Tag Archives for " fresh air ventilation "

10 Ways to Improve Air Quality in Your Home for $50 or less!

10 Ways to Improve Air Quality in Your Home for $50 or less!

We all like easy, cheap tasks that bring a lot of satisfaction when they’re done.  Why not focus on your air quality the next time you’re in the mood to DIY?  Here’s a list of things that only take a little preparation and a little time, but can make a big impact in the air in your home.  

  1. Are you on an HVAC filter change schedule?  If not, it’s time to change that!  Dirty HVAC filters have a number of negative consequences–from increasing the dust and mold in the evaporator/air handler, to possibly even causing damage to your expensive system.  If you don’t have any filters, just click here and order some from us, and we’ll have them at your door shortly!  If you’re not sure which “MERV” to order, read through the information on the page, and/or contact us to find out.  (Per filter cost is much less than $50).  Then, set a reminder on your calendar to change them regularly.

  2. Clean and adjust your fans for better air circulation: Fans make a BIG difference in quality of air because airflow is critical in this process to 1) get air moving, which reduces pockets of stale air or humidity, and 2) introduce fresh air, which dilutes contaminants and refreshes us!  (for more info check our article here)  Here’s a short list of fans that will need attention: 

    1. Ceiling fans need periodic cleaning and seasonal direction adjustment.  Get yourself an extendable duster that can be used wet or dry (we recommend dry first, then spritz with some TotalClean to get it cleaner).  The fan should also rotate in the correct direction: clockwise in the winter and counterclockwise in the summer (there should be a switch on the remote OR on the fan motor to control rotation direction).  

    2. Portable fans are important for spot cooling and can get pretty dusty!  Some are easy to remove the grill cover, the fan blades and dump them in a sink with soapy water.  For others, use a brush attachment on your HEPA vacuum to clean all accessible surfaces.  

    3. As long as you have your HEPA vacuum with brush attachment out, just scoot on over to the refrigerator and use it on the front grille at the bottom (and/or the back of the fridge–some models have a grille there also).

    4. Bathroom vent fans can also get pretty dusty.  Turn off the power at the wall and if you can, get on a ladder to remove the grille and dust out the inside of the unit, wash the grille and replace it.

    5. Kitchen exhaust fans probably top the list in the grime category!  We have a short article on how to clean them, and even use activated carbon media to make the kitchen smell better!

  3. Fall is the perfect time to get more fresh air into your home, but sometimes more filtration is needed.  Our Nanofiber PureAir Window Screens catch more fine particles than regular insect screens, so you can have fresh air without the dust and pollutants that normally come with it.   If you have window screens in your home, replacing them with this material is very easy, even for beginners, and we recommend several methods to do it on the product page. 

  4. You know that accomplished feeling when you’ve just cleaned the inside of your car?  Well, here’s a shortcut…order and replace your car’s Cabin Air Filter with a new one that has activated carbon in it.  True, the coffee cup behind your seat won’t disappear, but your car will smell much better, and it will filter out more pollution from other vehicles on the road. (and it might even inspire you to clean the whole inside of your car!)

  5. It may sound like a paradox, but cleaning the dishwasher every few months is really necessary!  As you can see in this video on how to easily remove and clean the filter, the hidden parts can get nasty and slimy!  If you don’t have time to properly take apart and clean your dishwasher, you can try using a highly-rated but non-toxic dishwasher cleaner, which uses citric acid as its active ingredient.  You can use TotalClean or a DIY cleaner to wipe down the door seals and any other parts that can’t be removed.

  6. Set yourself up for cleaning success!  Chances are, if you don’t have the right tools in the right place(s), cleaning will not spontaneously happen!  Case in point: I used to keep 1 spray bottle of TotalClean under the kitchen sink, and paper towels on my kitchen counter.  After researching and writing about the “toilet plume”, however, I knew I had to increase frequency of cleaning the toilet and other surfaces to at least every other day.  Here’s what to do:

    1. Keep a non-toxic spray cleaner and disposable wipes (like paper towels) in the bathroom so that you can easily clean surfaces every few days.

    2. Keep a stash of hand towels and bath towels in a closed bathroom cabinet to change them out several times a week.

    3. If you use a floor cleaning machine like my highly-rated CrossWave, make up a non-toxic cleaning solution and place it in a labeled jar so that you can break out your machine and get going at any time!  Here’s the recipe I like to use. 

    4. Keep a cleaner where you charge your phone.  (Yes, we’re not supposed to, but many of us keep our phones beside our bed at night.)  In that case, dampen a few paper towels with TotalClean and place in an airtight container so that you can sanitize your phone easily and quickly.  

  7. If you or any of your family are susceptible to toenail fungus or athlete’s foot, here is an uncomfortable fact:  fungus can live in your shoes for up to 20 months, and it can even persist in socks for several washings.  To get rid of fungus from washable shoes and socks, (and towels and sweaty clothing in separate loads), add 2 oz of EC3 Laundry Additive to the rinse cycle reservoir of your washing machine.  Not only will it eliminate mold spores from your shoes and clothing, it will also help to clean the washing machine, which can also harbor mold.  (Mold is a type of fungus).

