Monthly Archives: December 2022

All about Propane and Natural Gas

All about Propane and Natural Gas

I’ve lived in the city, and I live (now) in the country.  In both places, there was a gas line coming into the house that could be used for gas appliances like my stove, dryer, water heater, furnace, etc.  I, like most people, don’t give the gas or these pipes a thought beyond paying the monthly bill, until there’s a leak or a catastrophe.   How can you keep from being on the 6 o’clock news?  By being aware of how these fuel gasses are supplied, and what to look out for!  

I first encountered the difference between natural gas and propane when selecting appliances. You need to know what gas comes in to your home in order to select the right appliance!  Here’s a general rule: if your gas comes from a city source (pipe coming out of the ground with a meter on it), it’s usually Natural Gas.  If you have a tank that needs to be refilled periodically, it’s usually Propane.   Chemically, natural gas occurs “naturally” in the earth, but must be cleaned.  During the cleaning process, propane is extracted.  Propane provides more than twice the heating value of natural gas (2,500 BTUs vs. 1,000 BTUs) per cubic foot, so natural gas costs at least a third less than propane.  Although some prefer natural gas to propane for grilling, it’s difficult to tell the difference between these two gasses.  They are both colorless and odorless, so utilities companies add a odorant (a chemical called mercaptan) so that leaks are easily detected.  Mercaptan is toxic and flammable, but at the levels that it is used to odorize gas, it’s no more harmful than the natural gas or propane.  (The nose can detect mercaptan at a 1.6 parts per billion, and the typical range of odorants in natural gas ranges from 0-10 parts per million). (GPL Odorizers)  Here are some facts about these gasses:


  • Is also called “bottled gas”, it’s pressurized between 100-200 psi and becomes a liquid at this pressure (called liquified petroleum gas, or LPG, or LP for short).
  • Like natural gas, propane is one of the cleanest burning fossil fuel products, releasing negligible amounts of emissions. When burned, it leaves no ash and produces practically no sulfur oxides, particulate matter, or mercury emissions. On the other hand, burning propane produces carbon dioxide, a cause of global climate change, and it also emits nitrogen oxides which are key ingredients in the formation of urban smog and ozone. (FactsAboutPropane.pdf)
  • Is used for powering trucks and forklifts operating inside warehouses, so that air quality is preserved for workers.

Natural Gas:

  • Is most often compressed or liquified for transport, however the pressure required to do so is much higher than propane, so transportation and storage tanks are heavier.  
  • Is available in some communities and is delivered by pipeline to homes.  Unless an emergency or planned work causes the pipes to be shut down, it’s always available. 
  • Is mainly methane—a strong greenhouse gas.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that in 2021, U.S. CO2 emissions from natural gas combustion for energy accounted for about 34% of total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions. (

Many appliances can use either natural gas or propane, but the combustion orifices must be changed to accommodate one or the other.  You can purchase the conversion kit yourself, but due to the hazards of incorrectly installed parts, a licensed professional (plumber or appliance repair technician) should do the conversion. (  For this reason, it’s often better to purchase the right appliance for your gas from the start, even if it is listed at a slightly higher price than appliances configured for the other gas (a lesson I learned the hard way!).  For example, the burners for gas dryers are often deep inside the appliance, requiring the removal of many parts.  

What’s that flying saucer-looking thing?

Both natural gas and propane are stored at higher pressures than the appliances use, so the pressure must be reduced before it comes into the appliance, and most often before it comes into your home.  The flying-saucer looking gadget is a “regulator” which reduces the pressure.  High -pressure gas comes into the underside of the circular disk, and is slowly released into the downstream side, governed by a diaphragm inside the disk.  The size of the diaphragm sets the correct pressure for home use.  Because gas can have impurities like rust, condensation, and dirt in it, gas pressure regulators are supposed to be changed out every five years or so.  They are designed to shut the gas flow off if the unit fails, which is good for your home.  Each regulator is typically stamped by the manufacturer with its date of production. ( Here’s a really interesting video showing how the regulator works.  Gas pressure regulators are designed to be installed close to the end use of the gas (ie, right outside your home or next to your gas barbeque grill).  Here’s something else I did not know: if you live in an area that gets a lot of snow, make sure to gently clear it off your gas meter/regulator, so that the vent on the regulator does not get blocked.  This is the reason that regulators should not be painted–you don’t want to block that vent. 

