“Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe, and to love you,” crooned The Hollies in their 1974 hit, “The Air That I Breathe.”
The British pop group should have added “purified,” given that lungs were under siege from indoor smoking and rampant pollutants like dust, pet dander, mould, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), airborne bacteria and viruses.
Now, COVID-19 has joined the list of airborne contaminants — along with all those microscopic particles and gases stirred up by increased at-home activities — that are driving the demand for indoor air cleaners and filters.
How-tos abound on YouTube, as well as ThisOldHouse.com, which explains how air filtration systems work along with instructions on making a cube filter using four furnace filters. DIYers can MacGyver their own low-tech version using a 20-inch box fan, pleated furnace filters and tape.
Mississauga teen Shiven Tanejahas spent his Christmas break building homemade air purifiers known as Corsi-Rosenthal boxes for neighbours and local seniors. The 14-year-old aspiring engineer charged only for the cost of materials — $150 — he told the CBC’s “The Current” host Matt Galloway in a recent interview.
Sarah Walker, an Oakville designer and expert in wellness in the home, keeps a Dyson Purifier Hot + Cool Formaldehyde unit in her bedroom.
She says that indoor air quality is between two and five times worse than outdoors. And with at least 90 per cent of time spent inside, “there’s almost no aspect of our health that isn’t impacted by poor air quality,” says Walker, listing brain fog, migraines, dizziness, asthma, allergies and fatigue.
While modern, high-tech purifiers promise to scrub the atmosphere to near-perfection, the ancient Greeks were stuck with primitive, harmful methods, described in Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey.”
“When Odysseus kills some rivals, he asks their home to be purified by burning sulphur inside so the house is fit for less-horrible people,” explains a narrator on YouTube channel Grunge.
A safer antidote came during the Second World War when American scientists created HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters to protect soldiers and lab workers from breathing in radioactive particles.
Two decades later, Manfred Hammes and his brother Klaus, a mechanical engineer, created the world’s first home HEPA system after Manfred found it eased his winter asthma triggered by coal ovens.
In 1963, the German brothers founded the company known today as IQAir — the company’s website offers real-time air quality readings in cities around the world — the same year the U.S. Clean Air Act highlighted the need to protect lungs.
But the message vapourized into the 1970s and ’80s, exemplified by cigarettes and smoky interiors common in movies like “Pretty in Pink” with James Spader; TV show “Miami Vice” with stress-smoker Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson); and Netflix series “Mindhunter” and “Stranger Things,” both set in those decades.
“A purifier is a really important step to improve wellness in your home,” says Walker, whose sensitivity to toxic chemicals, caused by Lyme disease, spurred her to make her own family home healthy.
But, she cautions, purifiers “are not all created equal.” The best and most effective type has a HEPA filter to capture ultrafine particles and a fan that circulates clean air throughout the entire room, she says.
For optimal performance, the device should also catch VOCs like formaldehyde, “one of the biggies,” she points out. Off-gassed from household products such as glues, paint, flooring and cleaning products, the pollutant can irritate skin, eyes, nose and throat.
Dyson’s sleek, $1,100 Purifier Humidify+Cool Formaldehyde model promises to destroy formaldehyde and capture 99.97 per cent of particles as small as 0.3 microns (a human hair is about 75 microns) to push purified and humidified air into a large room.
Ikea has added a design element to purifiers with its new Starkvind model with a unit built into a multi-function side table. It’s available for $239 in both black and white this month, with a stand-alone floor unit selling for $169, and can be used with Ikea’s smart app.
Carola Vyhnak is a Cobourg-based writer covering personal finance, home and real-estate stories. She is a contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: [email protected]
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