Air purifiers help homeowners improve indoor air quality regardless of whether airborne contaminants originate indoors or outdoors. Outdoor pollution sources include particle pollution from freeways, pollen, dust and mold. Even a tightly sealed, energy-efficient home must draw in fresh air from outside. But sometimes air pollution originates inside the house. In growing numbers, air quality specialists are focusing on microscopic airborne fiberglass particles that originate in insulation, and air purifiers can help.
Fiberglass? Most of us worry a lot about breathing asbestos (we should!) but rarely think of the dangers of fiberglass. Yet air quality specialists and environmental engineers say the number of homeowners requesting air purifiers and air quality testing is growing as fiberglass is increasingly used to wrap new ductwork and serve as insulation. Tiny particles can break away from exposed insulation. Recessed lighting and other seams in walls and ceilings then allow the particles to escape into living areas of the home.
Fiberglass was an issue that led the Los Angeles Zoo to contacted IQAir in 2004 on behalf of a rare orangutan named “Minyak” who was suffering a series of chronic illnesses. They wanted IQAir to design an air purifier to help Minyak get and stay well. But when the IQAir team inspected the air in Minyak’s special bedroom at the zoo, they were surprised to find particle counts in excess of 10 million particles per cubic foot. Even worse, the count jumped to more than 12 million near the HVAC vent into Minyak’s room. The IQAir team called in a specialist to encapsulate fiberglass insulation in the HVAC system and clean the metal ducts before a custom air purifier was designed and installed for Minyak.
Children may be especially vulnerable to potential effects from fiberglass particle inhalation. “We’ve seen a substantial increase in air quality concerns from homeowners with young children experiencing chronic cough and eye irritation,” says Jeffrey Bradley, president of IndoorDoctor LLC. Bradley says fiberglass is often the culprit. IndoorDoctor (which by the way rates the IQAir HealthPro Plus as the best there is) says the problem is especially widespread in new homes. Bradley reports that resolving the insulation issue often resolves the immediate breathing issues a child in a new home is experiencing.
Air purifiers can remedy another health concern related to fiberglass insulation: formaldehyde. Many fiberglass insulation products use phenol formaldehyde to bind the fiberglass fibers together. Greener products are available that enmesh the fibers and eliminate the need for a binder, or many homeowners opt out of fiberglass insulation altogether and instead use blown-in cellulose insulation. Of course, manufacturers correctly point out it’s also important to encapsulate fiberglass in plastic wrap. For extra protection at home from formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds, a high-efficiency air purifier such as the IQAir GC MultiGas series, with protection against particles, gases and chemicals, is the best choice.