If you want clean, healthy air in every room of your home, taking a whole-house approach to air cleaning is the logical choice. This is especially true if you struggle with the Conroe area’s springtime pollen levels.

Small portable air cleaners are cheap and convenient, but they can purify the air in only one room at a time. Move from that room to any other and you’ll be breathing in the contaminants the portable air cleaner missed. This, by definition, falls short of a whole-house approach to air cleaning.

Whole-house air cleaning devices are installed in your heating and cooling system, so they purify all the air in your home as it passes through the system. You can enjoy any room knowing the air you breath won’t trigger your allergies or aggravate your asthma.

Panel (Flat) Filters

Unless the homeowner has upgraded his or her HVAC system, most heating and cooling systems are equipped with a basic disposable one-inch fiberglass filter. While these are the cheapest whole-house approach to air cleaning, they’re far from the most effective.

These filters are given a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) of 1 to 4. A filter’s MERV indicates the percentage of particles of a particular size it can trap. The higher the MERV, the more efficient the filter. Filters with a MERV of 4 and below catch only the largest debris particles, such as pollen, dust mites, cockroach debris, and carpet fibers.

Although they may get your air a little cleaner, they’re intended mainly to keep debris out of your system and keep your ducts clean,  not to improve your indoor air quality. If your goal is cleaner indoor air, panel filters with MERVs of 5 to 7 are a better choice. These capture somewhat smaller debris particles, such as mold spores and aerosol spray particles.

Panel filters can’t hold much debris, so depending on the level of contaminants in your air, these filters need to be changed every one to three months. The primary benefits of these filters is that they’re cheap and easy to install.

Extended Surface Filters

For a higher level of air purification and longer filter life, extended surface filters offer a budget-friendly and highly effective option for a whole-house approach to air cleaning. These filters come in three main designs.

  • Pleated filters contain filter material in an accordion-like shape to fit a greater surface area into a smaller space. These come in MERV 7 to 13.
  • Box filters are similar to several panel filters stacked together. These are available in MERV 9 to 16, and those at the higher end can capture all types of bacteria and most tobacco smoke particles.
  • Bag filters consist of a row of pockets made of filter material. These offer the same MERVs as box filters.

Extended surface filters are often installed in upscale residential buildings and commercial buildings, although they work for single-family homes, too. Because they’re efficient at trapping pollen, mold spores, and other allergens and lung irritants, they’re helpful if you have allergies, asthma or another respiratory condition.

You don’t necessarily need to spring for the highest efficiency filters to get clean air. Filters with MERVs of 7 to 13 clean your air nearly as well as a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter, according to experts with the U.S. EPA.

What’s more, not every residential system can handle a high-efficiency filter. The greater density of these filters means they slow airflow. If your blower fan motor isn’t powerful enough to keep up the necessary airflow, your system’s energy efficiency will fall and the motor may even burn out.

Before you consider buying one of these filters, consult a heating and cooling professional. Because they’re larger than standard panel models, they need to be professionally installed in your system.

When comparing the costs of these filters with the costs of panel filters, consider that extended surface filters typically last around a year. The cost per month works out to only a little more than what you’d pay for panel filters. As a plus, you’ll save yourself the hassle of having to replace the filter every few months.

Electronic Air Cleaners

Both panel and extended surface filters are mechanical filters. They capture air contaminants by trapping them in the fibers of the filter material. These filters rely on the physical density of the filter material for their efficiency.

Although mechanical filters can reach high efficiencies, a whole-house approach to air cleaning doesn’t have to rely on mechanical filtration alone. Electronic air cleaners can be added to your system to take care of the tiny particles your filter can’t stop.

Electronic air purifiers use electrostatic attraction, informally known as static cling, to trap particles against a metal collector panel. To clean the air throughout your home, you’ll need a whole-house model that’s installed in your heating and cooling system. These models work in five basic steps:

  1. A fan pulls in air from the surrounding area. In a whole-house air cleaner, this is the blower fan in your HVAC system.
  2. The air passes through a pre-filter that traps larger debris particles, such as lint and pollen.
  3. The air moves in an ionizing section where the remaining smaller contaminants in the air are given either a negative or a positive charge.
  4. The air passes into a collecting section, which contains a series of aluminum collector plates. These plates hold the opposite charge as the particles, which enables them to attract particles out of the air and trap them.
  5. Clean air flows out of the device and into your duct system where it’s distributed to your rooms.

Electronic air cleaners don’t need to be replaced as filters do, but the collector plates require regular washing. They can be sprayed down or, in some instances, put in the dishwasher. You’ll also need to stay alert for debris trapped in the wires or collector plates. These can cause arcing and popping noises, and should be removed before they short out the air cleaner.

While these air cleaners are efficient at trapping small, lightweight contaminant particles, they’re not so effective against heavier particles such as dust and dirt. Also be aware that electronic air cleaners produce small amounts of ozone. This can be a problem for people with respiratory conditions.

Ultraviolet Air Cleaners

Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) air cleaners are designed to neutralize biological contaminants, including bacteria, viruses, mold spores and dust mites. A whole-house UVGI air cleaner is set up inside your heating and cooling system.

As air passes through the system, the air cleaner shines a UV light on it. This is the same type of light as sunlight and is harmless to people and pets. On bacteria and other biological contaminants, however, the light breaks apart the particles’ DNA, rendering them incapable of reproducing. Over time, this cuts down on the number of biological particles in your air.

These air cleaners are often used in hospitals and other medical settings due to their ability to disinfect the air. Because they do nothing against dust, pet dander and other particles that don’t reproduce, you’ll still need mechanical filters for a comprehensive whole-house approach to air cleaning.

UVGI air purifiers aren’t without their risks. UV light leakage poses the risk of eye damage, cheap bulbs can break and release mercury vapor, and while most models don’t produce ozone, some do. While you’re comparison shopping, look for a well-sealed model that doesn’t produce ozone and that uses breakage-resistant bulbs.

Other Options for Cleaner Air

While the four filter and air cleaner designs above are the most common, there are other types of air purification devices you may want to incorporate into your whole-house approach to air cleaning.

Gas-phase air filters – These filters are designed to absorb specific types of gaseous pollutants, such as fumes from cooking, cleaning agents, and chemicals used in furniture, paints and carpeting.

Photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) air cleaners – A relative newcomer to the air purification market, the PCO cleaner works against gaseous pollutants. When the UV lamp in the air cleaner hits a titanium dioxide-based chemical catalyst, the catalyst reacts in a way that renders pollutants harmless. These cleaners may be helpful if you’re doing a lot of home improvement that involves painting, laying new carpet or bringing in new furniture. PCO cleaners eliminate the toxic fumes these items produce.

Ozone generators – These devices produce ozone, a natural gas that destroys other gasses and biological contaminants. Ozone is a lung irritant, and concentrations needed to efficiently purify the air often exceed public health standards. Ozone machines are typically used only by specialists in commercial settings.

If you’re looking for the best way to improve your indoor air quality, contact us at Conroe Air. Our experts can help you choose and install the right system for your home in Conroe, Montgomery County or the surrounding area.