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Coronavirus and Your Indoor Air Quality

Posted by Mike Cappuccio on May 26, 2020 8:00:00 AM

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Mike Cappuccio, owner of N.E.T.R. Inc., a heating and cooling company in Massachusetts, discusses coronavirus and indoor air quality.

John Maher:  Hi, I'm John Maher, I'm here today with Mike Cappuccio owner of N.E.T.R Inc. a heating and cooling company in Massachusetts. Today our topic is coronavirus and your indoor air quality. Welcome Mike.

Mike Cappuccio: Hi John, how are you today?

John: Good, thanks. So, Mike, what should people be concerned about in terms of indoor air quality in their homes?

Importance of Indoor Air Quality

Mike: John, there's a lot going on today as we know, we're living in different times and a different world than we were two and three months ago. And air quality is becoming a big, big thing now with homes and buildings of what's happening with the viruses and everything that's going on. But it's always been something that should be important. Air quality is a very, very important thing in your home and when we look at how we do this, you've got to really be concerned right now. Where are your filters clean in your home? What types of filters do you have in your home? Do you have any UV lighting in the existing system that might kill parts of bacteria?

And are the evaporator coils clean inside of the air handlers? Are the drain lines clean? Are the ducts clean? Because that's where all of the dirt and the bacteria and the dust and everything lives, of how everything gets into the system. So you've also got to be looking to it, is there fresh air coming into your home? You know, do you leave your windows open or do you have an ERV or an HRV that can bring fresh air into your home? And you've also got to make sure that that's been serviced properly. If you do have one of those and has that filtration been cleaned or does that need to be replaced at this point in time?

John: Right. And indoor air quality, it's maybe something that we take a little bit for granted, but everybody always says I'll get outside and get some fresh air. So what is it about the air in our homes that is an issue? It's that we have all of that dust and dirt and things like that and the mold may be all building up inside our air handling system in our house. And then now the air, as it's moving through those ducts, it's going right over that more than that dirt and that dust, and then it's pushing it out into the air and we're breathing that in. That can cause all kinds of problems with allergies and getting sick and things like that.

Mike: Asthma, bronchitis, things like that. Everything that you can get with that, but you do say it made a good point, John, let's step outside and get some fresh air. Well, in reality, you should be able to step into your home and have fresh air. And how do we get fresh air into a home or a building, a commercial building? I mean especially in a home and HRV system or an ERV system that brings fresh air in and exhausts the stale air. I mean, that's pretty much what you would want in your home to have nice fresh air in your home. And you can get those systems that they mix in with existing duct work and they can supply fresh air into the return space right now and push it through there. But if you're trying to push fresh air into the return side and then push it out through the supply side, you've got to make sure that the filtration is clean in the actual unit.

What is the new fresh air going across? Is it going across a dirty coil? Is it going across a fresh new filter? And then how is it being distributed into the home from there? Is it going across a UV light? Is it burning up any of the bacteria? There's also electronic air cleaners too that you can put in the return side to kill anything that goes through that in the air that's coming into the air handler will get burned off and the electronic cells just kind of cook them is what they do. But in a commercial building too, a lot of people look at how indoor air quality is affected in a building. And we have so many commercial buildings today that they just, a lot of these buildings, the windows don't open. And they have to rely on a fresh air system.

One of the biggest things we're telling customers right now is with the coronavirus and everything that's going on is make sure that you're economizers are working on rooftop units, make sure that your fresh events are not blocked. Run your fan a hundred percent of the time, or at least every 30 minutes. You want to cycle the fan off and bring fresh air into the space and exhaust stale air out of the space. The other thing too is, you've got to look at the filtration. I know a lot of customers only like changing their filters two times a year. I mean, now this might be a three, four, five time a year filter change. I mean, and using a MERV 13 filter because we rate filtration by MERV and a 13 filter doesn't filter out more than a MERV 19 or 18 filter.

And we have customers now asking, "We want MERV 18s, we don't want MERV 13s." Or, "We want three inch filters and four inch filter thickness. We don't want the standard two inch or one inch." Cheap fiberglass filter for a home, you might want to be looking more to a pleated filter in your home. The better the filtration, the more healthy it is and changing filters, it might even be in a home. You might want to change the filters every two months now.