Source: The Dallas Morning News

Outside, the gas meter, shutoff valve and regulator are usually located next to the home, but occasionally they are located closer to the street (see above photo of a meter in a parking lot).  If this is the case, be proactive and ask your service provider to install a guard around it!  Collisions and damage by vehicles happens more often than you think.  

Because they come into the home under pressure, both natural gas and propane have a risk of leaks from piping or appliances.  If a new gas appliance has been installed recently in your home, or any maintenance has been done on your gas pipes, be especially vigilant of the smell of gas or  any of the following signs.  One exception is if you have a propane tank, and the gas gets low in the tank.  In this case, the smell is actually designed to let you know it’s time for a refill:  propane gas contains a few chemicals. One of these chemicals condenses out and collects as a liquid in the bottom. When the tank is low, the reduced pressure causes the odorant to evaporate and makes a strong gas odor.  Normally, gas companies recommend not letting your tank go below 20%.  If it’s refilled at that point, the gas smell should dissipate within about 2 hours.  (Wheat Energy Services)  If the gas is allowed to run out completely, a pressure test is required by the National Fuel Gas code, because joint compound used on the pipes may contract and cause leaks.  


If any of these are apparent, start investigating immediately. If the smell is strong, leave the area immediately. If the gas smell is faint, you may wish to try to locate the source by smell and a bubble test. Do not attempt a repair. (Five Common Home Gas Leaks You Should Know About)

  • If inside, turn off any stove or oven burners that are on; open windows and doors

  • Leave the area; go to the home of a friend or neighbor a safe distance away (Staying in your home or near the leak to make a cellphone call could spark an explosion)

  • Call a licensed plumber, your gas company, or 911 to report the smell (first responders often arrive before gas company technicians)

  • Do not turn any electrical switches on or off

  • Do not use any kind of telephone, garage door opener, doorbell or even a flashlight

  • Do not smoke, light a match or lighter

  • Do not stop or start a nearby vehicle or piece of machinery

  • Do not attempt to shut off the natural gas valve

Of course, you know the rotten eggs smell.  If there are no rotten eggs around, suspect a leak!  If you’ve just connected a propane tank to your gas grill, make sure to turn off the valve and check hose connections, let air circulate in and around the grill for five to ten minutes, and try again. Hissing sounds are a sure sign of gas escaping, so try to turn off the supply (by hand, without using tools) if possible.  You can also use a mixture of water with a few drops of dish soap in a spray bottle to find the leaky connection: simply spray it on the connection, crack open the gas valve, and look for bubbles. 

I used to think that natural gas leaks were rare.  However, since the supply lines are buried, water eats away at the pipes and shifts in the ground from drought, construction and earthquakes can cause cracks and leaks as well.  Apparently there are gas leaks everywhere, as this article points out, but most gas companies only fix those that are large or close to structures.  A leak can show up as air bubbles coming up through a mud puddle, or it can kill houseplants and outdoor plants.  The presence of natural gas prevents a plant’s roots from absorbing oxygen and can lead to wilting. Natural gas leaks can also cause smaller-than-normal leaves on trees, wilted plants and yellowish patches of grass. (   One customer in northern California planted successive blueberry bushes that died each time he planted them, without knowing there was a gas leak on the edge of his property. (

Although they may be signs of other types of illness, headaches, dizziness, fatigue and nausea are all symptoms of natural gas exposure.  If it is a gas leak, it will probably affect most if not all of the people in the home.  It’s very dangerous, because eventually the gas will cause suffocation and death!  If your family is experiencing these symptoms, leave the home and call 911. 

Finally, if your monthly gas bill is unusually high without the presence of very cold weather, suspect a leak and let your service company know as soon as possible.  

Even if your gas meter has not been struck by a vehicle, tool or tree, the meter or associated piping could still be leaking.  Dan Thomsen, whose company Building Doctors focuses on energy efficiency, said on about 25 percent of the homes he surveys, he finds a gas leak somewhere. (  Here are some of the most common places that natural gas or propane can leak directly outside, or inside the home (Five Common Home Gas Leaks You Should Know About):

  • Gas riser – The gas riser is the pipe that emerges from the ground to connect the gas supply to your gas meter.

  • Gas regulator – the disc-shaped device near your gas meter that controls gas pressure going into your home.

  • Fireplace valve – the valve you turn with a removable key to turn on and off the flow of gas to a gas fireplace.

  • Pilot lights – these ignite the gas to produce a flame when you want to cook, heat your home or get hot water.

