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|HVAC & Water
Air Purification > Brands & Features
|Because the industry is somewhat new and not well-regulated, a number of air purification products on the market have been little more than snake oil packaged in a plastic shell, their functionality ranging from ineffective at best to unsafe at worst. Consequently, it is highly advisable that you get to know the established brands in this market and focus your product search efforts on the proven models offered from these brand manufacturers.|
Before delving into the current state of the air purification industry, some background is in order to help understand how air purifiers evolved over time and to provide perspective on the older models that may still be in operation in some homes. In addition, seeing the progression of air purification technology over time provides some understanding of which technologies have stood the test of time and which technologies have fallen by the wayside.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, coal burning became the primary source of energy in the rapidly growing cities across America. However, both mining coal and burning coal were activities which released a lot of noxious fumes into the air. In 1854, John Stenhouse developed a specialized mask intended to be worn by coal miners to protect against pollution that was present in the air. Stenhouse created specialized air filters which used charcoal. Through adsorption, the charcoal bound with many of the contaminants passing through and resulted in much cleaner air coming out the other side.
Various improvements which took place during the second half of the 19th century primarily focused on various personal respiratory devices. The goal was to filter out various types of smoke and fumes in high-risk environments such as burning areas, mines, and certain types of industrial factories.
The first HEPA air filters were not developed until almost the middle of the 20th century when the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission discovered that they needed a new type of air purification system to protect soldiers from radioactive elements associated with nuclear weapons. Prototype HEPA filter masks were used during the Manhattan Project to provide protection from radiation released during testing of the atomic bomb.
Unfortunately, the HEPA filter masks were not effective at protecting against radioactive emissions. However, it was discovered that HEPA filtration was effective for many other types of contamination, including chemical gas and smoke. The term HEPA itself, which is an acronym of “high efficiency particulate air”, was coined in the 1960s.
The effectiveness of HEPA filters is astounding, as they remove 99.97% or more of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and other airborne particles sized 0.3 microns or larger. Masks and filters based on HEPA technology were quickly developed for use in environments involving dangerous air substances such as toxic carcinogens and hazardous chemicals.
In the 1960s, Congress passed the Clean Air Act which set fuel emission standards in order to reduce the pollution from the increasing number of vehicles on the roads. The legislation served to focus public attention on the issue of air cleanliness and created an opportunity for a new class of consumer products.
The first air purifiers featuring HEPA filters became widely available in the 1970s and 1980s. Early models were bulky and expensive. These were designed for commercial use and placed in hospitals, clinics, laboratories, and other scientific settings where the required standards for cleanliness were always highest. Soon, however, the units became smaller and were adapted for residential use.
In the 1990s, the residential industry expanded significantly with the formation of IQ Air, Austin Air, AllerAir, and Blueair. These companies were fully dedicated to specifically manufacturing air purifiers for the home and continually advancing the limits of the existing purification technology.
The dedicated focus to residential air purifiers led to a number of innovations which made the technology successively better. These innovations included the development of prefilters, the enhancement of the air intake and release systems, the coupling of filtration and adsoption systems for maximum contaminant removal, the reduction of noise associated with air circulation, and the combining of mechanical and electrostatic purification for extensive pollutant coverage.
Modern air purifiers are the best yet, combining effective air cleaning functionality with long-lasting filters, energy efficiency, and relatively quiet operation. Importantly, these units are affordable and can provide clean air for homes of virtually any size.
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There are many different companies which manufacture air purifiers, ranging from giant multinational conglomerates for which air purifiers are just one of dozens of consumer product lines to specialized firms which focus on air purification systems exclusively. In addition, not all of the companies which sell air purifiers are necessarily reputable producers and not all of the available products are effective or even safe. Because of a relative lack of government regulation, the air purification space is rife for exploitation by immoral companies preying on unsophisticated consumers. Consequently, it is strongly recommended that you be especially careful with any manufacturer who is not on the specially vetted list of leading brand manufacturers compiled here.
Given the important role that clean air plays in daily life and the relatively high sticker price associated with a new air purification unit, a majority of consumers prefer to purchase their systems from a reputable manufacturer whose products are known for quality, performance, efficiency, and reliability.
