If you are among the more than 50 million Americans affected by allergies, listen up! As we head into prime allergy season, it’s time to learn about how HVAC & allergies are related. And learn ways to reduce pollen that gets spread by your HVAC system.
This time of year, you may be staying indoors, hoping to avoid allergens and reduce symptoms. However, pollen spores are among the most difficult allergens to avoid. Even indoors it can be hard to remove pollen particles because many of them are so tiny. They also lurk in places you haven’t thought of, like your HVAC system.
HVAC & allergies: what’s the connection?
If you’ve got allergies to airborne particles, like pollen or mold, there’s a big connection between your HVAC & allergies!
It’s simple. Your HVAC system moves air throughout your space. When allergens get into your AC, heating, and ventilation equipment, they get spread around. In fact, when you first turn on the AC in spring, you might have an increase in symptoms. That’s why people think they have HVAC allergies… the problem isn’t the air conditioning itself, it’s because the system is blowing allergens around your space.
If you are suffering from allergy symptoms, call your HVAC service provider. There are things they can do to reduce pollen and other allergens from invading your space and making you sick, such as:
- Installing HVAC allergy filters designed to remove pollen.
- Cleaning your ventilation system to get rid of dust, mold and pollen build up.
- Regularly cleaning and maintaining your equipment components to get rid of accumulated pollen.
BONUS: these strategies can also help to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in your space as well. Learn more from our helpful guide: HVAC Strategies for COVID.
Let’s explore the details of the HVAC – allergy connection and why these tactics can make a big difference.
HVAC & allergies: Get HEPA filters
Some people mistakenly believe that the typical filters in their air conditioners and furnaces protect them from allergens. The truth is, these filters only keep large dirt and debris particles from damaging the equipment. They don’t do anything to protect your lungs and sinuses.
To remove allergens from your indoor air, you need high-energy particulate air filters, more commonly known as HEPA filters. These are the best HVAC filters for allergies. Made from layers of glass fibers formed into pleated paper-like material, HEPA filters trap more than 99 percent of pollen, dust and smoke.
One caveat: HEPA filters can’t be added to every air conditioning system, because the decreased airflow can cause performance issues. And, your system might need modifications to accommodate these larger filters. Talk to your air conditioning professional before buying higher-efficiency filters for your system.
How to choose a HEPA filter to combat HVAC allergies
HVAC filters are rated according to the MERV system. It’s based on how well the filter blocks particles of different sizes. Ratings range from MERV 1 to MERV 20. A higher rating is better for removing tiny particles like pollen.
Standard filters are typically rated MERV 8, and HEPA filters have a MERV rating of 17 or above.
Don’t neglect replacing HEPA filters
For HEPA filters to be effective, they need to be changed at least every other month. Or sometimes more often if you have very high pollen counts and bad allergies. HVAC systems work better with clean filters, also. If a filter gets clogged, it can cause your air conditioner to overheat.
Another option is to install filters that are washable and reusable. In that case, you must clean them often.
If you have an HVAC preventative maintenance contract, make sure it includes bi-monthly filter cleaning or replacement.
HVAC & allergies: Why duct cleaning reduces HVAC allergies
Dust, pollen, moisture and other allergens can collect in your cooling and heating ducts. As your AC and furnace circulate air throughout your home, they are also circulating pollen and even mold spores.
Get experienced pros to clean your air ducts to improve air quality and allergy symptoms.
When duct cleaning is recommended
Having your ducts cleaned is especially important if you have:
- worsening allergies and asthma
- recently undergone a renovation
- an infestation of insects or rodents
- visible mold in and around your HVAC equipment or vents
- Your ducts have never been cleaned!
Duct cleaning: what to expect
- Inspection of the duct work condition (check for tears and holes as well as mold)
- Preparation of the area to protect your carpeting and furniture
- Removal of debris, dirt, pollen and other contaminants with special tools
- Repair of any holes and replacement of insulation if needed
- Replacement of air filters if needed
Find out more: FAQ: Duct Cleaning and Your Indoor Air Quality.
HVAC & allergies: preventative maintenance
If you haven’t done regular preventative maintenance on your cooling and heating equipment, you should schedule a visit for that as well.
Dirty cooling coils, fan motors and blades, drain pans and other parts can cause contaminants and moisture to enter the ducts. When you have too much moisture, mold grows easily. That’s often the cause of HVAC and allergy related problems.
Dirty equipment also puts a strain on your system causing it to use more electricity and parts to wear out faster.
Other steps to stay healthy
In addition to your HVAC, allergies get triggered when you let in more pollen. Try these steps to keep it out:
- Keep doors and windows closed, especially during the peak pollen hours of 5:00am to 10:00am.
- Have cleaning staff use vacuums with HEPA filters and dust with a damp cloth. That prevents sending pollen spores into the air.
- Avoid using ion-based air purifiers. These can remove pollen but create ozone that can worsen allergy and asthma symptoms.
As you can see, your HVAC and allergies are closely related.
By regularly taking care of your system, you can prevent pollen and other allergens from invading your space. And making your allergy symptoms worse.