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Your own clean-air act

By Dana Sullivan
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(Health.comexternal link) -- It's time to breathe a sigh of relief -- sort of. Thanks to changes in air-quality and emissions laws over the past 30 years, the air you breathe when you head outdoors this summer is cleaner than ever.

But indoors? Yuck. The air inside your home is two to five times more polluted, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

And if you suffer from allergies or asthma, spending too much time at home can make you feel worse. Fortunately, you don't need to live in a plastic bubble to solve the problem.

Here's how to make your home a (nearly) pollution-free zone.

Purify the smart way

Despite big promises, few air purifiers can rid your home of irritants like pollen, dust, and smoke. Don't waste money on devices that don't measure up. Look for purifiers that have:

  • High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which usually last a year.
  • Odor-filtering activated charcoal. You should change this filter every 3 to 6 months -- more often if you have pets or live with a smoker, or if you or a loved one has allergies.
  • Clean Air Delivery Rates (CADR) of 250 or more. CADR measures the purifier's power. "Units with much smaller ratings don't move enough air to be effective," says Richard Corsi, Ph.D., an engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a leading expert on indoor-air quality.
  • Purifiers fit for the job cost $200 to $500. In recent Consumer Reports testing, the Friedrich C-90B ($499; link) and Whirlpool AP45030R ($229.99; 888-237-8289 or link) scored well.

    Remember to avoid products with "ion" or "ozone" in their names. James Sublett, M.D., a spokesman for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, says none of the ion-generating purifiers he has tested circulate enough air to be effective -- and they all emit some ozone gas.

    Ozone aggravates asthma and can irritate anyone's upper respiratory system, especially when it interacts with common household cleaners.

    "There is no such thing as good ozone," Sublett says. "It's bad for you 100 percent of the time."

    Show your AC some love

    Using the right kind of filter in your heating and cooling system can transform it into a whole-house air cleaner. Your filter should have a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values (MERV) rating of 11 or 12; the range is 1 to 16.

    MERV measures the filter's ability to trap tiny particles of pollen, dust, and smoke. The higher the rating, the more efficient the filter.

    "The right filters remove up to 95 percent of particulates," Sublett says. "Ones that are too porous or dirty just spit stuff back into the house."

    Disposable filters ($10 to $15) are best, because the reusable kind can breed mold if they're not properly cleaned and dried. Sublett recommends the 3M Filtrete brand, available at home-improvement stores.

    Most people change these filters less than once a year, but every 3 months is optimal. Mark your calendar, program your PDA, or just sign up for 3M's free e-mail reminders at link.

    Keep your fan on

    Even when you don't need air conditioning or heat (in early spring or fall, for instance), you still need clean air. A smart solution: Put your AC filter to work by running just the system fan 24-7. Worried about your power bill? Turn the fan off occasionally, open your windows, and inhale the planet's finest.

    Try some other tricks

    The EPA and American Lung Association recommend several no- and low-cost methods to help keep indoor air clean and fresh.

  • Use unscented cleaners, limit wood-burning fires and candles, and ban smoking.
  • If you're sensitive to dust, recruit your partner or a child to handle the vacuuming.
  • If you live in a climate where mold grows easily, or have a basement, run your central AC to reduce moisture.
  • For more information, visit or link.

    The please-do-it-now air test

    An unsafe level of radon -- an odorless, radioactive gas found in roughly 1 in 15 homes -- is the second-leading cause of lung cancer.

    Every year it contributes to the deaths of an estimated 20,000 people in the United States, says indoor-air expert Richard Corsi, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at Austin. That's why the American Lung Association says every home should be tested for radon.

    You can buy a detection kit through your local health department (to find yours, go to link). If your home's radon level is unsafe, you may need to install a special venting system; it costs anywhere from $800 to $2,500. Your health department can give you names of certified contractors.

    Air purifiers fit for the job tend to cost hundreds of dollars.



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