Most air purification experts would agree that the best manufacturers in air purification include IQAir, Blueair, Austin Air, Allerair, and Alen. Over the years, these companies have acquired reputations for products that not only work effectively, but which are also safe for the residents, avoiding excessive amounts of harmful byproducts such as ozone.
IQAir has actually been in the air purification business for nearly five decades, predating most of its competitors by a good 30 years. It was started by two German brothers in the 1960s when they began to manufacture a basic home air filtration system. IQAir is headquartered in Switzerland, but has developed an extensive presence in both North America and Asia. The company is known for a strong research and development effort which has resulted in some of the most advanced air purification systems in the industry and an unparalleled threshold for the removal of impurities from the air. IQAir’s products are rated at the top of many expert and consumer ranking lists due to their unparalleled effectiveness in removing virtually every imaginable contaminant from the air, including chemicals and VOCs which are notoriously difficult to capture for most other models that are available on the market.
Blueair was founded in 1996 in Sweden, but quickly became known internationally for the quality and performance of its air purifiers. In addition to its European headquarters in Stockholm, Blueair also has opened a North American headquarters in Chicago, Illinois. The company produces a broad range of residential air purifiers, including a number of models which are rated among the best. Air purifiers developed and sold by Blueair are particularly known for their incredibly quiet operation. Most air purifiers are quite loud when operated at higher fan settings, but Blueair’s proprietary technology is levels quieter than the competition. However, it appears to be no less effective at removing impurities from the air.
AllerAir was founded in 1996 in the town of Champlain in upstate New York. The company was founded by Sam Teitelbaum, who set out to create an air purifier which could be safely used by a relative who was suffering from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. The initial model led to the rapid growth of AllerAir as a company and the subsequent development of more than 100 different models, all based on the principle of minimizing the number and amounts of chemicals released into the air while simultaneously removing as many pollutants as possible from the air. In addition to many satisfied residential customers, AllerAir has a number of high-profile commercial clients, including the Mayo Clinic, the U.S. Army, and the Boeing Corporation.
Austin Air is an American company based in Buffalo, New York, which has been manufacturing air purifiers for nearly two decades. One of the company's selling points is that it does all of its manufacturing in-house and all of its products are wholly produced and assembled within the United States. In recognition of the quality of Austin Air's manufacturing process, the company's products were used extensively in the aftermath of 9/11 to assist with the air cleaning efforts in affected neighborhoods of New York City.
Alen is a relative newcomer to the air purification space. The company was started in Austin, Texas and was initially a distributor of air purifiers manufactured by others. However, in 2004 Alen began to manufacture its own products in response to certain needs expressed by the company’s customers which were not being met by existing offerings. Alen has developed a family of air purification products which have been highly rated by consumers and performed well in independent effectiveness tests.
Rabbit Air is also a relative newcomer. The company was started in 2004 and has grown rapidly, providing stiff competition to a number of more established players in the residential air purifier industry. The company prides itself on the fact that 35% of its growth has been due to returning customers and referrals, meaning that the quality and effectiveness of its products speak for themselves. The company also provides one of the more user-friendly and informative websites out there.
In contrast with the small and specialized Rabbit Air, Sharp is a multi-billion dollar Japanese consumer electronics giant, manufacturing everything from laptops, cell phones, and televisions to microwave ovens and air conditioners. The company traces its roots back to a metal workshop founded in Tokyo by Tokuji Hayakawa in 1912. Tokuji had a number of inventions to his name, including the first snap buckle and the first mechanical pencil. In the aftermath of the Great Kanto earthquake which destroyed a part of its business, Sharp relocated to Osaka and began work on the first generation of Japanese radio sets. Two decades later, the company began to produce television sets. Today, Sharp is a global leader in both consumer electronics and home appliances. Among its numerous product lines, Sharp also produces a number of high quality air purifiers which utilize the Plasmacluster technology which essentially combines ionic, HEPA filter, and active carbon systems while avoiding the production of any ozone.
Airgle is an American company that was founded in 1999 and that offers a product - the Airgle 750 - which has performed exceptionally well in third party head-to-head comparisons of air purifier systems. However, Airgle has a limited product offering and does not have as strong a market presence as some of the other brand manufacturers.