  • Joints and fittings – any visible joint or fitting that may not be sufficiently tightened.

Natural gas and propane make living easy and very convenient; after all, many appliances that run on gas will still work when the electricity is out!  However, supply and use of these gasses requires care and vigilance.  To help ensure that no leaks go undetected, you can also purchase and install a natural gas/propane monitor for your home (they are NOT the same as carbon monoxide monitors).  These monitors should be installed near the appliances that use the gas; however, propane is heavier than air so the monitor should be mounted near the floor, while natural gas is lighter than air so the monitor should be mounted at a height above the door and window openings. Change the battery(s) whenever you change your smoke alarm batteries, and you should be good to go!

Photo by Andrea Davis on Unsplash

Some natural methods to avoid getting the Flu

Some natural methods to avoid getting the Flu

Another virus has dominated the headlines this fall and winter 2022, an old nemesis that changes disguises (varieties) every year to trip us up–Influenza.  Of course, you could always take a gamble that the Flu vaccines offered in clinics will match the real cocktail of virus in the air, but there are a lot of other ways to reduce your chances of contracting this illness that don’t involve needles.  Let’s get started!

Yes, masks, social distancing and hand-washing are still part of the solution.  Some health advisory authorities, like the California Department of Public Health, are basing mask recommendations against flu on COVID-19 illness risk in your area, because flu and RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) spread in similar ways to COVID-19.  The CDC has a searchable risk database by county here,  Infants and young children, as well as older adults and those with chronic medical conditions, are most at risk for RSV, which can cause bronchiolitis (an inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia. (  For more on masks, check out our article here.

Avoid air pollution.  It doesn’t seem like crisp winter air should come with air pollution flags, but unfortunately winter sometimes hosts the worst conditions of the year.  There are several different types of a phenomenon called “inversions” (which are well-explained in this video from the University of Illinois Extension), but they all involve a warmer layer of air above a cooler layer of air, restricting air movement and causing pollutants to be trapped near the earth’s surface.  That bad air quality will likely contain elevated levels of fine particulates like PM2.5 and PM10, carbon monoxide (CO) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), which were all shown to increase the risk of influenza-like illness (ILI) in Jinan, China (The short-term effects of air pollutants on influenza-like illness in Jinan, China, 2019).  If your area is known to have moderate to bad air quality days, keep an eye on it and adjust your plans accordingly!, and local news stations can all help you stay informed and healthier.

These tips can help you stay healthy against a plethora of diseases (

  • Stay active: get out and rake leaves, or take a brisk walk around the neighborhood or around your local mall if the weather is inclement.  Routine exercise is a simple and smart way to bolster your immune system and improve your overall health.

  • Rest well; try to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night, because sleep is critical to a well-functioning immune system.  If you have difficulty getting to sleep, reduce your caffeine intake after noon, don’t use digital devices in bed, and try a melatonin supplement.

  • Take your vitamins–in your food!  Foods that are rich in vitamins A, C, D, E, zinc and selenium naturally boost your immune system, while foods that have lots of added sugar, salt, and fried and highly processed foods may do the opposite (avoid them).  (

  • Consider herbal supplements (7 Natural Remedies for Preventing the Flu):

    • Echinacea.  As shown in a 2015 study in the Czech Republic, Echinaforce Hotdrink is as effective as oseltamivir (Tamiflu Oral) in early treatment of confirmed influenza virus infections.  If this particular drink is not readily available, you can take tablets containing 6.78 milligrams of echinacea extract two to three times a day, having 900 milligrams of Echinacea root tincture daily or five to six cups of echinacea tea on the first day of symptoms, and then 1 cup a day thereafter. 

    • Oregano oil has powerful antiviral effects, too: you can take 500mg twice daily to help reduce the effects of a cold, as well as fight it off.

    • Essential oils used in a diffuser can help with congestion and headaches, as well as preventing airborne viruses from being able to infect you.   Clove,  peppermint and eucalyptus are some of the most popular.  According to a 2021 review, essential oils from Eucalyptus are recognized for their broad spectrum of action, such as antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-immunomodulatory (against diseases that suppress the immune system), antioxidant, and wound healing properties.  One study that was reviewed showed that when the pure eucalyptus essential oil was actively diffused with a nebulizer for 15 seconds (oil concentration: 125 μg/L of air in the chamber), Influenza Virus-A was completely inactivated in the air.

