Three Steps to Better Indoor Air Quality

Posted On April 17th, 2017 by J&J Burk

Some facts to consider:

  • For every 1,500 square feet of living space your home acquires about 40 pounds of dust per year. Dust is the primary means for mites, bacteria, viruses and germs to enter your lungs (the average pillow’s weight is 50% dust mites!)
  • Everything from cigarette smoke to gas stoves, from naturally occurring radon to the chemicals used in household cleaners creates harmful gases that linger indoors for lengthy periods of time.
  • Due to the out-gassing of carpets, mold, mildews, mites and fungi in the typical American home, a baby crawling on the floor inhales pollutants equivalent to 4 cigarettes every day!
  • More Americans are taking steps to seal their homes in order to increase energy efficiency. One side-effect, however, is that less air is exchanged with the outdoors and pollutants can build to dangerous levels. A heavily-insulated home, for instance, can contain pollution levels as much as 200% higher than ordinary homes.
  • The EPA estimates that nearly 60% of all American homes are “sick”–this means that the air inside them is considered hazardous to breathe.

Recognize Your Options

The first step is to improve the quality of air inside your home is to have a professional Indoor Air Quality expert test and evaluate it. Once you have all the facts, and have discussed the finding with a professional, there are three proven means for improving your home’s Indoor Air Quality:

  • Source Control–This simply refers to taking the steps necessary to decrease or eliminate the causes of indoor air pollution in your home. Those with a gas stove or furnace should have a professional check vents for proper air draw and pipes and fixtures for leaks which, however small, can create hazardous, potentially deadly, buildups of fumes over time. Other means of remediation may include restricting cigarette smoking from your home or at least requiring that smokers do so near a ventilation source. Switching to “green” cleaners and increasing the frequency of vacuuming and dusting are also relatively easy and inexpensive means to improve indoor air quality. Your IAQ professional will help by making Source Control recommendations geared to your particular property.
  • Ventilation–Sure, opening the windows can help, but weather conditions don’t always make this possible and even when the windows are open the actual exchange of air with the outside may be relatively small due to a build-up of positive pressure indoors. For this reason, the EPA recommends that homes, particularly newer, well-sealed homes, use some form of mechanical ventilation to ensure a certain level of air exchange with the outdoors. HVAC systems and exhaust fans both play an important role in this regard but since neither is typically left on all the time homeowners may want to consider additional measures. There are variety of systems on the market designed specifically to increase the air exchange rate between the inside of your home and the outdoors. Your IAQ professional will help by making Ventilation recommendations geared to your particular property.
  • Air Purification – While Source Control is inarguably the most important step to improve indoor air quality, the addition of an air purification system is certainly the most underutilized. Many homeowners fail to realize that the panel filters used by most HVAC systems are designed to protect the equipment, not the people inside the home, from airborne pollutants. Older ducts systems can actually decrease the IAQ by providing a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. As such, more and more Americans are opting to employ some type of indoor air purification technology in their home. In fact, air purification is a growing industry–estimated to increase by over 5% per year until at least 2012.

Know Your IAQ Systems

There are a variety of indoor air purification technologies available to the consumer. Each has distinct advantages and disadvantages. For this reason it is best to consult with a professional who can provide accurate testing and then recommend the most suitable air purification system, or combination of systems, for your particular indoor environment.
Some of the most common types of Indoor Air Purification technologies include:

HEPA (High Efficiency Particular Air) Filters–These powerful filters are capable of 99.7 percent effectiveness in eliminating allergens and most types of bacteria but will not remove gases and fumes, including those produced by cigarettes, stoves and many household cleaners.

Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) Lamps–long used in laboratories and hospitals for their ability to kill disease causing micro-organisms, a home UVGI light system can make a valuable contribution to increasing indoor air quality. The lights are typically placed within the HVAC system or ducts and so are not visible to the home’s occupants. While they do destroy a host of dangerous micro-organisms, UVGI systems do not actually remove particles or gases from the air and are less effective against mold and bacteria.

Ionizer Purifiers–these units use electricity to create charged ions which attach themselves to airborne pollutants which are then drawn into a charged collection plate that can be periodically cleaned. Ionizer Purifiers are available as portable units or can be permanently mounted (in which case they are called electrostatic precipitators). Disadvantages include the production of trace amounts of ozone and, in some units, a popping noise from the electrostatic charge.

Humidifiers and Dehumidifiers–to achieve a healthy home it is essential to maintain the proper level of humidity–too much moisture in the air can lead to the growth of mold and harmful bacteria, too little allows particles to remain airborne and can lead to increased instances of illness. A trained IAQ professional can measure the level of humidity in your home and make recommendations for the right system to regulate it.

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The Truth about Mold

Posted On April 17th, 2017 by J&J Burk

There’s Good Mold and There’s Bad Mold

Molds are the “bleu” in bleu cheese and Roquefort. Molds improve our wine. They produce penicillin and antibiotics and are used widely in the food and beverage industry. Without mold and mold’s decaying mechanism, the natural environment would be overwhelmed with large amounts of dead organic matter.

