Whole-Home Air Cleaners are Changing

April 21, 2008
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Aprilaire said its new control is designed to provide validation the air cleaner is working by indicating through a sequence of bars that rise when the blower is energized.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, respiratory allergies are the fifth-leading chronic diseases in American adults and children and make up more than 50 percent of all allergic cases. The economic impact of this epidemic can be seen in several sectors; medications alone cost almost $6 billion, and doctor/hospital visits add another $1 billion.

There is no doubt that these allergy sufferers are turning to air-cleaning products for relief, and the market has grown at a significant rate in the last several years.

For those of you who install whole-home air cleaners, this should mean big business, right? Surprisingly no. The portable air cleaning market seems to be reaping most of the reward. The portable air cleaning market grew at 19.5 percent from 1999 to 2004, but the installed air cleaning market has not kept pace.

There is no doubt that there is a market for portable air cleaners, as anyone without a forced-air heating and cooling system or living in an apartment is not in the market for a whole-home unit. Yet the number of portables being sold is astronomical, especially when you consider consumer feedback and industry research showing that portable air cleaners have shortcomings, the most serious being overall performance.

Whole-home air cleaners, installed on the heating and air conditioning system, not only are designed to extract more contaminates, they are also designed to simultaneously circulate that freshly cleaned air throughout the home.

Considerably more powerful than portable units, whole-home air cleaners are designed to clean the air in every room of the home approximately four times an hour, operating silently. At the same time, whole-home units have been proven to use less energy and require only periodic maintenance as compared with portables.

Given the benefits of a whole-home air cleaner versus a portable air cleaner, why is there such a disparity in the number sold - especially since virtually all major brands in the HVAC channel have launched new air cleaner models with improved technologies and performance in the last number of years? Let’s examine some of the possible reasons.



MARKETING, INTERACTION

Part of the success may be due to the repetitive and intense exposure of portables through commercials, advertisements, and infomercials directly aimed at communicating the “See how effective this product is” message.

From the advertising to the visuals on the packaging, they market the need as well as the solution. However, research conducted recently by Aprilaire concludes there is more to the story.

Research has shown that the success of the portables market is because there is a clear need for products that provide consumers with a way to interact, control, and view the results as they clean the air in their homes. This can best be described as active versus passive participation.

Unlike portables that use various visual and audible cues to indicate they are “cleaning,” historically whole-home air cleaners provide no control or feedback as they operate in a stealth mode, behind the scenes. Often the only interaction the homeowner has with the device is through the thermostat, or when annual maintenance is required. Therefore, there is a clear need for manufacturers to provide consumers with a way to interact and control whole-home air cleaners.



At left is a house with protable air purifiers. At right is a house with an installed whole-house air cleaner. Note that the house on the left requires a separate unit for every room; each unit's effectiveness is limited to its immediate vicinity; each stand-alone unit can be noisy and intrude into a living space; and each portable requires maintenance checks. The house on the right requires one unit for the entire home; the unit is installed out of sight, away fromthe living area; it requires once-a-year maintenance; and one unit can be less costly to operate than several portables.

This brings us to the fundamental product improvements to help bridge the gap between whole-home and portable air cleaners.

Consumers need to be reassured that their whole-home, air-cleaning product is working. Even though portable air cleaners are visible, make noise, and require frequent maintenance, at least the consumer has an awareness of the device.

Even though there are drawbacks to the portable air cleaner, there is a form of validation that the product is doing something. Having a visible and meaningful level of control, providing important maintenance information, and instant feedback in the living space brings quantifiable value to the homeowner.

Whole-home air cleaners are controlled by the thermostat, and temperature is not an effective control method for air cleaning. Many allergen and irritant levels spike during moderate temperatures, such as spring and fall when heating or cooling calls are less frequent. Controlling the air cleaner through the thermostat may be ineffective, confusing, or even technically challenging.

Many homeowners do not understand that the concept of “fan on” is a way to continuously clean the air in their home. Certain other particulate-generating events - such as vacuuming, dusting, and construction - have nothing to do with temperature. Consumers need operating options based on events, triggers, longevity, and severity of air quality issues.

Manufacturers of installed whole-home air-cleaning equipment will continue to innovate and create high-performance equipment, as well as increase market exposure and consumer education. Experience has shown that when a contractor or salesperson has the opportunity to explain the benefits, advantages, and value of whole-home air cleaners, the consumer will often elect to purchase them.

Industry manufacturers will need to continue to listen to consumer needs and bring greater levels of feedback, control, and value to products. Building better filtering devices alone does not necessarily result in increased market share.



Aprilaire recently introduced its Model 4000 series air cleaners that feature a MERV 13 filter and its patented Air Cleaner Control.

Sidebar: See, Touch, Feel

Extensive consumer research by Aprilaire revealed that homeowners want and are willing to pay for all the benefits that a whole-home air cleaner provides, but they really liked the interaction that portable air cleaners allow.

With that in mind, the manufacturer recently introduced its Model 4000 series air cleaners that feature a MERV 13 filter and its patented Air Cleaner Control. Just as important, its new product is designed to give homeowners the visibility and control they seek when it comes to actively managing their indoor environments.

According to the manufacturer, with a touch of a button, its new Air Cleaner Control can clean the air based on personal preference and event triggers:

Constant cleaning: Air cleaner is active for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Automatic: Air cleaner will run a minimum of 30 minutes per hour.

Event clean: Air cleaners will run for three hours continuously and then turn off.

Allergies: Air cleaner will run continuously for 24 hours and then turn off.

“Historically, homeowners have purchased whole-home air cleaners because they wanted the efficiency and convenience of cleaning all the air in their homes, especially during peak allergy seasons, spring and fall.” said John Frank, air cleaner product manager for Aprilaire.

“Unfortunately these are also the times of year when outdoor temperatures are more moderate and the heating and cooling system tends to run very little, meaning there is a pretty good chance the air is not being cleaned. We call this ‘passive’ air cleaning, as the homeowner has little control on the heating systems’ fan run time. The new living space control now allows the homeowner to actively clean the air in their home based on their needs.”

Installed next to the thermostat or on the air-cleaning unit, the new control is designed to provide validation the air cleaner is working by indicating through a sequence of bars that rise when the blower on the heating and cooling system is energized. It also indicates when the filter needs to be replaced based on blower run time.

“We know through research that most people buy portable air cleaners to help alleviate some sort of respiratory issue. This cannot be accomplished with one portable air cleaner for an entire home,” said Frank. “Homeowners actually get the relief they are looking for when using a whole-home unit.”

For more information on the Model 4000 Series air cleaners and the new Air Cleaner Control, visit www.aprilairepartners.com.

Publication Date: 04/21/2008

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