And of course–keep your bipolar ionizers running!   The Germ Defender, Air Angel and Whole Home Polar Ionizer produce positive and negative ions that can disable viruses and bacteria on surfaces and in the air from across the room.  We have posted links to some of the scientific studies on this technology here.   We’re hoping that this winter you can use these natural tips to make more good memories with family and friends, and less memories of illness, missed work and school from the flu!

Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

The unintended consequences of turning down the thermostat this winter

The unintended consequences of turning down the thermostat this winter

According to the Energy Information Administration and their Winter Fuels Outlook report, it will cost 27 percent to 28 percent more than 2021/2022 to heat your home with oil or gas.  If you heat with electricity, prices may rise by as much as 10 percent, because much of our electricity is generated from oil and gas. (

When you have a fixed or unstable budget, the decision to lower or turn off heat during the winter is not easy.  The other components of our budgets–food, housing, transportation and medical care–aren’t as flexible as those extra blankets, mittens and hats, so down the thermostat goes.  This is where what you don’t know might hurt you.

It’s not only the air temperature that changes when the heat source turns off.  Air holds a certain amount of water vapor, also called humidity, and warmer air can hold more water vapor than cooler air.  When the air cools, water vapor in the air will tend to condense on any surface that is lower than the dewpoint temperature.  That’s why you see condensation on windows and around door frames in winter: these are the points that tend to conduct cold temperatures from the outside, and moisture from the air is condensing on them.  Persistent moisture is mold-feeding moisture, and before you know it, there is a mold problem.  Even worse is that mold could be forming in places you can’t readily see, like inside walls, attics and basements, because the air temperature has dropped and cooler air just can’t hold the moisture of warmer air.   Cooler air can easily reach humidity levels of 80% or more, giving that “damp” feeling and over time, exposing the home to mold growth.  

There is a myth that when a room is not being used, it’s best to turn off heat (close registers) and close it off from the rest of the house (close the door) to save money.  If this is done without any ventilation or air circulation, it’s also a recipe for mold, because without air circulation, water vapor in stagnant air will be absorbed by furnishings and allow mold to take root.  If you need to limit heating in your home, try to leave doors to unused rooms at least cracked and leave a fan running in the room, because dynamic airflow limits moisture ingress due to evaporation. For more on finding and fixing areas prone to mold in the winter, check out our article.

If high humidity is not a problem, low humidity might be.  Low humidity can damage all kinds of decor in your house by shrinking and drying, from wood flooring, wallpaper, and furniture to fine instruments like pianos and guitars and artwork.

Then, there’s your body.  Stress due to cold is a real problem for the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions like asthma or heart disease.  It also makes people more likely to use alternate heating methods that could be unsafe.  Small room heaters are often known to tip over and cause fires, and electric blankets can actually cause burns.   Falling asleep on a bunched-up blanket is a common cause of burns, according to Bell, a plastic surgeon who treats many burn patients. He explains that when a hot blanket rests on the same body part for an extended period, the skin can burn. “These burn accidents usually happen because someone has fallen asleep on a bunched-up area of the blanket,” he says.  Unfortunately, people with diabetes are more vulnerable to burns from electric blankets because their condition makes them less sensitive to heat. “Electric blankets are also not recommended for infants, young children or anyone who is paralyzed or incapable of understanding how to safely operate them,” says Bell.  People with urinary incontinence also should not use electric blankets because wetness and electricity don't mix. (  If you do use an electric blanket, follow all the safety guidelines of UL Solutions (previously Underwriters Laboratories) so that you don’t become one of these statistics!

When home heating costs rise, air quality can also worsen due to particulates in the air.  In Europe, the impacts of inflation and fuel scarcity due to the Russian-Ukrainian war is particularly hard on middle and lower income families, and they turn to alternative sources like burning wood, coal and even garbage in indoor stoves.  These stoves impact indoor and outdoor air quality.  Indoors, reloading a stove that is already burning fills the air with particulates, and combustion gasses can leak out of improperly-sealed doors and exhaust pipe fittings, exposing inhabitants to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and particulates.   Outdoors, European cities that typically have poor air quality during the winter may have even worse this winter. A recent study from Greece showed that wood burning was responsible for almost half of the cancer-causing air pollution in Athens and a new study from New Zealand has showed an increase in serious respiratory infections when wood smoke built up in an area. (  If you live in one of these areas, it doesn’t matter whether you are the one burning wood–you will still be breathing its effects. 

