When the seasons change, navigating the outdoors can be a frustrating affair. Managing to control allergic reactions outside is hard enough, so when it comes to being inside, most of those who suffer from allergies want to make sure that they have a place free of pollen and other irritants.
In most homes, allergen-proofing starts with the HVAC system. HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, the three primary components of a home air care system. Most centralized HVAC systems, also referred to as central air conditioning or central air systems, come with several features that can aid allergy sufferers and ensure that your living space is as pleasant as possible. These features also extend to alternative HVAC systems, like window-mounted, portable, and multi-split units, which we’ll cover little later on.
It’s important to note that no one HVAC system is going to reduce allergens in the air more than others. That’s why a multi-pronged approach is going to be necessary to ensure that your home is allergen-free. Here’s everything you need to know about allergen-proofing your space and the best HVAC systems for allergies.
Allergen-Proofing Your Space
Before we get into the various HVAC systems that may reduce allergens in the air, we need to first go over the various ways that allergens get into the home in the first place. Understanding these sources can help you determine how best to begin combating allergens in your home.
Carpets & Pets
Pets can make wonderful companions, but it’s clear that they can also be a bit of a strain on interior air quality. While having an allergen-proof home is totally possible with or without pets, you may need to work a little harder if you keep a few furry friends in your home.
Pet hair and dandruff often exponentially increase the need to vacuum and clean carpets and upholstery. We recommend seeking out the Best Vacuum Cleaner for Pet Hair and establishing a cleaning routine that covers floors as well as above ground surfaces that pet hair may travel towards. Likewise, seeking Best Vacuum Cleaner for Carpets will help make sure that carpeted surfaces keep clean regardless of whether or not you have pets. You’ll also want to seek out an annual professional cleaning of all carpeted surfaces to pull out deeply imbedded dirt, debris, and to preserve the lifespan of your carpeting.
While we might think of air conditioning solely as a means to cool down the air during warm periods of the year, air conditioning is far more important to your home’s air quality than lowering the temperature. Air conditioning in an HVAC system can ventilate the home: fresh outdoor air is cooled off by the compressor and pumped into the home, while stale air indoors is pumped out to make way for the cooler air.
This recycles your indoor air and ensures your living space is never stale. So even if your home isn’t warm enough to justify running the air conditioning, consider turning yours on at the weakest setting from time to time. This will help you reduce allergens by pumping them back outside before they can mess with your sinuses.
The Problem of Humidity
Humidity is another key factor and corresponds to some extent regarding our last point about air conditioning. Since water is the stuff of life, any space that’s full of humidity and moisture is going to breed bacteria and mold growth. We know this from cleaning out old bathrooms or from discovering mold on our sandwich bread, but we rarely stop to consider how these conditions affect our health.
Overly-humid spaces leave a breeding ground for germs and other insidious organisms to take hold. And while these may not be direct allergens, they will dampen the quality of the airspace in your home. Running your air conditioner or HVAC system usually means turning on the dehumidifier, which will begin to pull the home’s moisture out of the air and release it as water elsewhere.
Some homes have the exact opposite problem, though, and struggle to keep their homes adequately humid. Too arid of a location can dry out sinuses, causing nosebleeds and irritating the lungs. Many HVAC systems built in dry regions come with humidifiers, which can be accessed at the thermostat. If you live in such a climate, you’ll need to check and see if your unit comes with a humidifier, or you might purchase a humidifier for the bedroom and other rooms with lots of traffic.
Finding the sweet spot of humidity is a bit of a struggle since both extremes can be very damaging to sinuses. Somewhere at or a little below 50% is often cited to be the standard, so if you’re serious about humidity, feel free to bust out the hygrometer and make sure you’re within the sweet spot.
Another option to boost in-home air quality is to invest in an air purifier. Air purifiers use thorough filters and are often HEPA-certified to pull airborne contaminants out of your living space. While HVAC systems are often pretty good with handling allergens using a replaceable filter, an air purifier is going to go above and beyond what a central air system can be expected to pull off. Air purifiers are becoming more and more popular as homeowners get serious about their internal air quality. The best air purifiers for allergies focus on simple operation, easy filter maintenance, and optimum efficiency.