Despite many harmless and beneficial molds, some molds can be toxic and pose health threats to humans. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cautions that all molds can cause health problems under the right conditions. The word “toxic” refers to mold that produces hazardous compounds, or mycotoxins.

Often included in the list of toxic molds is Stachybotrys Chartarum, a greenish-black mold, which can grow on high-cellulose, low-nitrogen materials such as fiberboard, drywall, paper, dust, and lint – all of which are found in homes – when these materials become wet.

There is evidence that mold exposure can cause the following symptoms:

  • Allergic reactions, including irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat.
  • Flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, dizziness, headaches, and diarrhea.
  • Worsening of asthma.

How to Minimize Mold Growth

Mold is a natural byproduct of the fungi family that thrives when organic substances and water combine under certain circumstances. Mold reproduces via spores that can remain dormant, yet viable, for years. They “come alive”again in the presence of moisture.

HVACR mechanical systems are not generators of mold; their metallic surfaces do not provide the organic matter mold needs to grow. However, systems that are not well maintained could support mold growth. It’s important that your system:

  • Is designed and installed correctly.
  • Is properly and regularly maintained.
  • Controls the moisture in your building
  • Uses good filtration methods to keep your air clean.

Preventing Mold

  • Consider augmenting your air conditioner with a dehumidifier. These systems pull the moisture from the building, thus minimizing growth.
  • Don’t turn your air conditioner off for long periods of time during the summer. In humid climates especially, moisture levels can become quite high in buildings, which can permit mold to gain a foothold.
  • Install insulation and vapor barriers to prevent condensation on cold objects such as water pipes, beams, and plumbing fixtures.
  • Keep sinks, showers, tubs and other wet areas free of standing water.
  • Demand architectural, design, and construction methods that prevent water from entering your home in the first place. Areas of concern include improperly pitched roofs, poorly designed balconies, windows, doors, improperly installed flashing, inadequate vapor barriers, and thin stucco.
  • Inspect the building exterior at least once a year and repair caulking, roof flashing, and all breaches in the building envelope.
  • Purchase a preventive maintenance agreement (PMA) from your ACCA member contractor. A technician will thoroughly inspect the HVAC system, including duct work and filters, twice a year and make any repairs or adjustments necessary. A PMA will save you money in the long run by reducing major repairs, extending the life of the equipment, helping to inhibit mold growth, and ensuring that the system is working at optimum efficiency. If you notice any water pooling or dust in between semi-annual PMA visits, call your professional ACCA member contractor at once.
  • Inform your HVAC contractor of your mold concerns and point out locations of suspicion or evidence of mold.
  • Educate your family or building occupants about mold, its dangers, and prevention.

If You Suspect Mold in Your Home or Building

The first step is to alert your HVAC contractor and the builder (if the building is relatively new) regarding your concerns. The contractor or builder will inspect for mold. If there is mold, the next step is to identify its type and establish whether it’s toxic. If so, evacuation, abatement, and remediation may be necessary.

The identification of mold requires specialized testing and laboratory analysis. Partly because of media attention to mold issues, mold abatement has become a growth industry, often attracting less than reputable people who may cause more harm than good by not identifying toxic mold, improperly removing it, or charging you for work you don’t need. Check with your state environmental protection or public health agency to find out if mold remediation contractors are required to be certified and licensed.

ACCA member contractors are concerned about the quality of the air you breathe, too, and many have added indoor air quality services to their offerings. If your HVAC contractor does not perform mold analysis, abatement, and remediation, he or she may be able to refer you to a reputable company that is a trained and certified in this kind of work.

© Air Conditioning Contractors of America Association, Inc., www.acca.org. Reprinted with permission.

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The NATE Patch

Posted On April 17th, 2017 by J&J Burk

Look for the NATE Patch

Consumers demand technician excellence, and NATE-certified technicians deliver.

What is NATE?

NATE stands for North American Technician Excellence, and it’s the only nationwide certification program accepted by the entire heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) industry – contractors, manufacturers, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), and technicians themselves.

Are all HVACR technicians certified by NATE?

NATE is a voluntary certification program designed to ensure that qualifying technicians have a core set of competencies and can be trusted by the consumers who hire them. NATE is the culmination of several years’ worth of work by ACCA and other industry organizations to establish one single, nationwide certification.

Over the past few years, NATE has grown considerably. More than 20,000 technicians have been NATE-certified and the list continues to grow. With a strong endorsement from the leading manufacturers of HVACR equipment, NATE certification is the standard by which all technicians should be judged.

Don’t you want third-party reassurance that the technician in your home is a capable, qualified individual?

Nearly 90 percent of consumers do. Ask your contractor if he or she employs NATE-certified technicians, and request that only NATE-certified technicians service your system. Some contractors choose to show off their NATE-certified status in ACCA’s online Contractor Locator, and others do not. Be sure to ask.

