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When you buy a new home or renovate your existing residence, one of your top priorities should be aiming for greater energy efficiency. Things such as installing new windows, resealing drafty doors, or re-insulating parts of the house can keep cool air in during the summertime and warm air in during the winter. Once you’ve sealed your house against heat transfer, though, you need to pay some mind to the unwanted things you might be trapping in your home, such as dust, dirt, pet dander, and other impurities. Using a HEPA air purifier can help—especially in the winter months, when options like having windows or screen doors open are not available. The question is, do you need an air purifier to maintain your indoor air quality? Or is an air purifier just a superfluous expense that will never yield much actual benefit?

hepa air purifier

What Is a HEPA Air Purifier?

The first thing to understand is that not all air purifiers are created equal. As with any product, you will need to shop around and do your homework before you buy an air purifier. Otherwise, you could end up with a product that does little more than generate white noise.

If you are going to buy an air purifier, you will want to spring for a HEPA model. “HEPA” stands for high-efficiency particulate air.” An air purifier with a HEPA filter, therefore, will be adept at clearing very fine particles from the air. Since many of the particles that end up affecting indoor air quality are microscopic and ultrafine, having a filter that can collect these particles is a must if you are going to bother buying an air purifier at all.

While HEPA air filters are generally effective at removing small particles from the air, they have their drawbacks. The biggest con is that HEPA filters are expensive. You pay for the quality difference, which means that annual filter replacements can hit the wallet pretty hard. There are some filter or air purifier manufacturers that have taken steps to make HEPA filters more accessible to general buyers. Some HEPA filters can be washed, cleaned, and reused, while others come with a “pre-filter” apparatus that stops bigger debris from ever reaching the HEPA filter. The result of the latter system design is that the HEPA filter does what it is designed to do—filter out ultrafine particles—and doesn’t get clogged up by larger particles.

The Other Drawbacks of Air Purifiers

Even beyond the annual cost of replacing HEPA air filters, though, owning and running an air purifier daily can be a costly business. The upfront costs associated with air purifiers really run the range, landing anywhere between $200 and $1,000 for a high-quality model. You also need to consider the energy usage of these models. In general, an air purifier isn’t going to cost more than about $100 a year to operate. Those costs add up over time, though, and it can be frustrating to spend the money and use the energy when you aren’t entirely sure how much of a difference your purifier is even making. To ensure the highest levels of energy efficiency, make sure to go for an Energy Star-rated model if you do decide to purchase a HEPA purifier.

The biggest drawback of air purifiers, though, has little to do with energy use or filter cost. Indeed, some purifiers—especially those that use ionizer technology or electrostatic precipitator technology—produce trace amounts of ozone during operation. Ozone can cause a range of different respiratory health problems, including irritation of the throat, coughing, and shortness of breath. It can also exacerbate conditions like asthma. Keeping ozone out of your home, in other words, is essential for the health of your family, your pets, and anyone else who may spend significant amounts of time in your house. Again, researching air purifiers before you buy can help you avoid these risks.

Keeping Your Air Pure without an Air Purifier

The good news is that you don’t necessarily need an air purifier to maintain high levels of indoor air quality in your house. Here are a few other steps you can take to ensure fresh, healthy air at home:

  • Weekly vacuuming, dusting, and sweeping—especially if you have a cat or dog
  • Changing your furnace filter every six months
  • Having your air ducts cleaned by an HVAC professional
  • Running the fan on your air conditioner semi-regularly
  • Opening your windows in the summer to let in fresh air
  • Not smoking or allow smoking inside your home
  • Not having fires in your indoor fireplace

These steps can do a lot to keep your air fresh and good for breathing. Certainly, using a HEPA air purifier can add to these processes and help remove existing pollutants from the air. If you do feel that you need an air purifier or some other type of air cleaning device to help eradicate particles from the air, call your local HVAC expert. They can advise you on strategies and tools for achieving superior indoor air quality.