The number of illnesses from germs and allergies is on the rise in America. Many people attribute these illnesses to pollution, and though pollution may be the cause of some of these conditions, a surprising number of them actually come from germs and allergens found in and around the home. Air conditioning and heating units, refrigerators and other appliances are the main culprits. Given this, why aren’t homeowners more concerned about their environment?
Why Are Germ and Allergen-Free Homes Important?
In recent years, government agencies such as the EPA and FDA have begun publicizing the issue of germs and the rise of allergies among young children and the elderly. Because of their more vulnerable immune systems, allergens may increase the risk factor for asthma and other respiratory diseases. This has led to an uptick in the number of people actively fighting against these potentially dangerous organisms. Even so, the challenges that exist make this seem like an uphill battle.
Common Factors Affecting Homeowners With Allergies
Just as each homeowner’s allergy situation may be a little different, each house also comes with its own potential drawbacks. In order to overcome allergens, it’s important to evaluate the situation with these factors in mind:
- Climate: Warm and humid climates in particular promote the growth of the bacteria and mold that causes allergies.
- Age: Older homes were not built to the same specification as newer homes. Sometimes, this can lead to environments more conducive to germs and allergens. For example, the wood used in older homes is often not treated the way that wood used in newer homes is. Thus, it provides a better growing environment for germs.
- HOA restrictions: Homeowners Associations often have restrictions that may affect both indoor and outdoor allergies. In some cases, a homeowner may not be able to make necessary changes to combat the causes of their problems.
Overcoming Challenges Faced in the Home Environment
“How much does it cost?” is often the first question posed by homeowners. Yes, removing germs and allergens from a home may be expensive in some situations, but the long term health benefits may be worth it. Overall, cost will mostly be related to the above and other construction and location related factors. Luckily, there are ways to overcome these potential limitations.
1. HVAC Filters
One of the initial ways to fight germs and allergies in a home is to install a higher quality HVAC filter. The easiest way to determine their quality will be to look at their MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating. On a scale from 1 to 16 (1 being low, 16 being high quality), a range between 6 to 13 is sufficient for most typical homes. Extreme allergy or asthma sufferers should opt for the highest quality. Stores like Lowes and Home Depot have their own ratings, but follow a similar scale that’s comparable.
These filters may cost more than normal HVAC filters, but they work much more effectively over the long run. They’re also easy to install, requiring no more work than the typical filter. HVAC filters work by passing all of the air in the house through a specially designed fabric. As the air passes through, certain particles will be filtered out depending on the quality of the filter. To achieve the best results, it’s important that homeowners clean the HVAC filters every month and replace them every three months. Though it may not be evident at first, the results will become apparent over the life of the filters.
2. Ultraviolet Lights
Believe it or not, ultraviolet lights are very effective at killing germs. Some people may doubt the effectiveness of ultraviolet lights, but they’ve been scientifically proven to kill a large percentage of germs. Ultraviolet light deactivates the DNA of the bacteria that causes viruses and other allergens, and thus destroys their ability to multiply and cause airborne disease. HVAC surfaces, e.g. cooling coils, drain pans, or ductwork, should be the main target. Homeowners will see the best results by having an AC tech install an ultraviolet light in these areas. In doing this, mold will be prohibited from growing at the start.
NOTE: There is some controversy over price as some homeowners have said that results from a typical $1400 install can similarly be achieved with a $100 unit found online. In addition, there is currently no standard measurement of effectiveness regarding home air cleaners or air filtration methods that use UV (ultraviolet) light. The best recommendation right now is to do diligent research. Internet scams are just as prevalent in the heating and cooling industry as in others.
3. Ultrasound Machines
Ultrasound machines are similar to ultraviolet lights when it comes to killing bacteria. As with ultraviolet lights, they’re a non-traditional way of killing germs, but have been conclusively and scientifically proven.
A high-powered ultrasound has been shown to be 99.99 percent effective in killing bacterial spores after only 30 seconds of non-contact exposure in experiments conducted by researchers at Penn State and Ultran Labs in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. Machines were previously quite expensive, but have come down in price to the point where they are affordable to the average person. While ultraviolet lights subject germs to a frequency of light that kills their cells, ultrasound machines hit germs with a frequency of sound that kills the cells of the germ in a similar fashion.
NOTE: Regarding certain air cleaners or air filtration methods that use UV (Ultraviolet) light, there is currently no standard measurement for its effectiveness.
A homeowner can limit the entrance of allergens by focusing on the outside of their home as well. Regular landscape maintenance cannot only provide visual beauty to a home, but it can also limit the number of allergen sources. Choices made in plant selection, placement, and growth can dramatically alter the effectiveness of any internal solutions implemented. A well-balanced approach considers both internal and external aspects in order to create a harmonious environment in and around the home.
Is Making a Home Germ and Allergen-Free Possible?
As shown, there are potential challenges associated with making a home environment free of airborne irritants. While costs have come down, it’s still an investment of both time and money. Yet, it’s a necessary investment for some. Allergies rank 5th among other leading chronic diseases in the U.S, and we spend 90% of our lives indoors. With affordable health care in a current state of flux, the effort to create (as near as possible) an allergen free environment just may well be worth the investment.