s central heating unit can vastly improve the quality of your air. Not only can it improve your air, but it can improve your unit’s efficiency and lifespan.
When it comes to furnace filters, there are many options. Believe it or not, the air filter industry actually has its own set of standards. Every air filter on the market is measured by what is called the MERV scale. MERV, which stands for minimum efficiency reporting value, basically shows how effective the filter is. The higher the MERV is, the better it is at filtering allergens. It identifies the size of the pores in the filter. The smaller the pores, the less that is let through. Determining which filter is right for your home depends on the people living in the house, and the living conditions. Someone who suffers from extreme allergies would want a higher MERV rating. While someone with no allergies would be fine with a lower MERV rating. Mechanical Reps Inc. provides an in-depth chart explaining the MERV system and what the ratings mean.
HEPA Filters (17-20 MERV)
For someone who suffers from extreme allergens, they might reach for a HEPA certified filter. HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Absorber. These are typically the most expensive filters, but also do the best job of removing allergens from the air. The HEPA certified filters typically sit in the 17-20 MERV range, which is as high as it goes. HEPA filters claim to be able to filter out 97% of particles. While that sounds fantastic, there is a downside. In this case, there is such a thing as too effective. The small pores required for a 97% filtration rate will result in decreased airflow. They will require changing more often, and can damage your system in the long run. According to NAFA (National Air Filtration Association), the average home HVAC is built to support 1 inch filters. Because of this, HEPA filters usually aren’t compatible with the average residential HVAC. They are often too large to fit in the home’s unit. Even if they did fit, the system probably wouldn’t have the power to sustain airflow through the thick filters.
High-Efficiency Filter (14-16)
These filters are capable of doing nearly everything that the HEPA filters do. They are capable of filtering extremely small particles. They don’t restrict the airflow quite as much as HEPA, but they still need to be changed often to function efficiently. Again, these aren’t normally recommended for the residential home.
Medium-Efficiency Filter (5-13)
This is the broadest rating for air filters. This is also the range that homeowners will want to settle into. The filters in the 9-13 range will be more than adequate at improving your home’s air quality. Although it won’t filter as many of the pesky particles that the high-end filters do, it will still result in a noticeable difference in your home. Unlike the high-efficiency filters, these will actually improve the effectiveness of your HVAC. In fact, if these furnace filters are changed enough, they can extend the life of your unit and save you money on your energy costs.
Furnace filters in the 5-8 range are perfect for the resident who doesn’t suffer from annoying allergies. It will filter enough to maintain your indoor air quality, and keep your system running efficiently. While this is considered to be the average filter, it does the job well. If properly maintained, these filters will keep your system running for a long time.
How often should I change my air filter?
Next comes the important part. While choosing the right filter is a step in the right direction, how often you change your air filter will have a huge impact on the efficiency of your HVAC and the quality of your air. We spoke to Wes Davis, the Vice President of Quality Assured Programs for the ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America), about how often a homeowner should change their HVAC air filter. He said that it depends on the home, but every 30 days is a good rule of thumb. When an air filter begins to get dirty or clogged, the airflow is restricted. Causing the system to work harder and do more harm than good. It can shorten the lifespan of your HVAC, and bring down your indoor air quality.
For a person with allergies, we recommend a filter with a MERV rating of 9-13. These filters are still very effective at removing allergens, and cost less than the higher end filter. Not only do they cost less, but they will help your HVAC run to its full potential. If you don’t suffer from allergies, then you can use a filter in the 4-8 range. No matter what, it is important to maintain your HVAC unit regularly. It will help keep it running efficiently and save you money in the long run.