  8. I cannot overstate the positive effects of adding mattress and pillow encasements, and ripping out old carpet in my bedroom.   My breathing and sleep quality have improved drastically by eliminating these materials where dust mites live and multiply.  Here’s what to do; it even works on old mattresses!

    1. Order a real mattress encasement and pillow covers for the bed(s) you want to protect.  Mattress encasements like these by Hospitology have tight-weave microfiber (which do tend to make you sleep warmer til you get used to it) and zipper ends that have velcro coverings so that no dust mites can get in or out!  This is death to dust mites; check out more encasement recommendations here

    2. When you decide to install your encasements, wash all your sheets and and blankets in hot water and your detergent of choice, so that any dust mites will die in the washer.

    3. Install your encasements (it may take another person because it fully encloses the mattress like an envelope that’s only zippered on one side), making sure that all toppers and thick mattress covers go inside the encasement.  You don’t want to leave anything that cannot be easily washed outside.  Now, any bugs living in your mattress and pillows will starve and be contained within the encasement (kind of gross but wayyy cheaper than buying new mattress and pillows). 

    4. Make your bed with fresh clean sheets and blankets and have a great night’s rest!

  9. The second part of the last recommendation is getting rid of old carpet in your bedroom (or any room you spend a lot of time in!).  Dust mites can also live in the carpet around your bed, especially if pets are allowed in your bedroom.  So, even if you don’t have an alternative flooring plan or budget at the moment, removing the carpet and fixing up the subfloor can still be a big improvement.   Warning: once you rip carpet out in one room, you’ll want to do it in other rooms, too!   Here’s what to do:

    1. Read our article on how to safely remove old carpet, and gather your materials/tools.  Make sure to find out how your local garbage or waste company requires you to dispose of it (bagged vs. unbagged, where and when).  Then, budget at least a few hours to get ‘er done!

    2. Fixing up the subfloor can be as simple as checking for splinters and sharp nails or screws, to sealing it with a non-toxic paint or sealer.  Check out a really helpful article here and a few companies that specialize in these types of paints:

      1. Ecos Interior Floor Paint

      2. AFM Safecoat Concrete Floor Paint

  10. Sealing Air Channels in your attic:  You’ll want to wait until cooler weather for this chore, but the idea is to tighten up your “building envelope” so that your expensive “conditioned air” (hot or cold) is not leaking out or unconditioned air leaking in!  All it really takes is some spray foam in cans, maybe some scrap wood or styrofoam sheet (to block off bigger gaps), the right personal protective gear, and time!  This is really worthwhile to do if you plan on adding insulation (must be done before adding insulation, check with your insulation company to see if they will do it).  

Okay, the last two projects take more time and effort than changing an air filter, but they do make a difference in your air quality.  In the case of #10, it should also reduce your home heating and cooling bill and stop pests and insects too.   In these cases, showing your home a bit of love will return the favor!

Photo by Heather Ford on Unsplash

Do Air Purifiers in Classrooms Reduce Illness?

Do Air Purifiers in Classrooms Reduce Illness?

Ahh, this is certainly one time when I’m glad to be working remotely!  As my co-workers send their children back to school, the illnesses (from the common cold to COVID-19) ramp up again in their families as germs get passed back and forth in classrooms.

In 2021, there was a lot of discussion about how to keep students and teachers safe from COVID-19.  Many school districts rushed out to purchase and install air purifiers, with ensuing debate on which purifiers were effective, or in fact, which were dangerous.  It can be a bit confusing, so I headed online to find studies on what works.  I found that across a wide spectrum of experts, the following three solutions to reducing illness and increasing classroom performance are, in order, 

  1. Fresh air ventilation

  2. HVAC system filter maintenance

  3. Air purifiers

This list really is in order of importance.  First of all, air purification technology is great, but we at HypoAir are always in favor of the most natural option first, one that replicates the outdoors, and that will be fresh air VENTILATION.  That’s right, you can put an air purifier in a classroom, but without a continual supply of fresh air to increase oxygen and dilute rising CO2 and virus and bacteria levels, the air purifier can only do so much.  Fresh air can be supplied through an open window if the weather or outdoor air quality is nice, but there should be fresh air ventilation built into every HVAC system so that air quality outside doesn’t limit the quality of air indoors.  Many buildings in the U.S., especially schools, do not meet recommended ventilation rates. The quantity of ventilation depends on how many people are in the room; it should be 15 cubic feet per minute per person. In one study coauthored by Rengie Chan, a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, 85 percent of the California classrooms included failed to meet the minimum standard of 15 CFM per person. Other studies show many American classrooms have an average ventilation rate of only 6 to 11 cfm per person.(wired.com). 

