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Hacking the Home for Better Health: (Part 1) Air Quality

When it comes to improving indoor air quality, there are various options to consider for trapping and filtering airborne microbes and allergens. These include physical filters, negative ion generators, ozone generators (which we won't delve into here), Photocatalytic Oxidation using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation or ultraviolet LEDs, HEPA filters, activated carbon filters, and more. In this discussion, we will focus on the main ones.

Firstly, physical filters are effective at trapping larger particles. For instance, HEPA filters can filter out particles that are 0.3 microns or larger, making them great for addressing smoke, dust, respiratory droplets (which can carry bacteria), pollen, mold spores, and more. However, it's essential to ensure that air flows through the filter for it to be effective. Sometimes, compatibility with residential HVAC systems needs to be checked, as HEPA filters can affect airflow.

It's worth noting that physical filters like HEPA filters may not capture very tiny particles like chemical gases, viruses, and bacteria. For instance, the Zika virus is around 0.045 microns in size, making it too small for HEPA filters to catch. Furthermore, different classes of HEPA filters are available, with H14 HEPA filters being one of the most efficient, but their dense nature requires consideration of air flow rates / fan speeds.

Moving on to activated carbon or charcoal air filters, these can also be integrated into HVAC systems but require specific fan speeds for optimal performance (like the HEPA filter). Unlike HEPA filters, activated carbon filters are effective at removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air due to their porous structure and chemical forces. However, they do not remove particulates or smaller pathogens like bacteria or viruses.

Now, let's briefly discuss Advanced Hydrated Photocatalytic Oxidation (AHPCO) technology. Unlike filters that necessitate air to pass through them, AHPCO doesn't require direct airflow. It utilizes a catalyst coated with a semiconductor material, typically titanium dioxide (TiO2), activated by UV lamps. This activation leads to the creation of electron-hole pairs, which can react with oxygen to produce oxygen radicals or hydroxyl radicals. These radicals are highly reactive and effectively neutralize pollutants like mold, bacteria, and viruses.

AHPCO technology can be installed in HVAC systems or utilized in standalone air purifiers. It's particularly efficient at reducing bacteria, viruses, and mold. If installing HEPA, carbon filters, or AHPCO isn't feasible, standalone air purifiers with this technology are available.

In summary, while there are various air filtration and purification technologies, three prominent options include HEPA filters for larger particulates, activated carbon filters for chemical gases and VOCs, and AHPCO technology for microbe reduction.

Now, let's explore some quick tips for creating a healthier indoor environment.

1. Ensure Good Air Flow: Promote ventilation by opening windows when outdoor air is clean and the weather is suitable. Ceiling fans can also enhance air circulation. Avoid introducing excessive humidity.

2. Set Thermostat Fan to Auto: Keep the thermostat fan setting on "auto" rather than "on" to prevent continuous fan operation, which can increase indoor humidity in humid environments. Excessive humidity can lead to mold growth. (NOTE: This is due to the condensation that occurs within the HVAC system. This is why ceiling fans do not cause the same issue when being run continuously.)

3. Regularly Clean Surfaces: Use cleaners verified by EWG with zero VOCs to clean surfaces and reduce chemical pollutants. Don't forget to clean dust-prone areas like ceiling fan blades, doorways, cabinets, and bedding.

4. Use HEPA-Filtered Vacuums: Invest in vacuums with HEPA filters to trap particles rather than recirculating them into the air. Check and replace the HEPA filter as needed.


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