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Fighting Pollution — Inside Your House

The right vacuum and a well-maintained HVAC system can help make breathing easier

Think your home is less polluted than a city street? Think again.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend on average about 90 percent or more of their time indoors, where pollutant levels may be two to five times — and occasionally more than 100 times — as high as the levels outdoors.

If that grosses you out, you’re not alone. In June, acting Surgeon General Steven K. Galson issued “The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Healthy Homes,” a document whose aim is to start a dialogue about how our homes affect our well-being.

Expect Glenn Fellman to participate in that discussion. As the executive director of the Rockville-based Indoor Air Quality Association and Indoor Environmental Standards Organization, Fellman has 20 years of experience addressing environmental concerns in homes. He knows all about the allergens, pollutants and other things that can make your nose itch, eyes water and head hurt. He also knows how to keep them out of your house.

We asked Fellman for tips on breathing easier at home, and we found products to help you enjoy the great indoors even more.


That means washing sheets and towels once a week, dusting with a damp cloth or other material that collects — not disperses — debris and using sanitizers to kill germs in kitchens and bathrooms, Fellman says. And, ideally, you should pull out the (high-efficiency, please) vacuum twice a week.

That chore has become more stylish, thanks to the new Electrolux Versatility vacuum ($300), which boasts an anti-odor HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtration system and comes in shades such as amethyst and lime green. Find it at retailers such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Lowe’s.


The filters in your HVAC system are designed to keep the system clean, not to clean the air in your home, says Fellman. If you think your home requires air cleaning, he recommends investing in an air cleaner. But do your homework before you buy. “Air cleaners that produce ozone, even as a byproduct, should be avoided,” he says. Look for an air cleaner that incorporates a HEPA filter to remove fine particulates from the air, he says. And make sure it is the right size for the room it’s in.

IQAir’s HealthPro 250 room air purifier ($939) has received top reviews from publications such as Wired magazine and Consumers Digest for its ability to eliminate pollen, odor-causing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and more from the air. As a preferred dealer, Brothers Sew & Vac in Bethesda always has the product in stock and offers free demonstrations.

“Moisture has been shown to be a major contributor to asthma and allergies, mostly because of the mold growth it promotes,” Fellman says. Leaks should be repaired immediately, and in cases of flooding, moisture should be removed through dehumidification or professional drying services, he adds.

Haier’s line of free-standing dehumidifiers ($159 to $219) includes models that are Energy Star-qualified and that help reduce dust mites and moisture. You can pick up one at Target.


“The heating, ventilating and air-conditioning [HVAC] systems are like the heart and circulatory systems of your home,” Fellman says. “When they become clogged with dust or mold, they not only cease to function effectively, but they may also distribute pollutants indoors.”


Watch where you store your cleaning products, even ones labeled “green.” The best place to keep them is a well-ventilated area as far from living spaces as possible. “If you’re limited on space and they have to go under the sink or a counter, that’s fine,” says Fellman. “But don’t put them in the air-conditioning closet. All the air you breathe goes through that closet.”


When dealing with odors, first try removing the source, Fellman says. If that is not possible, buy products to mask them, such as aerosol sprays, scented candles and plug-ins. “But all of those products add chemicals, particulate and odors to the air, and could make someone with asthma or allergies even sicker,” Fellman says. “Candles send a lot of soot into the air, so I virtually never recommend them.”

He suggests using potpourri or fresh flowers such as stargazer lilies. Make sure the new flora doesn’t trigger a sneeze-fest, though. “If a person has allergies, flowers might not help much,” Fellman says. Pick up a bouquet at a farmers market or neighborhood flower stall.


“For those living in multi-unit buildings like condos and townhouses, your neighbors’ activities can have a big impact on your environment,” Fellman says. A damp, moldy basement adjacent to your home, for example, could lead to odors or moisture intruding into your property.

And be on the lookout for crawling critters. “If your neighbors have cockroaches, bed bugs or ants, chances are you will, too,” he says. “The best solution is an integrated pest-management plan that is maintained by property management or your homeowners group.”

In addition to getting your system serviced regularly, Fellman recommends changing HVAC filters monthly and using high-efficiency filters, “not the cheap, disposable kind sometimes found at supermarkets or dollar stores.” The Filtrete Advanced Allergen Reduction Filter ($21) from 3M claims to capture 90 percent of large airborne particles (pet dander, mold spores, dust mites) and microscopic particles such as smoke, smog and those that can carry viruses. Stock up at Home Depot or Ace Hardware.

By Beth Luberecki
Special to Express
Thursday, November 26, 2009


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