Heating and Cooling Systems for Indoor Air Quality

John: So that's a lot of great information about how your indoor air quality is affected by all of the aspects of your heating and air conditioning system. But are there particular types of heating and air conditioning systems that are maybe better or worse for indoor air quality?

Mike: Well, I'd probably say the worst type is something with just one big central return in a building that maybe uses a drop ceiling and above the drop ceiling as a plenum at that point and it's just grabbing all the dirty air above the ceiling and then going into the filtration system of a rooftop unit, where there's not actual duct work down into the spaces. A lot of times above a drop ceiling, you look and there's no duct work.

It's only the duct work that's pushing the air in. In the return air ductwork, they used the hole above the drop ceiling as a big plenum. And it's very dirty up there, and you sometimes need to get that ducted down in the space. In a home, a system that just maybe has one return air in the hallway and it doesn't have separate return is in each bedroom. Because if you're pulling air from each bedroom and bringing it through the return duct system and you can filter each bedroom, the better the filtration, the fresher the air is that's going to be in there. And not having something with fresh air is not as good as other systems.

It's definitely a disadvantage to what you're doing. Dirty coils, dirty evaporator coils. I mean, sometimes John, we go into homes and I've seen evaporator coils that haven't been cleaned for 10, 15 years. And there's all kinds of bacteria on them, mold on them. You got to remember all that air that you're pushing, that you're bringing back to the house. It's all being pushed over all this mold and bacteria and everything. Some of the ductless mini splits are really good because you have your own coil and basically your own air handler with your own fan system and your own refrigeration coil inside of that unit in the space. So you're actually filtering that air in that space through that coil through that unit. Again, we want to make sure that's extremely clean when that air is coming across that coil. So again, that's something, you'd probably want to clean those filters every couple of weeks.

The manufacturer recommends every two weeks. Because a filter can only filter so much dirt. And once the dirt gets through the filter, the dirt and dust gets onto the evaporator coil and an evaporator coil is moist and wet in the summertime. And that's the water that you see. When you will look out your home and you see water dripping out of your air conditioning toolbar. Example, you put your car in the driveway in the summertime and you see water running out from underneath it. Well that water is running out from the evaporator coil. That's the moisture that's in the space that you're removing from inside of your automobile or inside of your home. That's the humidity. And that humidity is on the coil. So the coil is always damp. Evaporator coils in an air conditioning system live in a dark, wet environment.

And with dark, wet environments come mold and dust and dirt. And that dust and dirt gets through that filter. It gets onto the evaporator coil, and that's where it lives. And then when it gets through the evaporator coil, after that, and it gets pushed through, then it's getting pushed into the ducts at that point. So that's why we're telling people keep your ducks clean, keep your evaporator coils clean. If you do regular maintenance and you clean these things once a year or twice a year, you don't have to worry about that. But air quality and air filtration in a home is probably one of the things right now that gets neglected the most. I mean, I've been in homes and people are all worrying now about masks and breathing things in and stuff like that.

And I look, and we go into a home and we take out an air filter out of the furnace or out of the air conditioning system. And the filter hasn't been changed for three or four years. And we're like, you're worried about what you're breathing outside. You should be worrying about what you're breathing inside of your home when you're looking at some of these filters. But that's why we highly recommend, you've got to keep the filtration clean. Look at your fresh air system. Do you have UV lighting in the duct work? Do you want to look at a freshest system? Do you have a fresh air system? Electronic filtration, maybe a MERV 13 felt the versus a MERV 11 filter. So these are some of the things that are good and bad with different systems.

Importance of Air Circulation

John: Okay. You made a good point earlier about the best system might be one that has these return air intake ducts in the ceiling or in the wall, in every single room so that every room is getting their air recirculated. And you're pulling that bad air out and putting nice fresh air back in. In the case where you have a home where maybe you only have one of those intakes in the hallway, up on the second floor and maybe one in the hallway on the first floor, what do you recommend for people? Should they be leaving their bedroom doors open during the day in order to try to get as much air circulated as possible?

