Your house is supposed to be your haven. But for many of us, even staying inside our four walls doesn’t prevent allergic reactions. In this article, we dive into nine practical steps you can take to remove the causes of allergies from your home. Take control back and enjoy your castle!
Step 1: Define what allergens are in your home
Many people are quite aware of the cause of their histamine attacks. When pollen counts are high, the eyes itch, and sneezing starts up. Pollen is the culprit. But others have a consistent year-round challenge. Sometimes it’s when they enter a certain room of the house. Or the flare-ups just don’t lineup with high pollen counts.
To tell more accurately what your air-menace is, measure your indoor air quality with an accurate IAQ monitor or meter. It’s not too spendy to buy one. With your own air monitor, you will be able to tell any day of the year what’s the status of your indoor air.
Most monitors on the market are consumer-grade, so the degree of accuracy isn’t quite as good as professional meters. However, they do work sufficiently for most allergy sufferers. At the minimum, make sure you buy a monitor that measures PM2.5 (particulate matter micron size) and TVOC including formaldehyde. I suggest getting a model that also measures radon and other gases like carbon dioxide.
You can buy a commercial-grade IAQ meter... if you’re ready to part with an arm and a leg. They can be quite expensive. A more affordable solution for the best IAQ diagnosis is to call an indoor air quality specialist (like Solutions Heating and Cooling). They have commercial IAQ meters to give you the most accurate assessment possible. The results can be yours much more affordably than buying your own professional IAQ meter.
Step 2: Categorize the allergy-culprit with the right type of remedy.
There are three main categories of pollutants, each with its own remedies. Depending on what’s causing your air quality issues and allergic reactions, you’ll need to go down the right solution-based path. Here are the three paths to cleaner air:
Gas-Phase Pollutants: Different gases can cause allergic-type reactions, like formaldehyde and tobacco residues. These are generally VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. They may be off-gassing from furniture, carpet, or paint. They could be third-hand smoke (called THS) residues on the walls, ceiling, and air ducts. They could also be from other chemicals in the house. We invite you to read our article specifically on removing VOCs and odors from your house if this is the cause.
Mold, Bacteria, and Viruses: Is the issue bio-threats, like mold, bacteria, or viruses? Mold spores can be detected with both a good VOC sensor and a PM2.5 sensor. You can also purchase a mold test kit for a more accurate result. While mold spores can generally be filtered out of the air without a problem, mold issues should not be taken lightly. By the time you have symptoms, the mold could already be a big problem inside your walls.
During this covid pandemic, many are searching for solutions to filter out or kill viral and bacterial threats. Even once we are past this crisis, seasonal flu, the common cold, coronaviruses, and other biohazards will still keep coming. These are not so easily removed with particulate filters since they can be much smaller than a micron. For a detailed look at this problem and the solutions available, see our article on dealing with mold, bacteria, and viruses in the house.
Particulate Matter: The third group of allergens falls into the air-borne particulates category. These include pet dander, dust mites, and plant pollens. If these are the source of your allergic reactions, this is good news. Most of these allergens are of larger particle size. That means that there are affordable and practical steps you can take to remove these irritants from your air. The rest of the steps in this article will help you to remove these pesky particulates from your house.
Step 3: Swap out your HVAC filters.
Every HVAC pro will tell you to swap out your filters because old filters are hard on your central air system and increase your electric bill. But more importantly, these dirty filters can also be hard on your lungs. Dirty filters don’t have the same grab-and-capture capability as clean filters do. Pollen, dust, and dander may go through them more readily.
When you buy your new filters, some choose as high of MERV rating that their system can handle. Typically, that will be a MERV6 – MERV8. You can go a little higher with an electrostatic filter. Click here for a detailed answer on the best filter for your HVAC system.
Step 4 – Minimize tracking in pollen, pet dander, viruses, and other pollutants.
A child tracking mud into the house is a very visible mess. We quickly tell them to stop and remove their shoes and muddy clothes in the mudroom. But what about the pollen, viruses, and dander that we cannot see? Adults and kids alike track these contaminants throughout your home. Any dirty clothes and shoes you can limit to a mudroom or garage will be that much fewer allergens tracked into the house.