Honeywell is a global conglomerate which has a large portfolio of diversified interests across a broad range of industries. The modern Honeywell is the result of a mega-merger between the original Honeywell Corporation and AlliedSignal, two giant companies with storied histories going back to the Gilded Age.
Within its consumer goods division, Honeywell manufactures a large number of home appliances and this includes air purification units. Among the retail brands, Honeywell makes some of the better products, in no small part due to the company’s dedication to engineering excellence and the application of the Six Sigma excellence process to its production efforts.
Finally, Whirlpool is another American home appliance conglomerate which owns such well known brands as Kitchen Aid, Maytag, Roper, and Estate. The company produces a number of air purifiers which, along with products from Honeywell, have earned a reputation as some of the more reliable retail offerings.
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Even among air purifiers which are offered by the same brand manufacturer, there may still be substantial differences with respect to the available features. The available feature set on a particular unit will impact not only its operational effectiveness and performance quality, but also its convenience, comfort, and ease of use.
One feature that is becoming increasingly common are prefilters, which are external filters which serve to remove large particles, such as pet or human hair, prior to the primary filtration process. These prefilters are commonly made out of foam or a nylon blend and imbued with electrostatic properties to enhance their filtration ability. The best prefilters will have activated carbon, allowing them to adsorb odors, smoke, and certain other particles. By removing a portion of the impurities in the air, the prefilter reduces the amount of work that has to be performed by the main purification mechanism, thereby extending its lifespan.
Another important feature is fans which are used to create air circulation and actively drive the ambient air inside a room through the air purifier. Without a fan, the air moves through the air purifier on a haphazard basis. Some portions of the air in the room may never move through the air purifier and, as a result, are never cleaned. The presence of a fan removes the element of randomness from the movement of air, forcing circulation. This results in not only all of the air being cleaned, but also in a far faster cleaning process. The only downside of a fan is the noise that it can generate. However, the noise level varies depending on fan design, fan speed, and air purifier model.
Filter monitors are indicators which alert the user when a filter requires replacement. This can be in the form of a light on the control panel or a digital readout. Without a filter monitor, the user would either have to guess when it is time to replace the filter or follow a set replacement schedule. As a result, the consumer may end up replacing the filter prematurely, or doing the opposite and waiting too long. Either case is problematic, leading to either a waste of resources or an improperly working appliance.
Filter separation refers to air purifiers which utilize multiple purification technologies in a single unit. For example, a particular model may use a prefilter, an active carbon filter, and an HEPA filter. If all of these filters are incorporated in a single cartridge, then as soon as one of the filters needs to be replaced, then the entire cartridge has to be replaced even though the other filters are still operating fine. This is wasteful. In a design with separate filter stages, each filter can be replaced independently of the others.
For many years, Sharper Image ran commercials showing air purifiers which were sleek and silent. As a result, many consumers began to think that air purifiers should all be as quiet as ninjas. Unfortunately, Sharper Image's air purifiers were terrible at actually cleaning the air. They were among the worst products on the market. A properly working air purifier with a fan will make some level of noise. The best models will be relatively quieter at lower fan speeds, but expecting a unit to be both silent and effective is somewhat unrealistic. The best way to modulate the noise level is by switching the unit to a lower fan speed at night, when noise can be distracting, and then switching it back to a higher fan speed during the day. In addition, you can ask the manufacturer or the seller for the noise ratings on a particular model at different fan speeds. Generally, consumers are advised to look for models whose noise output remains under 66 decibels on the highest fan setting.
Another consideration in selecting an air purifier needs to be the operational upkeep of the unit. Any purifier based on filtration technology will require periodic filter replacement. It is important to find out the expected frequency of replacement, the mechanical process of replacement, and the cost and availability of replacement filters. In case of activated carbon, it is necessary to find out the expected lifespan of the carbon block, whether it can be replaced, and the cost of such replacement. In case of electrostatic plates, it is important to know how frequently the plates need to be cleaned and the procedure for any such cleaning.
The final consideration should be the warranties offered by both the manufacturer and the seller. A longer warranty suggests that the manufacturer has great confidence in the quality of its product and its component parts. A shorter warranty may be a cause of some level of concern. A 5-year warranty should be standard for a residential air purifier, particularly if it is one of the higher priced models.
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