If you feel financial pressure to lower the thermostat this winter, here are some practical ways to keep the air warmer and less humid in your home (Prof Cath Noakes from the University of Leeds):

  • Move seating away from cold windows
  • Use thick curtains at night, but allow the sun to come in during the day
  • Ensure radiators or ventilation registers are not covered or blocked by furniture
  • Ventilate using high-level windows can reduce cold drafts
  • Ventilating after a shower or when cooking can prevent moisture buildup which can lead to damp and mold.

It’s sometimes harder to detect high humidity in the winter because of the lower temperatures, so don’t take a risk–keep one or more humidity sensors in your home for monitoring it.  Our bipolar ionizers like the Germ Defender, Air Angel or Whole Home Polar Ionizer actually deter mold even if humidity temporarily goes too high, making them great investments for all seasons. 

Finally, if you have a warm home, sharing it with your elderly, disabled or disadvantaged friends for a meal or a few hours could make a huge impact in their lives.  Helping them to purchase safe heating appliances and understand how to keep humidity at manageable levels also will help them to live healthier.  Warmth is not always about containment, but allowing it to radiate to others. 

Photo by Will on Unsplash

Unplugging for your sanity and your health

Unplugging for your sanity and your health

At this holiday time of year, there are so many competing digital signals that it feels like my brain is being overloaded–emails about sales, gifts and events, advertisements on TV and the internet playing constantly, and music playing on every shop and street.  I checked (yes, online of course!) and digital sensory overload is a thing: our senses send more information to our brains than we can process.  Healthy brains have highly refined “filters” that can discard most information that is not relevant, but information overload or stress occurs when people suffer from the fact that the amount of information they are confronted with is greater than their capacity to process it.  This is not unlike the stress that people who have conditions like ADHD, schizophrenia, and autism experience; they have atypical filtering that can result in painful sensory overwhelm.  (  Today’s world is a sensory onslaught that can leave us drained and disoriented.  This short video is an animated version of how you might feel after a day of being “plugged in”!

Digital overload can be an even more prominent problem to those who have a chronic illness or physical limitations, because they depend on technology to help them and/or to provide a distraction from pain or boredom.  (

Physical symptoms of digital sensory overload may be trouble sleeping (the blue light of digital devices delays the manufacture of melatonin), eyestrain and headaches; if addiction to digital devices is severe, it can lead to decreased bone density (from lack of physical activity), weight gain (again from sedentary behavior), increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. (  Emotional symptoms include increased irritability and fatigue, and people who use their devices excessively have a greater chance of experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. (

Reduced productivity from digital overload takes a heavy toll on businesses today.  Consider this: employees may take as long as 24 minutes before they are fully focused on the task they were doing before opening an email!  Sending messages to friends, scrolling through open applications, and seeing unread emails all effectively distract us while completing a task. (  Those who work from home can confirm that unless you have a dedicated room and time boundaries, telecommuting successfully and efficiently is often harder to do than going to the office!

Creativity, a birthing of new thoughts and ideas, is also severely limited by digital overload.  Neuroscientists have shown that boredom is good for our brains’ health: “Boredom can actually foster creative ideas, refilling your dwindling reservoir, replenishing your work mojo and providing an incubation period for embryonic work ideas to hatch.” (  Nevertheless, with a smartphone, boredom is never a “problem”. 

Here’s some interesting facts about our brains and heavy digital use: (Per Matt Richtel, Technology Reporter, New York Times, on

  • “Multi-tasking” is a myth; we are not truly doing multiple things at the same time.  What you are basically doing is switching rapidly among those tasks, not doing them at the same time.  It does not make us more efficient.  It makes us significantly less efficient.

  • Heavy multi-taskers or technology users have more trouble filtering out irrelevant information, more trouble staying focused, and more trouble, remarkably enough, switching between tasks. 

  • The compelling need to “check” email or messages is called intermittent reinforcement; it makes us think that there may be something fascinating waiting for us, so we constantly check, and when we do, we get a dopamine burst, a little rush of adrenaline. In the absence of checking, we feel bored, so we are actually conditioned by a kind of neurochemical response.

If you are feeling overloaded with digital media and information, there are positive steps you can take to regain peace of mind.  It may not be easy at first to cut back on media exposure, but the results are worth it. 