Mike: Absolutely. Leave the bedroom doors open. And if you're going to close the bedroom doors, John at nighttime, make sure there's at least a half inch gap on the bottom of the doors.

Cause you're just pushing air into a box and the doors are closed. If that air has nowhere to go, you're pressurizing that room with dirt and dust and you really can't see it, but it is flying around in there. If you have a door closed and you have a return vent in the room, then you're pulling that air back out of the room and you're filtering it through a filter at that point. You can add return vents to certain bedrooms. You can do that. I highly recommend at bare minimum, if you have a big central return in your hallway is putting a return vent into your master bedroom or all of your bedrooms at that point. They're very small, they can be six inches by six inches with a little six inch by six inch filter in it. And just enough to pull that air. When you're pulling from every spot versus one spot, you're now pulling all that air from all around the house, not just one area.

You're moving it from different areas and you're going to see it's going to quiet your air conditioning system down too, because a lot of those units that have a big central return up in a hallway of a second floor, they're usually loud because you can hear the fan running right above it. When you start to add more return air to get it back into the unit, up in the attic or in the basement, wherever that is, you’ve got to see things quiet down a little bit, because you're giving it more air to go over the fan, so you're slowing it down. You're giving it a little more air to come back.

Mitsubishi Ductless Heating and Cooling Systems

John: You have a lot of experience with Mitsubishi ductless heating and cooling systems. Talk a little bit more about those in terms of how they handle the air quality in a house and in individual rooms where those units are.

Mike: The actual ductless units, like I said, you're putting one in each row most of the time, or you might have one in a central roam at some point. But you're putting it into different spots for what you're doing. And each individual unit has its own filtration in it. You know what I mean? So basically, you have in there a few different things, you have a nano platinum filter, it's ceramic and platinum and it's incorporated into the filter and it provides an antibacterial and it has deodorizing characteristics too as well to improve that air quality. And there's also a couple of other filters that go into the nano platinum filter. There's a deodorizing filter and that filters should be changed once a year. These are little filters that plug into the big nano platinum filter. And then the third one that goes in there is on some of our high efficiency units, some of these have them, some of them don't, but there's an electrostatic anti-allergy enzyme filter that comes available on the FH series two, which is a little bit more high quality.

So you're filtering this air three times through one unit going right through it and that's in its own room. So if you have one unit in a wall unit or floor unit, or whatever, a ceiling recess, whatever type of indoor unit you're using in that space, you're really filtering that air real clean in that space at that point. You're not trying to pull it from the corners and trying to get it out into the hallway and get it up into the return at that point. And you also have better temperature control in that room too. Reduces the germs, the bacteria, the viruses, it helps trap the dust, the pollens, the mites and other particles. So the enzyme filters really helped to break down the sulfa, the atom bonds, the allergen products, it transforms them into non allergen proteins is what it does. 

Maintenance for Heating and Cooling Systems

John: What should I be thinking about in terms of maintenance for a system that I have already? How often should I be changing filters? And when should I be hiring somebody to come in and do a cleaning, that kind of thing?

Mike: Bare minimum right now, John is spring and fall and I'm hoping everyone will do spring and fall. I'd like to see four times a year with what's going on now. Every three months is, maybe two times from major cleanings and then just two for filter changes, but with everything that's going on now, you've got to make sure that the air in your home is clean. We're recommending to people UV lights, adding them into the duct work. UV lights aren't 100% with the viruses that are going on, but then 99.9% that you can use. We also have UV lights that can just plug into the wall too.

We have separate ones that can plug into each room too, as well. That plug right into an outlet that you don't have to plug into your HVAC system. So a lot of people are looking at those, but the minimum on the HVAC is two times. And you got to do a good coil cleaning on your evaporator inside, not so much the outside unit. The outside unit, you can wash down with a hose. It's that inside unit that you've really got to get clean right now on the ductless or the ducted systems all need to be cleaned like that.

John: All right. Well, that's really great information, Mike. Thanks again for talking to me today.

Mike: John, thanks. Have a great afternoon. Take care.

John: You too. And for more information, you can visit the N.E.T.R website at NETRinc.com, or call (781) 933-N-E-T-R. That's (781) 933-6387.

Topics: Ductless HVAC

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