By Glenn Haege / Special to The Detroit News
Many of the things we do to make our homes energy efficient such as adding insulation, installing new windows, even caulking save money on fuel bills but make our homes less healthy places in which to live. Sealing out drafts also seals out healthy fresh air and traps moist air, laden with household gases, inside. This moist, stagnant air is unhealthy to breathe and provides excellent breeding conditions for mold and other microorganisms.
The American Lung Association often sites U.S. Environmental Protection Agency statistics that the air we breathe in our homes may be anywhere from two to 100 times more polluted than outside air.
David Mudarri of the EPA's Indoor Environments Division believes that about 40 percent of us suffer effects ranging from dry eyes and sniffles to severe asthma attacks every week. His views and those of other experts appeared in an excellent article, "Indoor Air Pollution Can Cause a Sick Home," by Joysa Winters of the Rocky Mountain News. The complete text is available on the Indoor Air Quality News page of the International Union of Operating Engineers IAQ web site (http://iaq.iuoe.org/index.htm).
As consumers, there is a lot we can do to make the air in our homes cleaner. Air infiltration devices, such as the Skuttle model 216, can bring fresh air into the house. Thick media filters and electronic air cleaners can clean the air, but they miss some of the finest particles. Cleaning and sanitizing the ductwork can cut down on dust and mold. Clean air legislation is making paints and chemicals more benign than their predecessors.
Now ultraviolet light has been added to the arsenal. The greatest source of UV is the sun. Its rays bleach furniture and fabrics and turn wooden decks gray. We use sunscreens, sunglasses and hats to protect our skin and eyes from its power.
UV waves are even more dangerous to molds and bacteria. They penetrate cell walls and change the organisms' DNA, making cell reproduction impossible.
Technology using UV has been available commercially for 40 years but has only been introduced on the residential level recently. Williams Refrigeration, (888) 268-5445, in Warren, and Sanit-Air, (888) 778-7324, in Troy, are among the pioneers and have been installing UV devices for more than two years.
To test-run the technology, I had Williams Refrigeration install UV in my heating system. My publisher at Master Handyman Press worked with Sanit-Air to test another UV system. Both of us noticed measurable improvements in air quality.
Not all UV lights are created equal. Some create ozone. Some do not. Ozone is an unstable O3 molecule. Many people consider ozone a side benefit because it zaps contaminants in the air. Connie Morbach of Sanit-Air is a licensed ozone technologist and is ultra conservative when it comes to ozone use.
"Some people are very sensitive to ozone. If there is enough ozone in the air to give a diluted bleach smell, the homeowner could experience unhealthy side effects," Morbach says.
One of the main reasons that she chose the UV system from AirPal, (877) 426-9211, was that the UV lights her company installs do not produce ozone. Roger Ferguson of Environmental Dynamics Group, (800) 916-7873, distributes the Air Pal system.
Williams Refrigeration installed the Second Wind Air Purifier, (877) 263-9463, which according to the manufacturer, produces a unique oxygen molecule called an "oxygen singlet" in addition to ultraviolet light. These molecules last only 5/100 of a second, but during this short period have a unique ability to destroy noxious gases, VOC's and Hydrocarbons.
Most UV systems cost in the $600 to $800 range. Ultraviolet lamps lose their effectiveness after a year. Replacements cost about $100.
This February, UV technology received a big boost when Honeywell introduced UV lights as part of its new Enviracaire Elite Whole-House Air Quality System. The Enviracaire Elite combines UV technology with air cleaning and humidification to promote total indoor air quality.
Honeywell uses different designs of UV lights to kill airborne bacteria in the return-air duct and to stop mold growth above the central air conditioner cooling coil. None of the UV lights in the Honeywell system produce ozone.
The entry of a large company like Honeywell into the field adds a great deal of credibility to UV technology.
If you want to improve your home's air quality, there may be a UV light at the end of the tunnel. It could help you breathe a lot easier.