After a cold, rainy, snowy winter homeowners are more than ready for springtime’s promise: blooming flowers, fresh, green grass, and trees reclaiming their leafy lushness. But along with spring comes allergy season, which continues on into summer. And for those who suffer from seasonal allergies or asthma spring is the most uncomfortable season of all. But here’s the good news. You can control the allergens populating your home with some DIY maintenance, and sometimes a little professional help from an HVAC specialist.
Allergens and their Reason for Existing
Allergens are an airborne phenomenon. They infiltrate your home, landing on any and all surfaces. But it’s not just allergens coming from outside; it’s inside too where the air can hold particulate matter from such allergens as:
- Pet dander
- Dust mites
- Cockroach droppings
This particulate matter suffuses the air in your home, causing difficulty in breathing and the allergy symptoms of:
- Coughing and sneezing
- Red and irritated eyes
- Scratchy throats
- Runny noses
How to Deal with Allergens in Your Home
Maintaining your cooling system is crucial to managing the allergens that may have already been populating the air in your home. This is what you can do to rid yourself of annoying allergens that have invaded your home:
- To effectively manage the allergens swimming in your indoor air, buy the best-quality heating system filters as your primary line of defense in catching allergen particulate matter. Go for a MERV 8 rating or higher, which will do the best job of capturing particulate matter from the air, decreasing their numbers. Be vigilant in checking the filters on a monthly basis, and change them at a minimum of three months throughout the year. If you allow dirt and dust to build up on your heating system, air filters will stop absorbing the allergens, and decrease the efficiency of your cooling system.
- Dust and debris can also accumulate around both the indoor and outdoor cooling units. What occurs is the cooling unit draws in air from outdoors through the AC unit, causing the allergen-filled air to spread everywhere in your home. Monitor your indoor and outdoor AC units for the appearance of dust and debris often. Use a broom, vacuum, or dust cloth to clean the area around the AC units to decrease the allergen buildup.
- It’s not just dust and debris that causes allergies. Mold is also a culprit in the war against allergen invasion, because it takes hold in humid and moisture-filled climates. What is particularly dangerous about mold is beyond causing allergies to worsen; its appearance can lead to serious ailments as well as death. To find mold hiding in your AC examine the ductwork, evaporator coils, air handler, and condensate drip pan and drain. This maintenance task must be performed on a monthly basis to keep on top of mold growth. If mold hasn’t overtaken your cooling system, you can probably handle its removal yourself, but for a significant buildup of mold, it is best to contact an HVAC specialist.
- Another maintenance task involves dusting the dust registers and return vents on your cooling system. When you’re dusting your home do the registers and return vents first so you don’t overlook them. Necessary to understand is the return vents spread the cooling system’s air. So if the vents are not dust-free neither will your home be dust-free also. Don’t dust with a dry rag. This will only spread the dust mites around and re-populate the air. Use some furniture polish on the rag to keep dust mites from spinning into the air and eventually into allergy and asthma sufferers’ systems.
Guidelines on How to Choose the Right Air Filter
A misconception people carry around about ordinary HVAC air filters is they can deal with allergens that fill the air. Not so. HVAC filters only do the job of protecting the cooling system from attracting dust, so the AC can operate efficiently. The air filters may displace some dust, but they are not capable of capturing the particulate matter that contributes to allergy symptoms.
HVAC air filters are made of paper, an inadequate material to trap particulate matter. Paper filters can only handle larger particle matter such as dust that lands on motors and fans, compromising the AC’s efficiency. What occurs when smaller particulate matter contacts paper filters is they bypass the fibers and spread throughout the ductwork, getting blown out into your air, re-populating it.
Allergy air filters are made to capture micro-particulate matter. Named high energy particulate air filters (HEPA), they contain many condensed layers of fiberglass material, and are capable of catching nearly 100% of small particulates such as dust, pollen, and smoke to keep the air free of them.
However, you can’t buy just any HEPA filter and expect to clear your air of allergens. A rating system known as the minimum efficiency reporting system (MERV) has 12 tiers of air filters, the highest of them able to remove the most microscopic particles. According to some experts, opt for a rating of 10 and up in order to do a thorough job of eliminating all the particulate matter that permeates the air, contributing to allergy and asthma symptoms.
It’s not enough to buy the right HEPA filter. You must also replace them often, at least every two months, particularly when the pollen count is high. You might even need to replace them more frequently if you live in an area that is vulnerable to higher allergen populations. However, using the appropriately-rated HEPA filter provides only 50% of the solution to decreasing allergens swarming the indoor air. You must as well attend to cleaning the other parts of your cooling system where dust and pollen can accumulate on blower fans and ductwork.
Here’s a tidbit of information you should know about. The air in your home recycles through your cooling system up to seven times a day. Without the use of HEPA filters and maintenance of your cooling system, allergens, dust, and mold become long-term residents in your cooling system, sometimes for years. If this is the case you probably need the professional assistance of an HVAC specialist to check–and if necessary–clean your ductwork. It won’t cost you a penny to have your ductwork inspected. The HVAC specialist during their inspection can show you what dust buildup has occurred, and also if there exists any mold or mildew hiding in your ductwork, aggravating allergy symptoms. Seeing what’s there will surely give you the motivation to keep your cooling system well-maintained and allergens at bay!