Billowing dust isn't something you want in your home, yet it's what happens with forced-air heating, one of the least expensive forms of heating. If your house came with such a system, be sure to clean the filters at least twice a month and cover vents in each room with a fine mesh screen to keep dust particles down. However, don't bother to have your ducts cleaned. There have been five studies examining the effects of duct cleaning, and none have shown any benefit at all.
Radiant heating (in which heated water is passed through piping underneath the floor) and baseboard heating don't disturb dust particles as they heat. Radiators, especially those found in older homes, must be cleaned regularly as dust collects behind and underneath them.
If you heat the old-fashioned way, via a woodburning fireplace or coal stove, consider replacing them, as they produce smoke, carbon dioxide, and many other irritating gases. While not as cozy, electric fires won't produce such gases. Space heaters that burn natural gas, kerosene, or butane all emit harmful gases and should never be considered a heating option in an allergic person's home or work environment.
There has been much hoopla about the ability of air filters, particularly HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance) filters, to remove airborne allergens. And now HEPA's efficacy has been documented in a collaborative study between the University of Colorado and National Jewish Medical and Research Center. The study, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, found that the use of HEPA-filter vacuums and air purifiers in homes reduced the concentration of particles less than 10 microns by almost 50 percent.
If you choose to augment your cleaning process with air filters, be forewarned that they don't come cheap, and like any other filter, they must be changed regularly. People with allergies who don't have a forced-air heating/cooling system can purchase freestanding units, which will help keep the bedroom free of airborne allergens, such as pollen and animal dander. Some models come equipped with charcoal filters that help eliminate cigarette odors. When choosing a portable HEPA air filter, note the noise level and the price (between $100 and $500), and be sure to buy a system that's large enough to clean your room. Place the filter off the floor in the middle of a closed room and away from dusty areas since the unit's fan sometimes churns up dust particles. Run it constantly or after vacuuming.
Allergy sufferers with forced-air heating/cooling systems may want to invest in a whole-house filter, which attaches to the furnace. There are several kinds of filters, which can be easily affixed to the furnace. Many can be washed and reused. HEPA filters may not be an option; consult a heating and air conditioning contractor.
It's true that you should use air filters, but you can't rely on them alone. Use them as part of an all-out campaign to reduce allergens. Relying only on an air filter to remove allergens is like asking dust mites to leave: It doesn't work.
Whether it be an air conditioner, dehumidifier, or heating system, paying attention to your home climate control systems is essential when trying to maintain an allergy-proof home.
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