The Great Air Filtration Upsurge

December 19, 2002
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Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and air filtration seem to have upstaged many other HVAC-related issues in the last year, and for good reason. If it wasn’t concern over biological terrorism showing up in the media, it was concern over black mold. This focus renewed speculation about indoor air in general. Many consumers have realized recently that the indoor air they breathe can have a significant impact on their health. These are not new concerns, but it is safe to say that in the last year, more than ever, building owners and customers have expressed a greater interest in protecting the air in their environment.

So the question is, are you taking the opportunity to educate yourself and your customers about air filtration? And are you taking advantage of the opportunity to give customers what they are demanding? According to many in the industry, there is no better time than now to upgrade consumers to better air filtration.

AREAS OF CONCERN

According to Charlie Seyffer, marketing manager for air filter manufacturer Camfil Farr (Riverdale, NJ), the events of Sept. 11, 2001 pushed the air filtration market to a new level, and the mold issue has propelled the idea of air filtration even further.

“The end-user and public concern has been unbelievable,” he said.

Seyffer explained that interest in air filtration technology has been around for many years, but recent events have caused many consumers to educate themselves about such issues — so much so that the industry is beginning to see more consumers request up-grades in their air filtration.

“More consumers are asking for better air filtration than contractors are offering it,” said Seyffer.

He believes that contractors have to deal with so many separate issues for each application that sometimes the idea of air filtration may slip out of view. But Seyffer said that if contractors can just remember to sit down with consumers and offer them different air filtration options, odds are good that the consumer will go along — and be pleased with the end result.

THE IMPORTANCE OF AIR FILTRATION

Tom Homan of Allied Supply Co. in Dayton, OH, has done his research when it comes to IAQ and air filtration. Allied Supply, a full service wholesale distributor of HVACR equipment, including IAQ products, serves markets in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky.

Homan said that he believes the IAQ market has grown by as much as 20 percent in the last year. Much of this he said has to do with current events, such as biological issues and mold contamination, but Homan also said that consumers are often just exercising common sense.

“You wouldn’t take your car and run it for 50,000 miles without a filter change,” Homan said, adding that more consumers are realizing the same thing is true for their HVAC systems.

Homan’s company also did research on how many contractors are offering IAQ products and upgrades to their customers. According to Homan, only three out of every 10 contractors will offer such an opportunity to an end user.

He believes that some contractors may be apprehensive to sell higher end air filtration because of the initial cost, especially when it is tacked on to other installation work. If a consumer has not already asked for information on air filtration and needs some information, Homan said that contractors should stress two reasons why proper air filtration is important.

First, Homan said that air filtration is important from a health perspective. He said it can help in eliminating the spread of germs and can benefit consumers that already have allergies or health problems.

Homan said that he is on the board of the American Lung Association (ALA) in his area. The statistics he has seen from the ALA about asthma and allergy rates have reinforced his view that proper filtration is more important than ever.

Homan also said it is important to emphasize that better air filtration can extend the life of the HVAC system. “We feel that 40% of mechanical problems are related to dirty coils. Proper air filtration can keep coils clean, which leads to fewer breakdowns of equipment.”

(Photos courtesy of Camfil Farr.)

A MATTER OF EDUCATION

Sam Hawker, a contractor with Smith-Boughan Mechanical Services (Shawnee, OH), agrees with Homan. Hawker said that his company aims to provide its customers with the best quality possible. This means offering the best air filtration available for the job.

“I think there are too many uneducated contractors who are doing an injustice by not educating customers,” said Hawker.

Hawker suggests that contractors spell out for customers what kind of money they will save in the long run by purchasing high-end air filtration.

“You have to look at the life cycle costs,” said Hawker. “You can’t just look at the initial cost. To do it justice, you have to share with [the customer] the true cost.”

He said that an installation may cost more time and money, but, in the long run, equipment will be more efficient, and this will cut down on energy costs. It could also help prevent mechanical failures, which could save the customer money down the road.

If you can’t explain to the consumer why air filtration is so important, Homan suggest showing them. He said that contractors could use a laser particle counter to measure the number of particles per cubic feet for homeowners.

“The microscopic particles are what are really a problem,” Homan said. “What you can’t see is what is harmful.”

SITUATIONS AND SOLUTIONS

There are several situations where air filtration can be upgraded. Homan said that many schools are adopting better filtration systems. The goal is to keep students healthy and stop the spread of germs and viruses.

Another expanding market includes healthcare buildings, especially those that are for outpatient services, such as medical clinics and dentist offices.

Hawker said that there are several products now on the market that also help in eliminating odors such as cigarette smoke. These types of filters are perfect for bowling alleys, casinos, and bars, he notes.

Homan said that he has seen a demand for such products as electronic air cleaners and ultraviolet (UV) lights. He has also seen a demand for stand-alone HEPA filtration systems that do not work in conjunction with the HVAC system. These, he said, have sold very well and have been requested by individuals with breathing problems such as asthma and emphysema.

But not every application demands a high-end filtration system. Seyffer said that in many residential situations, filtration can be improved just by upgrading a consumer to a pleated air filter.

The filters typically used as original equipment in residential air handlers are flat-panel fiberglass pads. According to Camfil Farr, the surface of these filters will eventually become loaded with dirt and debris and increase the resistance to airflow. If the filter is not changed in a timely fashion, the resistance can become so high that the system actually pushes dirt through the filter. The common term for this process is “unloading.”

Pleated filters can minimize these problems, said Seyffer. “Because the filter fiber diameters are so much smaller and the media more closely packed than that of flat pads, these filters have a much higher small particle capture efficiency,” he said.

He also noted that pleated filters have an expanded media surface area, which can ensure that the filter’s resistance to airflow does not tax the system blower.

With Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values (MERVs), consumers can also get a better idea of how well their air filter performs. The MERV system has been used more in the commercial market, but is now beginning to be used for more residential applications. Under ASHRAE Standard 52.2, filter performance is measured based on efficiency specific to particle sizes. It addresses airborne contaminants in 12 specific particle ranges. The smallest particle of evaluation is 0.3 microns in size, the largest over 7 microns.

Camfil Farr said that typical pleated filters will have a MERV ranging from six to eight. Flat panel filters, on the other hand, have a MERV of about three to five.

Seyffer said that contractors’ need to ask their consumers what their goal is when it comes to air filtration. If allergies and bacteria are a concern, Seyffer said that pleated filters can do a quite thorough job of eliminating these kinds of particulates.

“Air filtration, when combined with proper A/C system operation, can reduce these contaminants to manageable levels,” he said. “Over 98 percent of all bacteria known to man are over 3.0 microns in size. Molds are actually quite larger than bacteria, with the vast majority over 3.0 microns.”

Seyffer noted that pleated filters have an excellent efficiency on particles of this size. In fact, the initial efficiency of a MERV 7 pleated panel filter on 3.0-micron-sized particles is over 60 percent and quickly rises to an efficiency of above 80 percent within days of the application. He said that these filters can actually become more efficient over time as dirt becomes part of the particle capture.

For more information, visit www.camfilfarr.info (website).

Publication date: 12/23/2002

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