Optimize Your HVAC System to Help Ease Symptoms of Asthma and Allergies

Achoo! Did you know that more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies? That makes allergies the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.

As allergy sufferers know, allergens can be a nightmare. Itchy, watery eyes, congestion and coughing can keep you up all night. And, it make you miserable during your waking hours.

Did you know that your HVAC system could be at fault? But just as important, by following some of the tips below, it could help alleviate symptoms of allergies?

That’s right. Your HVAC system can harbor and spread allergens such as pet dander, dust mites and pollen. So, instead of further aggravating your symptoms, read on to discover how your HVAC system could actually help alleviate them.

Indoor air pollution comes from any number of sources. The most common allergens found inside the home include pet dander, mold, dust mites and pollen.

Your HVAC system’s air filters are intended to trap the bulk of these allergens when they become airborne. However, they can still affect you. This can cause you to experience allergic reactions or asthma attacks.

Your HVAC system can conceal mildew and mold. This can end up in your indoor air during the air conditioning and heating cycles.

So, here’s a plan of attack to improve indoor air quality.

Replace your air filters

The first step you can take to improve indoor air quality is to regularly replace your air filters. As noted, they are your first line of defense against any pollen from outside. They also clean the air inside, filtering out pet dander, mold and dust mites. Dirty air filters are unable to trap these unwanted air particles. This can make your unit both less reliable and less efficient. And the dirtier your air filter becomes, the harder it is to remove these pollutants.

It’s always a good idea to check your air filters regularly. A good rule of thumb is change them once a month.

What is the best air filter for your home? For allergy sufferers, you want to purchase a high-efficiency air filter that helps alleviate those allergy symptoms. This will remove the most airborne pollutants. It will also enable your HVAC system to do it job without strain.

The best ones have a MERV rating (see Note below) of at least 8. This type of filter can trap even those microscopic particles. Other filters with a lower MERV score won’t be able to filter out all the particles that can result in allergy troubles for the family.

Should you need more information about your specific HVAC system, our Phillips HVAC technicians will be glad to help you select the most efficient filter for your particular system.

Note: MERV ratings, or Minimum Efficiency Ratings Value, are numbers assigned to air filters to determine their efficiency when it comes to removing particulates from the air. Higher MERV ratings translate into better, more efficient filters. These ratings are expressed in numbers from one to 20, each responsible for removing various types of allergens. Higher MERV ratings also mean higher price tags, and in some cases, more energy consumption as the unit encounters more resistance when pulling air in, but for comfort from severe allergies, they’re a solid investment.

Amp up your filtration system

Air purifiers pick up where HVAC systems leave off.

If you’re looking to boost the effectiveness of your air filtration, ionizers and air purifiers are often used to help better remove allergens and contaminants in HVAC systems. In fact, whole-home purifiers are great for anyone suffering from severe allergies or asthma because they improve the entire home’s air quality.

Talk to your heating and A/C specialist at Phillips for product recommendations and installation advice.

Clean those ducts

Dust is a common allergy trigger and it also tends to travel with other allergens like pollen and pet dander. Unfortunately, it’s attracted to both air vents and intake hoods which results in its circulating throughout your home. Thankfully, avoiding the problem is as easy as dusting all the vents in your home at least once a week. If you have wood floors, you may need to increase the frequency to two or three times a week.

You might consider UV lights

UV lights, a.k.a., ultraviolet lights, are lighting components that release light as a wavelength that’s deadly to bacteria. In much the same way x-rays can cause damage over a period of time, UV lights are harmful to smaller organisms and will help 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 HVAC system. They 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 have a service technician check your evaporator to assess your unit’s capabilities.

Let’s face it, while it can be fairly expensive to implement, UV lighting is perfect for households that have been dealing with poor indoor air quality.

You can call upon your Phillips certified technician on anything pertaining to UV lights.

Sealing allergies out

Keeping your house tightly sealed can also help prevent allergens from sneaking in. Seal those gaps and holes with caulk, spray foam and good old-fashion weather stripping.

Keep pollen out by leaving windows and doors closed at night and between 5 and 10 a.m. in the morning when pollen counts are especially high. Leave shoes outside and wash your clothes and body following outdoor activities to sidestep bringing more allergens into your home.