Allergies and HVACs
Aside from concessions that will vary home to home, there are actually a number of changes and modifications you can make to your HVAC system to ensure that allergens are sufficiently tackled. While there is no catch-all solution to allergens, a combination of the following adjustments should ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward when it comes to your HVAC system:
Adjusting your filters remains the most effective way to combat allergies with your HVAC unit. Depending upon the type of system you have installed and the way it operates, odds are, you’ll be dealing with one of two types of filtration systems: disposable filters or washable filters.
Most homeowners are already familiar with the process of swapping out disposable filters every few months to ensure that allergens and other debris are caught before they enter the main home’s air supply. Washable filters will need to be rinsed monthly. Disposable filters come with MERV ratings, which reflect the quality of the air filtration on a scale from 1 to 20 (with 1 being the worst and 20 being the best). For most homes, you want to aim for a MERV rating of 6 to 13. Any less, and there’s little need for a filter in the first place. Any more, and you may be blocking up your air supply unnecessarily.
- UV Lights
UV lights, also known as ultraviolet lights, are lights that release a light at a wavelength that’s deadly to bacteria. In much the same way x-rays can be damaging over time, UV lights are damaging to smaller organisms and will help to kill off bacteria that threatens to fester and pollute your home’s air supply.
UV lights are an ideal way to curtail bacterial growth in an AC or HVAC unit. These lights can be installed by trained technicians who will often place these lights near your HVAC’s evaporator, which is designed to absorb heat from your home. Some central air systems already come with UV lights or have a place designated for the installation of one, so you may want to check your evaporator to assess your unit’s capabilities.
- Annual Maintenance
If you’ve worked your way through our tips and tricks above and still find yourself sneezing, there’s a good chance your unit’s efficiency has diminished over time. Ducts may be leaking air, or poor insulation in your home may reduce your unit’s ability to ventilate and filter the air supply. For all HVAC units, and particularly central air systems, annual maintenance will reduce your risk of a total breakdown. HVAC units are designed to last a very long time, but the sheer amount of mechanical parts within them poses a risk of failure that will only increase as the years pass.
Common problems, like a loud and clunky compressor or a slow heat pump, need to be addressed quickly. If you cannot recall the last time your system has been checked up on, this may need to be your first consideration when improving efficiency.
- Portable & Window-Mounted Units
If you find your allergies continue to suffer even after working with a top-of-the-line HVAC system, you may need to consider smaller units. Portable, window-mounted, and multi-split units are less effective at cooling or heating but come with the distinction of working only with a single room or floor. Instead of working to cool, heat, and ventilate rooms where you rarely spend your time, a few window-mounted and portable units can be used to only maintain air quality in the rooms that matter the most.
Generally speaking, a portable unit in a small room will be more efficient and will ventilate more allergens than a central air system in a larger home. So, if allergen-removal is your primary objective, you may want to consider a smaller system. Your results will vary, however, depending upon your location and how often you run your units. Still, for rooms without connection to central air or a room of particular importance to you, it may be worth considering a portable unit to aid in your fight against allergies.
- Trusted Brands
Finally, HVAC systems come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and prices. There are many brands from which to choose, and it can be difficult to know which brands are going to work better than others when it comes to allergies. To reiterate our earlier point: the difference between HVAC brands, much like the difference between central air systems and smaller units, is marginal at best when it comes to allergen removal. Generally speaking, the more efficient and powerful your unit is, the better chance you have to reduce allergies.
When it comes to central air systems, brands like Mitsubishi, Goodman, Carrier, and American standard remain top contenders. Maytag and Trane have also made considerable headway against the current reigning champions of HVAC and are definitely worth your attention. If you’ve got your heart set on a smaller unit, like a window-mounted or portable HVAC system, you’ll want to go with companies like Whynter, Honeywell, LG, and BLACK+DECKER. Each of these brands has proven their worth with reliable, highly-efficient units.
Otherwise, we recommend shopping around and consulting reliable reviews to help you narrow down your search. With each type of HVAC system, there are smaller considerations, like the number of hoses or BTU ratings, that you need to consider before committing. Provided you work to allergen-proof your space using the methods we’ve outlined above, we’re confident that any reliable system from the above brands could serve your allergy needs well.
As you can see, there’s no one way to approach the complex issue of allergens and HVAC systems. While we wish we could name one unit or method to solve your allergy problems completely, the hard truth is that you’re going to need to put in the time to determine the best HVAC system and cleaning habits for you. Whether that means purchasing filters with higher MERV ratings, getting your HVAC system checked out, or just vacuuming more, we hope that our guide can lead you to cleaner air and a more tolerable allergy season.