Two decades ago, no one thought people would pay a buck fifty for an element that flows freely across our planet, but today bottled water is a $10 billion industry. Now, it's air's turn.

Taken for granted until allergens, off-gassing home products, and mold became daily news fodder, “luxury air” is now a commodity that can be sold by remodelers just like a run of upgraded cabinets.

Remodelers are fielding more questions from clients about how air quality will be addressed in their homes. “People know that houses are tight and that glue products off-gas,” says Bill Cosman, project executive for FH Perry Builder in Hopkinton, Mass. Cosman believes that today's clients understand the up-charge for quality air. “I say, ‘It will cost you $10,000 to air condition your second floor. For an additional $800 to $1,000, you can have [filtered air],'” he says.

The filtration category just heated up with newly released products that manufacturers claim do an even better job of removing particulates from the air than electronic air cleaners of the past.

“Though all electronic air cleaners charge and capture air particles, each system does it differently,” explains Mark Hagan, Trane's systems marketing manager for indoor air quality. The new Trane CleanEffects system supercharges particles and removes up to 99.98% of airborne particles from the air, the company says. The system can be purchased as a central system or as an accessory to a homeowner's existing system.

For ultimate customer satisfaction with an air cleaning system, Jeremy Peterson, senior marketing manager for Honeywell Homes, suggests that remodelers consider a few issues before recommending a product: “First, consider airflow,” he says. “Some filters can actually block airflow as they work. Two, consider products that can demonstrate performance over the life of the product, not just those that claim high initial numbers. And three, if a homeowner is not likely to [maintain the system], he should be encouraged to get a service agreement.”

Cati O'Keefe is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati.

Filter Facts

1-inch flat filters 4-inch and 5-inch media air cleaners — deep-pleated filters that take several square feet of filtration material and fold it over and over to provide increased filtration surface area. Whole-house electronic air cleaners, such as Honeywell's F300 and Trane's CleanEffects, which electronically charge airborne particles and suck them toward collection cells.
Large particulates, like plaster dust and pet dander. The filters don't catch particles that are most penetrable to the lungs, such as smoke, viruses, and bacteria. When it clogs with dust, it stops working. The filters trap airborne particles and contaminants and can be up to 85% more effective at removing particles than 1-inch filters. Many can remove particles and bioaerosols as small as 1 micron. The system captures dust, smoke, mold spores, and allergens in the 0.3 to 0.5 micron range. Some systems can produce trace amounts of ozone; make sure the product you spec releases less than 50 parts per billion of ozone. To avoid an airflow problem (or “pressure-drop”) compare products using a rating known as the “clean air delivery rate,” which multiplies the airflow in cubic feet per minute by the filter's efficiency rating. The higher the number the better.
Filters should be changed by the homeowner every month. Homeowners can change a filter if they choose; some may have to get a service contract if the filter is in a difficult-to-reach crawl space or attic. Indicators on the unit signal cleaning cycles, which vary between three and nine months. The filters can be vacuumed or rinsed.
This is the least expensive option and is included in all forced-air systems. The filter allows air to flow freely through a duct system, which means it takes less energy to run the system than it would with a 1-inch filter. These systems can remove up to 99.98% of airborne particles and spores from the air. They clean faster than other filters, having a higher “whole-house clean air delivery rate” than media or flat filters (some up to seven “house volumes” of clean air per hour). Because of this, the product is especially beneficial for buyers with asthma or other pulmonary conditions. Many companies claim their filters remove food odors as well.
About $20 per filter The system costs $400 to $600 to install (it must be fitted into the ductwork), and the filters, which run $50 to $60, need to be replaced once a year. Most systems cost about $1,400 installed and require a 120-volt outlet.