The problem with estimating actual fresh-air ventilation to a room by HVAC is that unless there is an intake from the outside in the system, air blown into the classroom is just being recirculated through the ducts and maybe only filtered once, not adding any fresh air at all.  This type of estimation requires a person knowledgeable about the building’s HVAC system.  If fresh air intake is included, then one expert (Joseph Allen, a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health) estimates that for reducing Covid-19 risk, the air in the room should be completely replaced at least five times an hour. In a Boston school, the sensor registered about 400 cfm of fresh air coming in through the unit ventilator in one classroom. The room measured 1,010 square feet and had 9.5 foot ceilings: It had 9,595 cubic feet of air. Multiply 400 cubic feet per minute by 60 minutes, divide it by the volume, and you find that the air only gets turned over 2.5 times an hour, which was not sufficient. (wired.com)  However, when conducting another experiment in the same school, they found they could boost air changes to 17 to 20 air changes per hour by opening windows and doors.

An easier way to determine if ventilation is sufficient is by monitoring the CO2 level.  To demonstrate the effect of reducing CO2 levels on disease transmission,  researchers in Taiwan reported on the effect of ventilation on a tuberculosis outbreak at Taipei University. Many of the rooms in the school were underventilated and had CO2 levels above 3,000 ppm. When engineers improved air circulation and got CO2 levels under 600 ppm, the outbreak completely stopped. According to the research, the increase in ventilation was responsible for 97% of the decrease in transmission.(theconversation.com)

Since the coronavirus is spread through the air, higher CO2 levels in a room likely mean there is a higher chance of transmission if an infected person is inside. Based on the study above, experts recommend trying to keep the CO2 levels below 600 ppm. You can buy good CO2 meters for less than $100 online (check out our post including them); just make sure that they are accurate to within 50 ppm. (theconversation.com) What can it hurt to donate (or get together with other parents to donate) several CO2 sensors with remote readings, in order to check the levels of CO2 in your childrens’ classrooms?  

After fresh-air ventilation has been established, let’s look at air cleaning.  In any HVAC system, there should be at least filters in the air returns and they should be changed regularly.  By increasing the MERV rating on these filters to MERV 13, smaller particles like viruses can be filtered out to reduce illness transmission rates.  Changing the rating of the filters should be done in cooperation with the facilities manager in order not to overload the HVAC system, but it is quite possible even if filter box sizes need to be enlarged (see our post on Air Filter Thickness for how to increase MERV rating without increasing pressure drop). 

Third, air purifiers can be considered.  If the school has done what they can to provide adequate ventilation and HVAC filter maintenance, then air purifiers can add another layer of protection by filtering or killing the germs that get by these first two conditions.  In order to be effective, an air purifier must either:

  • pull all of the air in the room through a filter unit several times an hour, OR

  • Send out a non-toxic disinfectant that disperses to all areas of the room.

The first of these can be accomplished with units that include high-powered fans, but these can be noisy.  Noise in a classroom, just like in your home, can be distracting and debilitating for the teacher and students!  For this reason, air purifiers that depend upon air throughput for efficacy need to be evaluated for noise when running at the optimum fan speed for the size of classroom considered.  Also, replacement parts such as filters need to be considered in the total cost.  The cost of a HEPA filter (and possibly UV lamp) for every purifier, for example, can quickly add up to thousands of dollars a year when changes are needed in a school with dozens of classrooms.  Maintenance of these units will fall on the school’s facilities staff, who are likely already over-burdened with an increased cleaning schedule.  

The second option is one that HypoAir promotes because it really is akin to what goes on naturally outdoors.  Ions are one of nature’s cleaning devices, because positive and negative ions are continually floating through the air and reacting with allergens, viruses and bacteria, deactivating them.  These ions are naturally produced by natural phenomena in the air such as sunshine, lightning, crashing water like at the seashore or a waterfall, and plants.  Indoors, we produce them by passing a small electrical charge through stainless steel “needles” to produce positive and negative ions, which get distributed through the air to every part of the room (like adding drops of dye to clean water, soon every part of the water is changed!).  This is done nearly silently, because powerful fans are not required for distribution (any fans already in use in the room will boost circulation of the unit’s small fan).  In addition, maintenance on HypoAir ionizers is virtually nil, because no filters are required and there are no replacement parts.  The cost of running our ionizers is very small, as they use minimal electricity. 

So what about real world testing of these methods?  The CDC released a study on 123 elementary schools in Georgia in 2021.  The schools included did one of three things:

  1. Nothing

  2. Increased ventilation by opening doors, windows or using fans 

  3. Added HEPA filters to classrooms.

In schools that improved ventilation through dilution methods alone, COVID-19 incidence was 35% lower than the schools that did nothing, whereas in schools that combined dilution methods with filtration, incidence was 48% lower than the schools that did nothing.  The takeaway here is that ventilation and HEPA filtration work, even with some added cost for ventilation modification or filter replacements!  Doing nothing, on the other hand, increases the cost of lost school days, makeup time and medical costs for students and teachers substantially.   

It’s a new world with viruses and allergens challenging young and old alike everywhere, but the wisdom of fresh-air ventilation combined with the technology of purification can make it significantly easier to bear!

Photo by CDC on Unsplash