Over time, any industry will see patterns and trends. Something happens that's either natural (disaster) or manmade (legislative), and it creates a shift in business as usual. People panic, the media hypes it, and the situation eventually plays out. (Note: The media typically stops hyping it before the dilemma has been resolved. Ask the families displaced by Hurricane Katrina.)

For the HVACR industry, one of the more recent developments has been the emergence and, according to some sources, market dominance of ozone-generating room air cleaners. It's not on the same level with disasters like Katrina; perhaps it's more like gradual soil erosion that eventually causes homes to tumble into the ocean.

Executives from a major unitary manufacturer recently compared the loss of market due to the public's acceptance of room air cleaners to the plumbing industry's loss of market when bottled water hit retailers' shelves. These executives said that a few years ago, if the plumbing industry had been proactive about getting water filtration products into consumers' homes, it would be a much richer industry today.

There will always be a consumer market for silver bullets, those off-the-shelf quick fixes that sound great but don't last. But I wonder how long consumer enthusiasm for ozone-creating room air cleaners will last. When I socialize with people outside of the industry, and such retail products are mentioned, somebody will ask how well they work; another person will reply that she bought one, but it doesn't work the way she had hoped, and the other person says, "That's infomercial products for you." It's not a strong vote of consumer confidence, and it's traveling through that most-powerful medium, word-of-mouth.


In the mainstream media, MSNBC reported on a study of ozone-generating room air cleaners which showed that, in many cases, the amount of ozone they created indoors was much higher than levels considered acceptable by the federal government in outdoor environments. The author of the article compared it to creating smog indoors, because ozone is an element of smog. (Of course, that was not strictly accurate. Smog has other ingredients that make it extremely harmful to human health.)

We should also note that some reputable, installed air-cleaning products also create ozone. It's the amount of ozone created that matters. Lower levels are acceptable and not reported to adversely affect human health. Higher levels can create physical symptoms such as eye and sinus discomfort.

"Quantification of Ozone Levels in Indoor Environments Generated by Ionization and Ozonolysis Air Purifiers" is the name of the study cited by MSNBC about those heavily marketed, portable air cleaners. It's practically a gift-wrapped present for people who make, sell, and install whole-house air cleaners. (To read the abstract online, go to www.awma.org.)

According to the abstract, "Indoor air purifiers are advertised as safe household products for health-conscious individuals, especially for those suffering from allergies and asthma. However, certain air purifiers produce ozone (O3) during operation. ... This is a serious concern, because O3 is a criteria air pollutant regulated by health-related federal and state standards.

"Several studies including this one have found that operation of certain O3-generating air purifiers in indoor environments can produce O3 levels exceeding health-related standards established by the U.S. federal and state governments." This paper reports on air purifiers "operated in a closed room." The report did not imply problems with installed or commercial products.

Hopefully, the writing is on the wall for those inferior products on the consumer market. Silver bullets may come and go, but quality lasts.

Barbara A. Checket-Hanks, Service and Maintenance/Troubleshooting Editor, 313-366-7093, 313-366-7972 (fax), barbarachecket-hanks@achrnews.com

Publication date: 06/12/2006