  1. If you can, take a vacation with less or no digital media exposure. There is a “three-day rule” when it comes to vacations: it takes approximately three days for our bodies and minds to become more relaxed, and without your phone or tablet or computer, this might be hard, but will pay dividends to your mind and body.  (For more science on how long your vacation should be, check out this article).  How often do you truly experience solitude today?  Solitude is psychological detachment from society for the purpose of cultivating the inner world of the self. It is the act of emotionally isolating oneself for self-discovery, self-realization, meaning, wholeness, and heightened awareness of one’s deepest feelings, and impulses.  A survey on “wilderness solitude” was conducted at the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in Montana in 2017, and it used four core dimensions of the 21st Century Solitude Scale: De-tethering from Digital Connectivity (disconnecting from email and other devices), Physical Separation (being away from crowds, being isolated), Introspection (thinking about who you are and your values), and Societal Release (to be away from the rules and constraints of society).  The opportunity to completely “disconnect” for days at a time is completely unique in today’s society, and the study illustrated that this type of solitude is a physical, psychological, and societal phenomenon.  (International Journal of Wilderness)

  2. Since true solitude is hard to create, sometimes it’s practical just to establish better boundaries for device exposure, in time and space.   Here’s some suggestions for boundaries (

    1. Set alarms for device use, or set only a few times a day for checking messages.

    2. Turn off notifications from social media and other unnecessary notifications.

    3. Use only one device at a time…this is getting harder…

    4. Create tech free times, like at night when you can use the “do not disturb” function to keep from being awakened in your sleep.  Use other times of the day to connect with real people like family members, or take a walk outside. 

    5. Finally, create tech-free zones in your home where you enjoy other activities (like the dining room table).  

Setting examples for younger family members is important to do, because the proliferation of devices is not only causing adverse health conditions; it is leading us into “a new epoch in the human condition… Research conducted by the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self has found that younger generations of Americans are becoming more comfortable with certain technologies than they are with one another, with Turkle (the author) concluding that if “the simplification and reduction of relationship[s] is no longer something we complain about… It may become what we expect, [and] even desire.” (International Journal of Wilderness)  Face to face interactions with real people is necessary to help everyone maintain quality interpersonal relationships, adult and teen and child alike.  It’s time to “put down the phone” and stop missing the important things: conversations and feelings and walks and gorgeous sunsets and starry nights.  Get back to using the original camera: your eyes and your mind, and communicating with your own words to a loved one how awesome life can be. 

Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

Biofilms are bastions of BACTERIA

Biofilms are bastions of BACTERIA

Far from being harmless documentaries about someone’s life, biofilms are dangerous bacterial growth that causes a “film” over the surface that is hard to remove.  Scientists have found that persistent infection problems in places such as hospitals, nursing homes, food processing plants and drinking water distribution systems is not due to free-floating “planktonic” bacteria.  Over short periods of time (hours and days), complex surface-attached communities of bacteria form, held together by self-produced polymer matrices (long chains of organic molecules made by the bacteria themselves).  (from Beyond Risk: Bacterial Biofilms and Their Regulating Approaches)  These are called biofilms, and their persistence is very problematic to our health and quite a few industries. 

Essentially, whenever you use a toothbrush or go to a dentist for teeth-cleaning, you are engaging in “biofilm control”.  In fact this is how biofilms were first described–when the inventor of the microscope, Anton Von Leeuwenhoek, saw microbial aggregates on scrapings of plaque from his teeth. (Biofilms: A microbial home)  Here are some more facts about them from this article:

  • Biofilms form on virtually all surfaces immersed in natural aqueous environments.
  • Bacteria in biofilms are 1000-1500 times more resistant to antibiotics than free-moving bacteria (also known as their planktonic state).
  • Biofilms have been found to be involved in a wide variety of microbial infections (by one estimate 80% of all infections).  Such infections include periodontal disease, musculoskeletal infections, osteomyelitis (bone infections), bacterial prostatitis, native valve endocarditis (inflammation of the heart’s lining and valves), cystic fibrosis pneumonia and GI infections, all of which can be  persistent and chronic.

Although it can happen quickly and is microscopic, the growth of a biofilm happens in 5 distinct and complex steps.  In a nutshell, these are (from Beyond Risk: Bacterial Biofilms and Their Regulating Approaches):

  • reversible attachment, where bacteria attach to surfaces
  • irreversible attachment, involving interaction between bacterial cells and a surface using bacterial adhesins
  • extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) production (helps strengthen the film)
  • maturation of biofilm (bacterial cells synthesize and release signaling molecules to sense the presence of each other)
  • dispersal/detachment (cells release and go back to an independent lifestyle).


