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How can I apply Altitude Simulation to my home?

How can I apply Altitude Simulation to my home?

Visitors and full-time residents in high-altitude locations are susceptible to altitude sickness, also called Mountain Sickness.  This is due to the lower atmospheric pressure and consequently lower oxygen molecules by volume, found in the mountains.  These illnesses include problems sleeping, fatigue, headaches, and even life-threatening pulmonary edema (buildup of fluids in the lungs).  At just 6,000 feet many people experience trouble sleeping, and, according to the Cleveland Clinic, about half of people who ascend to 8,000 feet will experience some form of altitude symptoms, and almost 75 percent of people will have effects at 10,000 feet. (Oxygenation for Mountain Hotels and Resorts)  Even one of the premier experts on altitude sickness, Dr. Peter Hackett, had a close call with pulmonary edema while mountaineering (video). Technically, even people at sea level can get “hypoxia” (the condition of low oxygen content in tissues) if the atmosphere is low in oxygen or their breathing function is impaired.  

Studies have shown that supplementing oxygen during sleeping reduces the effects of altitude sickness or hypoxia, while also improving daytime oxygen saturation and ability to function during the day.

Altitude Control Technologies (ACT) works with ordinary homeowners, as well as the US Air Force, US Navy, universities, professional sports teams, Olympic training facilities, etc. to provide “altitude simulation” for enhanced health and performance.  It’s a unique technology that raises oxygen levels in a room to “simulate” lower altitudes.  In homes, ACT only services bedrooms because with 8 hours of sleep at a simulated lower altitude, people can become better acclimatized to their physical altitude during the rest of the day.  This informative video shows the machines, how they work, where they are installed and how they are controlled.

ACT machines take in air from outside, splits up oxygen and nitrogen, sends the nitrogen out of the house, and the oxygen to the bedroom(s).  For example in Colorado, oxygen levels are increased by about 30% to simulate an altitude closer to sea level.  The control sensors monitor the oxygen saturation, barometric pressure and CO2 in the room constantly.   In this way, too much oxygen (which violates the National Fire Protection Code) is never a problem.  

The oxygen machines installed by ACT use molecular sieves.  They are placed outside the bedroom(s) in the attic, mechanical space or crawlspace so that noise and heat created by the machines does not impact the restful area of the bedroom.  To counter the heat of the machines that could otherwise place an additional burden on the HVAC system, ACT has developed an Alticool™ system uses a combination of fresh mountain air and exhaust fans to cool the machinery space.

Although the machines used by ACT are proprietary, many of the machines used by oxygen medical supply companies use Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) systems to separate oxygen from nitrogen.  Two pressure vessels are filled with Carbon Molecular Sieves (CMS).  In the first pressure vessel, clean compressed air is introduced, where the nitrogen and carbon dioxide is attracted to the CMS and oxygen is allowed to pass through.  The second pressure vessel is regenerated to “purge” the nitrogen and carbon dioxide from the CMS by vacuum and a small stream of pure oxygen.  Then, the vessels switch placement in the process and the first vessel is regenerated while the second vessel produces oxygen. (How Oxygen PSA Generators Work)

Because air pressure is lower at higher altitude, simulating a lower altitude in a room involves adding oxygen, which also increases air pressure in the room.  In building science, this is a “positive pressure” scenario, where good air sealing must accompany the installation so that the newly added oxygen doesn’t leak out of the room and cancel the work of the equipment!   For this reason, detailed engineering of the space(s) to be oxygenated precedes any installation.  The engineers take into account the room boundaries including doors, windows, walls and ventilation systems that are shared with other spaces, often specifying dampers that are activated when the system is in use.  New construction and pre-existing structures are candidates for the system, however it’s always less costly and easier to plan for such a system before the home is under construction. 

So you may be saying, how does all this apply to my home at sea level?  Even if you don’t live at or visit high altitudes, you can apply some of the principles of this technology to make your bedroom the optimal place for your body to recharge and repair itself while you sleep.  Let’s recap to understand how this applies to your bedroom:

  • Getting a better sleep at night increases performance and cognitive facilities during the day. 

  • Air-seal the room boundaries from pollutants by using air-sealing techniques at the door(s), window(s), corners, outlets and openings like can lights and ceiling fans.

  • If you want more fresh, clean air, you can consider the following: 

    • Use a window ventilation filter where you can open the window comfortably without excess humidity, heat or cold.

    • If you have central air conditioning, you could switch the bedroom to a dedicated mini-split with its own filter and option to intake fresh air from outside, OR

    • Add a fresh-air intake in your HVAC system and add an inline duct fan and filter to the vents serving your bedroom (here’s an inline duct filter). 

    • Add plants that are low-maintenance and produce the most oxygen while filtering pollutants. 

  • Check with your doctor to see if you suffer from sleep apnea or hypoxia.  Usually these are diagnosed through a sleep study.  If you are a relatively stationary sleeper, you could add oxygen to your sleep routine with a portable oxygen concentrator and mask or cannula.  Continuous positive airway pressure machines (CPAPs) are popularly prescribed but they do not increase the oxygen content of the incoming air;  CPAPs just increase air pressure slightly to keep breathing airways open while you sleep.

  • Consider that outside noise can also reduce your sleep quality, so check out our recommendations to seal out unwanted noise, as well. 

  • Make it a priority to clean surfaces and change your sheets at least once a week.  To help combat dust and allergens between cleanings, add an Air Angel and a standalone HEPA filter.  A dustmite-proof mattress encasement also helps to transform your bed from being a dustmite haven to a clean “nest”!

Consider what and how you are breathing during the most important time of the day–your sleep–and you may find that making small changes can improve your daytime enjoyment immensely!

Photo by Jason Hogan on Unsplash