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Popular taste in decor changes over time, and even types of furnishings come and go. For example, these days TVs that mount sleekly on a wall have largely eliminated bulky entertainment centers from living rooms across the country. But for the most part, today’s typical home isn’t so different from those built several decades ago, particularly with regard to construction. Perhaps the biggest difference is that, against a backdrop of rising energy costs and growing environmental concerns, our homes have become more tightly sealed, thanks in large part to advances in building materials, especially insulation and windows. Of course, as a home becomes more airtight, ventilation becomes much more important to the health and comfort of its occupants—and, according to Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with SupplyHouse.com, “many homes just don’t get enough.” The result? “Stale air recirculates over and over,” O’Brian says. This forces homeowners to endure not only the discomfort of stuffy conditions, but also the potentially detrimental health effects associated with exposure to airborne toxins and impurities.
Not least because the average person spends only 5 percent of his time outside, the Environmental Protection Agency ranks indoor air pollution among the top five environmental health risks in America. At home, O’Brian says, “we’re practically surrounded by impurities.” Generally speaking, there are two types. First are particulate pollutants, which run the gamut from dust, smoke, and pet dander to mold, bacteria, and viruses. Second, there are gaseous pollutants. These materialize in the home almost without fail, because as O’Brian puts it, “everything from furniture to paint to cleaning products” contains harmful toxins, which slowly “off-gas”—emit potentially damaging gases—into the indoor air. While it may seem like our homes are conspiring against our health, the good news is that there are plenty of options for dealing with airborne contaminants. “The trick is to prevent the impurities from recirculating throughout your home, and there are many effective ways to do that,” O’Brian says.
Step one is to cover the basics. “There’s no substitute for adequate ventilation,” O’Brian says, and “it’s critically important to maintain and, if necessary, upgrade the HVAC filter.” A critical line of defense, the HVAC filter removes most particulates from circulation—but it doesn’t remove all particulates. For that reason, O’Brian recommends going a step further by installing an ultraviolet (UV) air purifier. Located within the HVAC system, adjacent to the blower fan, the UV purifier works by administering a high-intensity light, which, according to O’Brian, “kills the mold, bacteria, and viruses that traditional filtration typically doesn’t capture on its own.” In a sense, O’Brian continues, UV purification “closes the loophole that traditional filtration usually leaves open.” Whereas the filter catches the bigger particles—dust and pollen, for example—only UV technology scrubs air of bacteria, viruses, and mold spores, all of which are microscopic.
For decades, hospitals, water-treatment plants, and other institutions have been capitalizing on the proven germicidal effects of UV light. So, even though UV light has only recently entered the residential arena, many industry pros believe that, given the pedigree of the technology, it deserves serious consideration by homeowners who insist on high-quality indoor air. Why? “You can have perfectly good indoor air quality without a UV purifier,” O’Brian says, “but you can’t have the best.” In other words, you can’t protect against the full spectrum of indoor pollutants if you don’t use UV to eliminate the impurities that only UV can eliminate. The added bonus: UV purifiers also eliminate odors. True, that isn’t technically a health benefit, but it can “certainly make life a little more pleasant,” O’Brian notes. After all, “What’s the point of prioritizing indoor air quality if the effort doesn’t leave your home feeling fresh and clean?”
Make no mistake: Stuffy conditions don’t have to be a fact of life in the winter, and you don’t have to live with lingering doubts about the quality of the air in your home. Ventilation and HVAC filtration go a long way toward ensuring a steady supply of fresh, clean air. But while many combinations of air-quality improvement measures can deliver satisfying results, UV technology makes any of these combinations more comprehensive. Even if you’re not particularly concerned about the quality of your home’s indoor air, don’t forget that there’s a financial incentive—today’s home buyers consider home health a top priority. In fact, in a 2014 survey conducted in partnership with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), 68 percent of the responding home buyers and homeowners said they would be willing to pay more for a healthier home. That being the case, O’Brian concludes, “Clearly, there’s more than one benefit to breathing easier at home!”
This article has been brought to you by SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.