Why do bacteria form biofilms?  It appears to be a survival strategy of “strength in numbers” to provide protection for bacteria and make them more suitable for the external environment under certain conditions.  What’s good for them, is mostly bad for us.  Biofilms are like fortified castles of infection.

Biofilms are the major mode of microbial growth, and the most challenging problem in drinking water system disinfection. Not only do biofilms contain life-threatening microbes, the way they coat the inside of pipes promotes corrosion, and reduces heat transfer.

The good news is that ancient, non-toxic materials like copper and silver are useful in sanitizing drinking-water systems.  The first installation of a copper‑silver ionization system in the United States was in 1990, where a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania hospital showed that Legionella colonization of distal outlets (those located farthest from the source) was reduced from 75% to 0% in 3 months.  When the ionization unit was deliberately inactivated, recolonization of bacteria was delayed, and the water system remained free of Legionella for an additional 2–3 months; accumulation of ions inside the biofilm was demonstrated to be the basis for the prolonged bactericidal effect. Copper‑silver ionization has been used to control Legionella in hospitals worldwide. For example, ten cases of Legionnaires’ disease occurred at the University of Wisconsin hospital from 1985 to 1995, despite hyperchlorination. Following installation of copper‑silver ionization, Legionella was eliminated from the drinking water system and no cases were diagnosed.(Silver Ion-an overview)

Biofilms also occur on marine equipment like ships’ hulls and water-cooled heat exchangers.  Organisms like algae, barnacles and mussels build up on underwater surfaces, called “biofouling”, and cause adverse effects of slower speed and increased fuel consumption on a ship’s hull and reduced heat transfer in heat exchangers.  To combat biofouling, paint that contains copper is commonly applied to hulls, and new silicone coatings are being developed.  (Paint and Coatings Industry magazine)  For heat exchangers, slippery coatings are also a solution, as well as iodine bubble systems that can safely kill organisms and prevent them from attaching.  This is particularly helpful in sensitive marine habitats and fish hatcheries (Hatchery International).

Bacteria may have developed biofilms for survival, but scientists have found ways to penetrate the films.  

  • Biofilms on teeth can be controlled by a variety of mechanisms.  These are basically mechanical (remove with toothbrush, water pick, dental floss), or chemical (dissolve it with enzymes, antibiotics, alchohols and other rinses).  (Biofilms: A microbial home) Regular maintenance to control biofilms is key to keeping that “coat” of slime from building up, but some of that bacteria could be protected us from more harmful microbes.  Check out this short video if you want to see the colonies of plaque in your mouth!
  • Silver nanoparticles can penetrate through the bacterial biofilms to completely destroy them and can even prevent microbes from developing biofilms.  Silver nanoparticles can also be combined with antibiotics to increase the penetration power of the antibiotics. (The silver lining: towards the responsible and limited usage of silver
  • Iodine is another natural inhibitor to biofilm.  Titanium implants treated with an iodine coating were shown to have significantly less biofilm growth of Staphylococcus bacteria than the control implants (study on rats).   Iodine is a key ingredient in our TotalClean multi-surface,  multi-purpose cleaner.  
  • Some scientists are developing microscopic spiky surfaces that actually inhibit attachment of biofilms.  (
  • Electrical microcurrents can also disrupt the bacterias’ ability to form biofilms. Arizona-based Vomaris Innovations markets a wound dressing called Procellera that generates microcurrents to aid in wound healing. (
  • Because the bacteria within biofilms use a method of communication called quorum sensing, methods to interrupt this communication have shown to be successful in interrupting the establishment or continuity of the biofilm.  Foods and food-based supplements such as turmeric (containing Curcumin), garlic (containing ajoene and allicin), apple cider vinegar, vanilla beans, oregano oil (containing carvacrol) pomegranate (containing ellagic acid), and cinnamon (to name but a few) have been scientifically proven to disrupt or prevent biofilm formation. (Natural Biofilm Disruptors That Work)  Another list of quorum sensing inhibitors is found here

If you have chronic symptoms in your body (like gut or sinus infections) or your home (like mold or odor) that just won’t let up, a biofilm could be the culprit, and there may be a non-toxic, non-drug solution out there to overcome it.  Most often, a combination of natural therapies will be the best solution.  Functional medicine doctors and mold specialists alike are familiar with biofilms and can guide you to better health.  Also, polar ionizers like the Germ Defender, Air Angel and Whole Home Polar Ionizer act similarly to silver ions as the ions cling to the surface of bacteria and viruses and inhibit their ability to infect.   With biofilms, it’s a matter of working smartly and intensely–don’t give up!

