How do I Choose the Best Air Filtration System?

Erin J. Hill

Every day, the human body is bombarded by a myriad of invaders that threaten both health and comfort of the general population. These can include allergens like dust and pollen, exhaust from chemical laden sources like gasoline vehicles and secondhand smoke, and diseases ranging from the common cold to lethal strains of the flu virus. The human immune system is a powerful force against these foreign bodies, but sometimes even that isn’t enough to fend off the most volatile of intruders. To help lend a hand, many home and business owners have turned to an air filtration system.

An air filtration device.
An air filtration device.

Unlike the outdoors, there is very little air movement in the buildings where most people spend the majority of their time. This is why research has suggested that indoor air pollution is three to five times worse than the pollution outdoors. Some indoor pollutants can be lessened by opening doors and windows several times a week, but this option is not always feasible for allergy sufferers or during cold or in harsh weather conditions. An air filtration system can help alleviate the problem without sacrificing comfort.

Secondhand smoke rising from a cigarette, which can be filtered by an air filtration system.
Secondhand smoke rising from a cigarette, which can be filtered by an air filtration system.

There are many types of air filtration systems. From HVAC systems with built in air purifiers to vacuum cleaners with HEPA technology: there are plenty of options for anyone looking to improve their air quality. To choose the best air filtration system for any given location, there are a few basic things to consider.

First, it is necessary to evaluate the overall air quality in the building where the air filtration system will be installed. This can be an extensive test with experts who use specialized monitors and strips to detect the presence of key allergens and hazards, or a simple checklist of risk factors. Does anyone smoke inside the building? Has each room been tested for mold within the last few years? How clean and well-kept is the location? These questions will help determine the type of air filtration system that may be necessary to improve overall air quality.

You may choose to have an air purifying system installed directly onto the furnace or central air conditioning. The benefits of this option are that the entire building can be filtered at once and there is nothing for the home or business owner to install or carry around. The downside is that these systems require very frequent filter replacements as well as water replacement if there is a built-in humidifier. Otherwise, mold and mildew can take residence directly on the filter and the furnace will blow spores through each air vent. These air filtration systems are also inferior to some smaller, less expensive, models.

Portable units are perhaps the most common variety of air filtration system, as they can be moved from room to room. They work much the same as permanent systems, with the difference being in size and the amount of air they can filter at once. In very smoky or allergen-prone homes, such as those in wet climates where mold is a prevalent, more than one unit may be necessary. These smaller units are generally rated by the amount of space they effect. Therefore, it is important to choose a filtration device that is powerful enough for the room in which it will be used.

There are also other types of air filtration systems that can be used in conjunction with the standard filter varieties. For example, ionic systems send an electric current through the air that adheres to pollution molecules and forces them onto a filter. Electrostatic precipitators are another option, and they work by creating an opposite charge on metal wires which draw in pollutants and hold them to a filter made from metal, glass, or fiberglass. Metal and glass filters can be washed and re-used, making them more cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

HEPA, or high efficiency particulate air filters are generally more efficient than standard varieties at trapping some microorganisms. These can be purchased in portable units, and some come standard on devices like vacuum cleaners and air vents. Ultraviolet light filters are also available, and they work by sending a stream of light to trap pollutants or allergens of any size and destroying them on contact with no filter needed.

Prices for an air filtration system vary. Smaller units that use a standard filter can cost under $100 US Dollars, while larger more efficient systems may cost into the thousands. Study each type carefully and speak with experts at local HVAC or home improvement stores for information on the effectiveness of each unit. Also choose a system that targets the worst offenders in the area, or that can handle all air pollutants in the most efficient and cost effective manner.

Laboratories often require high powered air filtration systems.
Laboratories often require high powered air filtration systems.

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