HVAC contractors have already been accustomed to adding a new season to heating and cooling seasons. Allergy season often refers to spring’s pollen season, which can bring increased calls for IAQ-related service and sales. The 2010 pollen season has been getting publicity in many consumer publications because of its off-the-charts pollen counts, according toHealthDay News, as reported on website www.pollen.com.
“A cold winter followed by a sudden and sustained warming trend has boosted pollen counts to near-record highs across the United States this spring,” reported the website. “All of that has led to one of the most miserable allergy seasons in recent memory for the 50 million Americans who find themselves suffering itchy eyes, runny noses, and scratchy throats this time of year.”
“In Atlanta, we recently saw the second highest pollen count ever - 5,733,” said meteorologist Carl Parker from The Weather Channel. “A level of 1,500 is considered very high, so this was off the charts,” he explained. Pollen counts are measured in grains of pollen per cubic meter in a sample collected over a 24-hour period.
How is weather to blame? “Timing is everything and, in a lot of years, you might have bouts of warm followed by cold,” said Parker. “This year, across a lot of the country, we were cold for a long time, and then the air pattern warmed and it was like we flipped a switch.”
In addition, “the same system that’s bringing in the warm air has also been blocking rainstorms from coming in, and normally, rain comes through and knocks the pollen down, clearing things out,” Parker said.
All of which is being broadly reported to consumer media to a suffering public looking for solutions. Are more of them turning to their HVAC contractors for IAQ solutions? According to the NATE-certified servicersThe NEWSspoke with, IAQ has been increasing with or without the pollen publicity.
REACHING HVACGreg Kristiansen, president of GSK Climate Control Inc., a 100 percent NATE-certified contractor in East Dorset, Vt., said that IAQ is receiving more consumer interest, “and not just because of the pollen,” he said. “New homes are so tight; when we do new homes, we offer air purification.” The company uses an IAQ monitor from Air Advice that tracks temperature, humidity, CO, CO2, and VOCs.
“Most everybody will have high particulates, some have high CO2 in tight homes,” Kristiansen said. “We hear from people with medical conditions - usually it’s pretty severe and they see an improvement” after the contractor performs IAQ services.” The contractor offers whole-house filtration, dehumidifiers, humidifiers, and Lennox air purifiers mounted in the system.
Steve Goodenough, regional technical service advisor/trainer with Carthage Heating and Cooling, a Republic Company in Carthage, Mass., said his customers’ concerns are “mainly dust reduction in the home, and the ease of finding and replacing the filter when needed. Several of our customers are on a monthly filter service. When times are slow, we know we’ve got our filter customers.”
“When the need is higher, sales increase,” said Mike Rimrodt, marketing director for Aprilaire. “Our numbers bear that out. Also, consumer confidence is improving,” though it’s “nowhere near what we would consider back to normal,” he said.
Rimrodt said Aprilaire classifies IAQ problems “in two buckets - pollen and asthma. Pollen is a much larger, micron-sized particulate. It lodges in the nose and throat. For people with asthma, very small particulate lodges deep in the lung.” The difference in particulates “translates to the MERV filtration you need in an air cleaner,” he said.
CONSUMER STRATEGIESBoth Rimrodt and Parker had tips for people with allergies on high-pollen-count days:
• Stay indoors as much as possible. Keep windows closed so the pollen doesn’t get in. Parker advised against going out in the morning hours, when pollen is much worse.
• Keep your windows closed and run the air conditioner, “just to filter the air. Make sure the filters for your air conditioner are clean.”
“The air inside your home can be 100 times more polluted than the air outside,” said Al Lord, owner of Air Quality Systems in McFarland, Wis. “According to the EPA, our homes are loaded with pollutants like pollen, lung-damaging dust, pet hair, dander, dust mites, mold spores, bacteria, and viruses. It’s no wonder they list indoor air quality as one of the top-five environmental risks to public health today.
“Unfortunately, most homeowners believe the standard throwaway furnace filter is doing the job; they couldn’t be more wrong,” he said. “The typical 1-inch filters people use on the furnace only traps about 5-15 percent of airborne particulates, leaving 85-95 percent of particulate matter to accumulate in their homes.
“Additionally,” he said, “with homes being built and remodeled tighter than ever, many homes are nearly draft free. With the process of making homes more energy efficient, we are also creating a number of filtration issues. The particulate matter and allergens that can accumulate include airborne pollutants, biological contaminants, and odors or vapors.”
“When contractors are in the home,” said Rimrodt, “they can make an assumption that somebody there suffers from respiratory issues. Plus, a cleaner home and healthier HVAC system is of benefit to every single home. So, if they quote the air cleaner, they will close more.”
The company talks to pharmaceutical companies, and their customers are spending tons of money on products to relieve symptoms; “they would instantaneously buy an air cleaner, if they just knew how it helped,” said Rimrodt.
“When the need is the highest, and you’re in the home and quoting an air cleaner, the chance of closing it is so much higher,” he said. “We offer in-home literature contractors can leave in the home. They don’t need to do a pitch.”
Kristiansen said that “with IAQ, you have to look at the whole shell, look at the drainage, shell, plumbing vents, bathroom and kitchen exhaust, and make sure everything has enough air. You want to bring in outdoor air controlled - it’s a lot more than putting in an air-cleaning system.
“Sit down and talk to them,” he advised; “find out how the house is used. One lady brought in stuff to clean commercially, the house smelled like formaldehyde.
“It’s exactly like building performance,” he said. “You’re looking at the house as a whole.”