Is the NATE certification really meaningful?

Yes! The NATE certification is rigorous and voluntary. There are other third-party certification programs out there, but they have suspiciously high “pass” rates. NATE has the lowest pass rate and is the only nationwide certification program endorsed by the HVACR industry across all levels. Technicians, contractors, manufacturers, utilities, educators, wholesalers, and leading industry trade associations support NATE, and industry organizations such as ACCA have helped develop the tests to ensure they maintain high professional standards.

In short … ask for NATE-certified technicians. And look for the NATE patch!

© Air Conditioning Contractors of America Association, Inc., www.acca.org. Reprinted with permission.

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The Air You Breathe

Posted On April 17th, 2017 by J&J Burk

What’s in your air and what can you do about it?

Unfortunately, in today’s world, pollution is everywhere. And with the type of cleaning products, manmade goods, and activities undertaken within homes and buildings, indoor environments can become very uncomfortable. Even “fresh,” outdoor air has as many as 30 million dust or pollutant particles per cubic foot.

There are, however, measures you can take to lessen the effects of these particles in your home. Since the home is essentially an enclosed system, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) contractors are able to tackle pollution head-on by moving the air through a high-efficiency air cleaner.

What does an air cleaner do?

At its most basic level, an air cleaner filters out the particles that cause irritation, such as pollen, spores, dust, and other contaminates. In order for any air cleaner to work correctly, the particles need to pass through it. Hence, if the particles are not in the air stream (for example, they’re dust on furniture), an air cleaner won’t remove them. However, a good air cleaner will:

  • Remove allergy-causing particles that pass through it.
  • Perform well consistently.
  • Be economical to maintain.
  • Handle a large volume of air efficiently.

How can an air cleaner help with allergies?

A good air cleaner reduces or removes the irritants that cause allergic symptoms. You may choose a portable air cleaner for smaller spaces or a whole-house air cleaner that works in conjunction with your forced-air system to provide cleaner air throughout your home.

What kinds of residential air cleaners are out there?

There are basically two: furnace-mounted, whole-house units and portable single-room units. Both types of cleaners have different models with varying methods of cleaning the air and capacities for doing so. Your dwelling may help determine the right unit for your needs. A room air cleaner may be best in an apartment, for example, while a whole-house unit might work better with a furnace and air conditioning system. It’s important to note that both room and system air cleaners come in a variety of models, and that not all models use the same technology to clean the air.

Each kind of air cleaner has its pros and cons, which may differ depending on your air-cleaning requirements. Take a look at what your needs are based on your dwelling and allergies and talk to your professional HVACR contractor about the best kind for you.

What are the most effective air cleaners?

Media Air Cleaners

These units use high-efficiency pleated filters, or “media,” to remove about 99% of larger particles, including many allergens. With irritants in the spore and pollen range, they are as effective as HEPA filters but not as effective in filtering out the super-small particulates such as bacteria, viruses, and respirable dust. Media air cleaners are cost effective compared to HEPA filters because the filters are usually less expensive and generally need to be replaced only every one or two years.

HEPA Air Cleaners

HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) cleaners also use high efficiency pleated media to remove particles. To be designated HEPA, an air cleaner must remove 99.97% of all particles 0.3 microns in size (such as dust and mold spores). Due to high cost, operational complications, and other problems, HEPA units are usually seen in residential applications as one-room, portable units. When media in these units need to be replaced, it’s often relatively expensive to do so. Some require charcoal filters that need to be cleaned frequently. Warranties for HEPA cleaners are normally one to three years.

Electrostatic Air Filters

Electrostatic air filters are not recognized as true high-efficiency air cleaners. However, they are generally recognized as being more effective than the standard one-inch throw-away filters. Electrostatic air filters depend on the movement of the air through the filter to give particles a weak electronic charge. Usually, these models are less than 20% efficient, with some models having efficiencies below 5%. They need to be cleaned often, sometimes weekly, to maintain air flow. Electrostatic air filters have warranties ranging from one year to lifetime.

Electronic Air Cleaners

There are two types of electronic air cleaners. Both electrically charge particles and attract them to a collection material. The standard electronic air cleaner will collect charged particles on a specially designed “plate.” Most electronic cleaners can obtain 95% efficiency or higher on various particles when the collection plates and ionizing wires are clean, but they can lose some efficiency as they collect dirt.

A newer technology in electronic air cleaners is called “electronically enhanced media” combining elements of both electronic and media air cleaners. Particles are electrically charged and then collected by the massive air cleaning media of a traditional high-efficiency cleaner. Because the replacement of the media is simple and there are no plates to clean, efficiency is maintained throughout the media’s life. Electronically enhanced media air cleaners are 99% effective in the removal of numerous particle categories. Electronic air cleaners enerally have warranties of one to five years.

© Air Conditioning Contractors of America Association, Inc., www.acca.org. Reprinted with permission.

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