Photo by Akram Huseyn on Unsplash

Estimating Power Consumption for the Whole-Home Polar Ionizer

Estimating Power Consumption for the Whole-Home Polar Ionizer

According to the most recent results from the 2020 Residential Energy Consumption Survey by the US Energy Information Administration, two-thirds of U.S. households use central AC or a central heat pump as their main AC equipment.  Because a central system incorporates ductwork to distribute air throughout the rooms of the home, it is an ideal place to install a purifier or sanitizer.  HVAC technicians are now familiar with installation of technologies such as UV lights, photocatalytic generators and ionizers, but it is ionizers that have proven themselves most efficient in sanitization and energy consumption.  

Each of these technologies requires the air handler blower to be operating in order to constantly move air through the system, and in the case of ionizers, the blower also moves the ions throughout the home.  According to, a site that explains how to calculate all sizing and load aspects of HVAC, blower motors are sized by horsepower; from ⅙ hp all the way up to 1 hp.  1 horsepower is equivalent to approximately 746 (imperial) watts, which is the maximum power needed if the fan were running at 100% output all the time.  However, most furnaces use variable-speed fans that can reduce the average power consumption from 100%t o about 20%. Therefore, the average power ends up being closer to 20% of the maximum power requirement. 

Then, there is the power needed to run the bipolar ionization unit.  This varies slightly depending on what power input is used (24VDC, 110VAC or 220VAC), but at an average of 9 watts, it is a fraction of what the blower requires.  The bipolar unit should only be powered on when the blower runs. 

For best sanitization effects, we recommend running the blower and ionizer 24 hours per day to maintain a continuous flow of ions through the home.  This is accomplished by leaving the AC fan in the “ON” position instead of “Auto”.  We realize, however, that due to power consumption or personal preference, customers may choose less time per day–like 8, 12 or 16 hrs instead of 24.  Breaking it down in this way helps visualize the cost.  According to Carrier, an HVAC equipment manufacturer, residential air conditioners usually range from 1.5 to 5 tons (or, 18,000 – 60,000 BTUh).  For an average example, below we took a 3 ton unit, which normally uses a ½ horsepower blower motor, and calculated the cost for running the blower and ionizer at the national average cost of electricity (October 2022) at $0.166/kWh for these time periods per day:

8 hours per day:  $3 per month

12 hours per day: $5 per month

16 hours per day: $7 per month

24 hours per day: $10 per month

These are the costs for using the blower in addition to the existing heating and cooling needs, so if you are already running the unit for heating and cooling, the cost increase will be less than this amount (by leaving the blower set at “ON” instead of “AUTO” in order to use the ionizer).  You’ll also want to make sure that you change the system air filter on time or earlier since the unit will be constantly circulating air.

Do you want to calculate your own actual costs for running an ionizer?  Here is the formula:

(a)*(b)*(c)*(4.476)  + 1 = $/month to run the ionizer and blower for “c” hours per day.

We’re using a letter for each of the variables you’ll need to plug in:

a = Using the approximate “tonnage” of your unit, select the corresponding horsepower in decimals from the table below.  1 ton is approximately equal to 12,000 BTUs, or British Thermal Units.  You can find this information in a plate on the back of the condenser: 

Tons cooling/heating

BTU’s cooling/heating

Typical air handler blower horsepower



⅓ (0.33)



½ (0.5)



¾ (0.75)



¾ (0.75)

b = Your electricity cost in $/kw (check your electric bill)

c = How many hours per day would you like to use the ionizer?

And here is some explanation: The constant 4.476 is the combination of the conversion factor of 746 watts per horsepower, a factor of 0.2 to get the average power consumption (20%), 30 days in a month, and dividing by 1000 to convert watts to kilowatts.  The “+1” is the cost of running the ionizer, because it’s only about $1 or less per day.

If you have multiple central systems for different zones and plan to use an ionizer in each, just use the above formula for each system and add them together. 

Considering that the Whole Home Polar Ionizer has no consumable or refillable parts like filters, UV lamps or photocatalytic cells, 24/7 microbial protection for your whole home for $10 per month is quite economical in these inflationary times!