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Air Purifier Installation Alabaster AL

Unless your home is built to hospital intensive care or computer chip-maker standards, allergens are in the air you breathe and on the surfaces you touch. But the good news is that most common allergens don’t incite a reaction in most people — and those allergens that do cause problems for homeowners can be reduced or eliminated by following some simple procedures or using some relatively inexpensive products.

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Controlling Home Allergens

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Pets can increase the potential for allergic reactions,since pet fur and dander are allergens for many homeowners.
Unless your home is built to hospital intensive care or computer chip-maker standards, allergens are in the air you breathe and on the surfaces you touch. But the good news is that most common allergens don’t incite a reaction in most people — and those allergens that do cause problems for homeowners can be reduced or eliminated by following some simple procedures or using some relatively inexpensive products.

It’s important, however, to know what you’re dealing with in the first place. Basically, household allergens break down into two categories: biological and man-made. Some types of man-made fibers as well as certain chemicals, for instance, can cause allergic reactions. But for our purposes here, we’ll focus on biological allergens.

Exactly which biological allergen is causing a given allergic reaction, such as watery eyes, a runny nose, itchy skin, lethargy, headaches or difficulty breathing, can best be determined by a physician who specializes in allergies and related problems. But cutting down on allergens in your home in general is good preventive health maintenance, sort of like regularly changing the oil in your car.

An effective first step in reducing allergens in the home is simply to vacuum all rugs, drapes, radiators and closets, using a machine equipped with a HEPA filter.
Allergen Soup

Although biological allergens are present in all homes, older homes tend to have more and varied biologicals than newer ones. That’s because there has been more time for allergens to build up, plus there were more organic materials used in the construction of older homes — materials on which many allergen creators thrive.

Moreover, older homes, particularly pre-20th century homes, often have damp basements and poorly insulated walls, both of which are breeding grounds for allergens. Indeed, basements in modern homes, particularly finished basements without a dehumidifier, can be a huge breeding ground of allergens such as molds, mildew and the microscopic spores they generate. And finally, a house’s previous owners’ cleanliness (or lack thereof) may also contribute to increased amounts of allergens in older structures.

How you live in your home also can add to allergens and increase allergic reactions. In fact, the more time you spend in your home, particularly during the winter months when windows and doors are closed, the more likely that homegrown allergens will cause an allergic reaction. In addition, pets and children increase the potential for indoor allergens. Both bring in allergens from their rompings outdoors, and pet fur and dander (a.k.a. dead skin flakes) are allergens for many people.

A home’s heating or cooling system also can be a significant source of allergens and subsequent reactions. Any forced hot air heating or cooling system, in particular, serves two roles in adding to the allergen soup.

First, it agitates and moves allergen-laden air throughout the house, making it easier for those irritants to get into your respiratory system and produce a reaction. Second, an older forced-air system can itself become a breeding ground for allergens. The interior of ductwork located in a dark, damp basement, for example, can harbor mold that produces allergic reactions. Since the inside of ductwork is rarely if ever cleaned, mold can grow unchecked for years, increasing its potency and prevalence. The condensation sumps in air conditioners frequently create the same damp, dark mold-friendly environment, whether the AC unit is located indoors or out.

Finally, most homes have tiny, uninvited critters that create allergens. Plain old cockroaches and creepy microscopic organisms called dust mites are the two biggest sources of home allergens. Dust mites are related to spiders and ticks, although they are not insects. At one-third of a millimeter long, they live primarily on dead human skin scale, which the average human produces at a rate of 5 grams per week. The feces of dust mites cause the allergic reaction. The mites themselves are too big to become airborne.

Ditto for cockroaches, which also produce the feces and leftover body parts that cause a range of allergic reactions. And while on the subject of unwanted critters, don’t forget that even if you don’t have a dog or cat, common, unseen home invaders like bats, mice ands rats can take up residence (or may have done so in the past), leaving behind allergens just as potent as any shaggy pet.

Make a Clean Sweep

So now you know where biological allergens come from. But what can be done about them? Clearly, cleaning is the first order of business in any home suspected of playing host to a plague of allergens. Basic vacuuming of all rugs, drapes, radiators and closets is high on the list of preventive activities.