The more you can minimize introducing allergens into your home, the easier it will be for your filters to do their job of removing these contaminants. We suggest having a system where pollen-infested clothing goes as quickly into a hamper or washing machine as possible. After a day in the pollen or visiting a house with pets, a complete shower and hair wash would remove irritants and keep them out of your pillow and bed.
Step 5 – Avoid opening windows and doors on bad-air days
Keeping windows open can add some greatly needed fresh air. But it also has the potential of bringing in the contaminants that cause your allergic reaction. This is especially so during allergy season, or when there are high levels of smoke or pollutants in the air. For those suffering from a major allergy outbreak, it's best to use your well-filtered HVAC system to freshen up your indoor air and keep the right climate control.
One caveat to this suggestion – “clean air” means much more than simply a good MERV filter. In step one, we mentioned monitoring your indoor air quality. If reducing opened windows and doors lowers the air quality due to VOCs, radon, mold, or other contaminants that MERV filters can’t deal with, then you’ll need a better solution. You will need either to add filtered external air into your system or deal directly with the remaining indoor air contaminants.
Step 6 – Use a portable air purifier where you sleep.
Where you sleep is where you inhale the most. Sleeping should be your body’s detox time, not time to load up on more pollen and dust. And if you can’t sleep because of allergies, it makes it all the harder to manage histamine and allergic responses.
Look for a portable air purifier that is “True HEPA,” rated H13. If you can get one that is also electrostatically charged and includes an activated carbon stage, even better. For a more detailed look at how to pick the right portable air purifier, check this article out…
Step 7 – Get your air ducts cleaned
Over time your HVAC air ducts collect dust and other buildups, such as third-hand smoke or mold. These particulates, VOCs, and odors can cause allergic responses. But don't worry. You don't have to replace all your ducts to fix this.
Professional air duct cleaners have equipment that works their way through the ducts, similar to how modern surgical techniques can run a camera up a blood vessel and perform internal procedures without cutting the patient wide-open.
With the duct-cleaning equipment, technicians can scrub down the ducts. They remove the debris as they go, vacuuming it out of your air ducts and out of your life. Addressing dirty air ducts can reduce allergic responses to the contaminants in them.
Step 8 – Get a thorough HVAC maintenance done
Unoptimized central air systems will leak air throughout your system. Air that is lost from leaky ducts is then replaced into your system through unfiltered channels. And that's bad news for allergy sufferers. Duct leaks can also reduce the effectiveness of your air filters. Your efforts to improve your filters may be in vain since stronger filters will suck more unfiltered air in through the leaks.
HVAC inspections’ primary purpose is to keep your system running optimally. But they have the added benefit of potentially reducing allergens. Systems that are running properly will not leak as much air, letting your filters work to their optimum potential.
Solutions Heating and Cooling performs duct cleaning services, as well as air leak and performance optimizations in Southside Virginia regions of Danville, South Boston/Halifax, South Hill, and surrounding towns. We would be happy to help you get your HVAC ducts in great shape and reduce your allergy problems.
Step 9 – Consider a whole-house central air scrubber
These scrubbers go further than simple air filters. They add a much higher level of purification to your system than your standard air filters can achieve. Many HVAC scrubbers include more cleaning power than just particulate filtering. Air scrubbers can remove VOCs, kill mold, and even kill viruses like covid.
Since air scrubbers are fitted into and utilize power from your central air system, it’s best to get professional assistance. During installation, your system will be optimized to properly control the usage of the air scrubber, thus maximizing the functionality of the components.
Getting Professional Indoor Air Quality Assistance
Fighting allergies can seem like an uphill battle. But it’s not impossible. By taking your own measures and by calling an indoor air quality professional, you can get control of your house, and turn your home into an allergy-free haven.
If you need help battling allergies in your house, feel free to call the IAQ experts at Solutions Heating and Cooling. We love helping people breathe freely in their homes.