Controlling pet dander

Proteins in pet dander, saliva and urine are common allergens. Luckily, this can be kept under control by regularly bathing pets (at least once a week) and vacuuming regularly. Keeping your furry friend out of the bedroom and off furniture can also help reduce the likelihood of reactions to pet allergens. Yes, we know they like to snuggle up on the couch or even in your bed, but you might give that a second thought if you have allergies.

The problem with humidity

Humidity is another key factor in the fight against allergies. Since water is the stuff of life, any space that’s full of humidity and moisture is going to breed bacteria and mold growth.  These irritants make their way into your home through the ventilation system, windows, and doors. With the right conditions, like plenty of moisture in the air, they can multiply into whole colonies of allergens within hours.

Dust mites in particular can be a problem in humid areas. It’s actually their feces that are the main allergen, and when there’s high humidity, dust mites feast off of our softened skin cells that naturally slough off and absorb the moisture in the air through their bodies. This leads to more breeding, and more waste.

Some homes have the exact opposite problem and homeowners struggle to keep these homes adequately humid. Too arid of a home can dry out sinuses, causing nosebleeds and irritating the lungs.

How to Regulate the Humidity in Your Home

While you can’t control the weather, you CAN take steps to regulate the humidity inside your house to help reduce your allergy symptoms. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the ideal indoor humidity level is 25-40%. Running your air conditioner will help remove excess humidity from the air. If that’s not enough, or it’s too cool to turn on the AC, a dehumidifier will pull moisture out of the air, collect it, and then drain or pump it out of your home. If the indoor air is too dry, a whole house humidifier will dispense water vapor throughout your home, and it comes with a hygrometer to measure the moisture in the air.

Your technician at Phillips will be more than glad to discuss the features and benefits of a whole-house humidifiers and dehumidifiers.

Don’t forget to check for mold

Speaking of humidity. Mold thrives in humid, moist environments. Take a good look at the ducts, condensate drip pan and drain, evaporator coils and the air handler every few weeks to check for signs of mold. Mold on or around your HVAC unit could be ventilating the spores into your house, triggering allergies.

Fact is, mold spores don’t just cause allergies. If left unrestrained, certain molds can cause sickness and even death. If you discover mold, you can remove small amounts on your own, but if there is a large amount of mold in any one of these areas, it might be best to call the Service department at Phillips to set up an appointment to have it removed professionally.

Clean your home on a precise schedule

We all bring allergens into our homes in all kinds of ways – on the bottoms of our shoes, on our clothing, on our pets’ hair, on our kids and on our outerwear, just to name the chief culprits.

We know that you clean your home regularly. But if you suffer from allergies, it’s a good idea to clean your home on a precise schedule to remove allergens as often as possible. This includes dusting, vacuuming, mopping and washing laundry. And when cleaning, it’s best to use natural or fragrance-free cleaning products, again to improve the quality of your home’s indoor air.

Get rid of debris around the outdoor unit . . . and the indoor one, too

The outdoor AC unit pulls air from outside through your HVAC system and that air eventually circulates throughout the home.

Check for dust and debris and clear it away from the unit as often as possible to keep it from being pulled into your home.

Don’t’ forget about the indoor unit, either. Just like the outdoor unit, if dust and debris are around it, those particles will eventually end up circulating throughout the house. Sweep, vacuum and dust the area around the indoor unit often to help reduce excessive allergens in your system.

Schedule regular HVAC maintenance appointments

Allergy prevention is a real challenge. And properly maintaining your HVAC system is one of the best weapons in your arsenal in the fight to prevent your allergies from ruining your fall and winter.

We’ve mentioned in previous blogs that semi-annual HVAC maintenance is important for every homeowner, but for those suffering with allergies, it’s critical. You want to be sure your system is working properly and as efficiently as possible. It’s also important to make sure the system is clean of mildew, mold, dust and other contaminants that can affect your indoor air quality.

We recommend having your HVAC system professionally serviced twice a year, in the spring before using the air conditioner for the first time and in the fall before turning on your furnace. If you haven’t done so, contact the Phillips service department today to schedule your fall maintenance. They’ll also be happy to assist you with any questions you may have.

Final thoughts on relieving allergies with your HVAC

As you can see, there’s no one sure way to tackle the complex issue of allergens and HVAC systems. While we wish we could name one method to resolve 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 your particular situation. Whether that means installing filters with higher MERV ratings, making use of humidifiers and/or dehumidifiers, or simply vacuuming more often, we hope our guide can lead you to cleaner air and a more tolerable allergy season.