Many residents of Wichita, KS, are concerned about the spread of airborne viruses in their homes. Influenza, COVID-19, and the common cold are just a few of the infections that can be spread through the air. Read on to learn what’s true and what’s false about how your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system is related to the spread of airborne viruses.

True: Respiratory Viruses Spread Through the Air

Respiratory viruses are those that primarily spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. When you cough or sneeze, you disperse many respiratory droplets into the air. A strong sneeze or cough can spray these droplets 10 feet away from your body, creating a big cloud of germs in the air. Influenza, rhinoviruses, and coronaviruses that cause the common cold and SARS cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are some viruses that spread this way.

The large droplets from your coughs and sneezes settle out of the air within 30 minutes. However, the smallest droplets are light enough to float through your home’s air for several hours or even longer. Imagine you order a pizza. If the delivery person happens to cough when he or she steps inside to hand you a pizza, you could be exposed to the germ cloud created by that cough.

True: Your Home’s Air Isn’t Stagnant

The germ cloud from a cough doesn’t just stay in one place. That’s because your home’s air isn’t stagnant. The air in your home has currents. Those currents are caused by several factors. If you have any windows or doors opened to the outdoors, air from the outdoors flows in and air from your home flows out. If there are little gaps around your doors and windows or in your home’s foundation, you could have leakage issues.

Air also seeps in through openings for your electrical system, plumbing, and flue. If your home has a chimney, a lot of air is exchanged through it. Air currents also develop from using fans, including exhaust fans, ceiling fans, and window units. With each heating or cooling cycle, air moves to the intake vents and goes into your air handler. Warmed or cooled air blows through the ducts and each room’s supply vents. These currents distribute the cloud of respiratory droplets. It won’t take long for the smallest droplets to spread throughout most of your house.

True: Air Filters Trap Viruses

One of the simplest, least expensive and easiest things you can do to lower the number of airborne viruses in your home is to use a high-quality air filter in your home’s heating and cooling system. Air filters are rated on the size of particles they capture. This is called the minimum efficiency reported value (MERV) rating system.

This rating system has values of 1 to 20. If your current filter has a MERV rating of less than 12, it won’t capture any airborne viruses. Look for an air filter with a MERV rating of at least 16. This is a medical-grade air filter. Hospitals use them to maintain a sterile environment in surgical suites. If you want to be prepared in case a member of your household does have a positive influenza or COVID-19 test, consider a MERV rating of 18 to 20. It’ll capture 99.97% of viruses 0.3 microns in size or smaller. These filters will capture the virus-laden respiratory droplets.

True: You Need to Maintain Your Air Filter

Air filters need to be checked every month. Dirty air filters won’t capture particles, and they’ll decrease your heating and cooling system’s efficiency. If you see that the filter is dirty, remove and replace it. It’s a good idea to wear a face mask or shied, goggles, and gloves when removing the filter.

The filters are not recyclable, so you’ll need to dispose of them properly. Replace the filter at least every three months. During the peak of summer or winter, you may need to change the filter monthly because your heating and cooling system will be cycling more frequently.

True: Air Sanitizers Inactivate Airborne Viruses

An air filter is your first line of defense against removing airborne viruses from your home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using several steps to maintain a clean and sanitary indoor environment.

Another good tool to get rid of viruses in your home’s air is an air purifier or sanitizer. There are several types of these appliances. One is the portable type. It’s designed for use in a single room, such as your bedroom. It may use ozone or an electrostatic filter to capture particles from your home’s air. For optimal purification of your home’s air and removal of viruses, bacteria, and parasites, choose a whole-home air purification system. There are two types of these. One fits in the air handler, and the other is installed in your home’s air ducts.

These whole-home air purifiers use UV-C irradiation. The UV-C lamps inactivate airborne viruses and other pathogens in your home’s air. They also eliminate contamination of your heat pump’s or air conditioner’s evaporator coil.

True: Increasing Ventilation Is a Smart Decision

Standard heating and air conditioning systems recycle the same air all day and all night. Breathing in the same stale and germ-laden air puts you at a bigger risk of illness. Adding ventilation is also recommended by the Centers for Disease control. There are many ventilation options you might consider. Some passive ventilation options include:

  • Attic vents
  • Roof vents
  • Gaps around doors and windows
  • Open doors and windows

For the best results, combine active and passive ventilation to bring fresh air into your Wichita home. Some active ventilation methods are:

  • Whole-house fans
  • Exhaust fans
  • Window fans
  • Heat-recovery ventilators
  • Energy-recovery ventilators

False: A Dry Home Is a Healthy Home

Some people believe that lowering the humidity in their home will dry out those respiratory viruses and inactivate them. However, if your home’s humidity level is less than 30%, this is harmful to your health. Your mucous membranes need some moisture in the air. When humidity levels are below 30%, your mucous membranes become dry and may crack. Your skin and eyes may also become dry and irritated. The tiny cracks are big enough for viruses to enter your body. If your eyes are irritated, you may rub them a lot. Touching your eyes is another way to spread respiratory viruses.

False: High Humidity Gets Rid of Viruses

The ideal indoor humidity level is 30% to 50%. If you use a humidifier to increase the humidity, this won’t help you get rid of viruses. Excessive humidity could cause more mold growth, which may lead to inflammation, more sneezing, and more coughing. Keep your home’s humidity in the 30% to 50% range to facilitate your body’s natural defenses against airborne viruses.

Get Professional Assistance

At Fahnestock HVAC, we’re proud to be Wichita’s trusted source for heating and air conditioning maintenance, repair, installation, and replacement services. We also offer plumbing and electrical repairs and installations, tankless water heaters, indoor air quality solutions, and geothermal heating and cooling systems. Customers also turn to us for affordable maintenance plans. To learn more or schedule an appointment, call us at Fahnestock HVAC today.