Living with Allergies
Allergy season: It arrives like clockwork, coinciding with the first blossoms of spring and continuing through summer and fall as pollen from countless plants flies with the breeze. When you’re prone to allergies, it doesn’t take much to trigger a sneezing fit, watery eyes, or even difficulty breathing, but you can ease the discomfort by making your home a safe haven from these pesky particles.
Homeowners have a number of options for reducing common allergy triggers like dust mites, pollen, pet dander, and mold spores. To assemble an at-home defense against bothersome allergens, we consulted Daniel O’Brian, technical expert for online plumbing and HVAC retailer SupplyHouse.com. Some of these projects are simple enough for a homeowner to do in minutes, while others require upgrading mechanical elements within the house and should be tackled by a pro. What they all have in common, however, is that they'll help your whole family breathe easier, no matter what the season.
1. Replace HVAC filters.
It’s one of the simplest steps you can take, but it can make a big difference in the amount of airborne allergens in your home. As air circulates through your house's central heat and air system, dust, pet dander, and other allergens are trapped in the return-air filters (located just behind the return-air grates). The filters prevent the particles from being reintroduced through the vents, and for best results, most HVAC manufacturers recommend changing filters a minimum of every three months. In homes with allergy sufferers, O’Brian suggests changing filters more frequently, especially if pets share the home. Quality air filters, such as the Honeywell Return Air Filter (available from SupplyHouse), should be replaced monthly if you’re trying to reduce airborne allergens. Measure your current air filter to make sure you know the exact size before ordering.
2. Install a whole-house filtration system.
If you need greater allergen removal, O’Brian suggests installing a system that removes allergens from the entire house. “Whole-house air filtration systems work with a home’s HVAC system to filter out harmful airborne particles,” O'Brian says. All the air drawn into the HVAC unit must first pass through the high-efficiency filtration system, such as the Fantech HEPA Insulated Filtration System (available from SupplyHouse). These systems typically feature a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter that blocks up to 99.97 percent of all airborne particles, so the air coming out of the vents will be as clean as possible. A whole-house system is one of the best ways to ensure clean, clear household air, but installing one isn’t a DIY project—you’ll need a licensed HVAC technician.
3. Add a smart thermostat.
If you thought the main purpose of a smart thermostat was to control the temperature of your home from your smartphone, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that it can also play a role in keeping your home allergen-free. “An increasing number of smart thermostats monitor indoor air quality (IAQ), with some models capable of controlling IAQ equipment and displaying online data for outdoor air conditions,” O’Brian says. These cutting-edge thermostats, such as the Honeywell Prestige IAQ HD Thermostat (available from SupplyHouse), use RedLINK technology to wirelessly integrate indoor and outdoor air-quality sensors with indoor air-quality products like whole-house air cleaners so you can respond to changes in air quality both inside and outside your house.
4. Invest in a dehumidifier
Airborne mold spores can wreak havoc on an allergy sufferer's respiratory system, and if you live in a house with high humidity, mold is more likely to gain a foothold. “Controlling humidity levels is vital to maintaining healthy air,” O’Brian says. “During warmer months and in humid climates, this means proper dehumidification.”
While you can reduce humidity levels by running portable dehumidifiers in every room, the most effective method of removing excess humidity throughout the entire house is to install a quality whole-house dehumidifier, such as the Honeywell TrueDRY Whole-House Dehumidifier (available from SupplyHouse). Humid air is drawn through the whole-house dehumidifier, which is attached to the main HVAC unit, and a series of filters remove the moisture. Drier air is then blown into the rooms through the vents. With continuous use, a whole-house dehumidifier will remove the excess humidity that promotes mold growth, reducing the incidence of this potent allergy trigger.
5. Install water-leak detectors.
High humidity isn’t the only risk factor for mold and mildew growth. O’Brian tells homeowners that “water leaks—whether in pipes or appliances, in visible locations or more hidden ones such as basements or behind walls—can promote the growth of mold.” The biggest problem is that small leaks in pipe connections can go undetected, sometimes for months, before they cause visible damage. That's plenty of time for mold to grow and release spores into the air you breathe.
Homeowners can detect leaks immediately through the use of water-leak detectors, such as the Lyric Wi-Fi Water Leak and Freeze Detector (available from SupplyHouse). When installed on water pipes, the detectors will sense tiny droplets before they have a chance to saturate construction materials, allowing you to make repairs right away. In addition to emitting an audible beep, many of today’s detectors will also send a notification to your smartphone or tablet.
6. Ventilate your bathroom.
If your bathroom mirror is foggy after a hot shower, the room is at an increased risk of developing mold and mildew. “Bathrooms are prime locations for mold growth,” O’Brian says, but the solution is as simple as installing an exhaust fan. Select a good-quality fan, such as the Panasonic WhisperSense Ceiling-Mounted Fan (available from SupplyHouse). This particular fan comes with both a humidity sensor and motion sensor to turn the fan on automatically when someone enters the bathroom or when the humidity level rises.
Getting the right size exhaust fan is essential to keeping your bathroom dry. Before ordering a fan, check out this video from SupplyHouse to determine the size you need.
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