Equally important, however, is to vacuum with a machine equipped with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. A vacuum that has a reliable HEPA filter will include in its product literature references to U.S. Department of Energy HEPA specifications. Filters or vacuums that don’t meet, recommend or refer to DOE standards for a true HEPA filter are unlikely to be effective in removing allergens.

Vacuuming is a good start in controlling allergens but usually it isn’t enough. Dust mites often burrow deep into carpets and bedding where even the best vacuums cannot reach them. For bedding (a favorite haven for dust mites) and washable carpets, a hot (130 degrees or higher) cleaning in a washing machine, followed by a session in a hot dryer, is the only way to ensure the death and removal of all dust mites. After washing, bedding may need to be encased in mite-proof coverings to prevent a re-infestation.

In addition, some allergists recommend complete removal of all carpeting, particularly wall-to-wall carpeting, because over time it becomes a notorious breeding ground for dust mites.

Solving Basement

Another notorious breeding ground for allergens is the basement, finished or otherwise. Even basements in which the walls and floors have been waterproofed to keep out exterior water frequently have condensation problems during the summer. That’s because in summer the warm moist air of the outdoors comes into contact with the basement’s cold walls and floors, causing condensation, similar to what you see on an icy drink on a hot afternoon.

This can be particularly problematic in a finished basement because the condensation happens behind a secondary finished wall or under floor carpeting. The resulting cool, dark and damp environment is ideal for breeding mold, mildew and the irritating spores (and smells) they generate. The same mold-generating environment can be created during the winter when warm, moist air from kitchen cooking and bathroom showering rises and condenses on the cold ceiling of a poorly ventilated attic.

Solving the basement problem will depend on the extent to which mold and mildews have propagated. Serious problems can be solved only by tearing out the walls and carpets and then cleaning with bleach or other mold-killing products.

To stop the return of these allergens, a dehumidifier will be necessary. Keeping the basement at 50 percent humidity or less will ensure allergens and their propagators don’t thrive again. In fact, studies show that keeping the entire house at 50 percent or less humidity is ideal for controlling many allergens. If an allergist recommends this for asthmatics and other sufferers, consult with a heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor to determine how best to achieve a drier environment in your entire home.

An HVAC contractor can also advise on how best to use an existing forced hot air heating or air conditioning system to reduce allergens. As in vacuuming, you will have to install the appropriate HEPA filters, and change them on a rigorous schedule, both for heating and air conditioning systems. In addition, an HVAC contractor can advise on how best to remove molds and mildew that have already taken hold in existing ductwork.

If your home has an air conditioning system, an HVAC contractor can show you how to remove and clean the condensation sump, which is a notorious site for mold development. Ditto for the condensation sump in you kitchen’s refrigerator. Both should be cleaned on at least an annual basis. As for stand-alone air purifiers, few HVAC contractors or allergists recommend them, mainly because little independent testing of the effectiveness of these units has been carried out.

Other Tips

When cleaning mold and mildew, plain old laundry bleaching products have been the traditional approach. Unfortunately, those chlorine-based liquid bleaches are fairly toxic, requiring the user to, at the very least, wear protective nitrile gloves. Bleach fumes are also tough on delicate respiratory systems and may necessitate the use of an industrial respirator fitted with organic fume cartridges.

Alternatively, there are a number of nonchlorine-based mold and mildew removal products on the market today. Check out the Natural Mold Removal website at or type the words “green mildew removal” into any Internet search engine for suggestions on nonchlorine options.

Finally, to keep pet dander to a minimum, you may want to consult with your vet. Simply washing pets more often with pet-specific shampoos should cut down on dander generation. However, some dog breeds don’t tolerate a lot of washing, so you end up with increased dander production rather than less. Even breeds that do tolerate it may include individual dogs with unique skin problems.

Instead of washing, some dogs and cats may simply require more oil (usually fish oil) in their diet to make their skin less dry and flakey. Simply brushing your pet more can often do the trick. But before taking any measures, consult with your vet. It’s just one of the many steps you can take to reduce allergens in your home and create a healthier indoor environment for you and your family.

Ken Textor is a frequent contributor to Smart HomeOwner. He’s based in Arrowsic, Maine.

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