There’s a lot to love about the Texas Panhandle in the spring. Birds chirping. Days lengthening. A little green to replace the brown. The fresh air of an occasional thunderstorm.

But it’s also allergy season, and wind season, and the start of wildfire season. When our big skies fill with smoke and pollen, staying indoors may be one of the only options. Unfortunately, our indoor air quality isn’t always better. When pet dander, dust mites and other air pollutants get inside the house, they might just circulate forever.

That’s why air purification is something Amarillo’s HVAC professionals have added to their list of client problems to solve. We spoke to a couple of local experts: Dustin Burnam, co-owner of Gary’s Heating & Air Conditioning, and Dalton Randall, comfort advisor at Scottco. Here are their suggestions for improving the air quality in your home.

Electronic air cleaners work

Stand-alone, store-bought air purifiers have limits. They can capture some particles that travel through a room, but you almost need to have one in every room of your home to really make a difference.

Electronic air cleaners are a better option. These are installed in the filter rack of a traditional HVAC system and connected to a power supply. They then use ionization to capture microscopic airborne particles. Gary’s installs a product called the Clean Air Defense System AirRanger. Scottco prefers the AccuClean Whole-Home Air Cleaner, which is produced by American Standard. Both require professional installation but filter air to remove from 97 to 99 percent of air pollutants.

UV light is an effective add-on

Both Burnam and Randall recommend combining an air cleaner with an ultraviolet light within the HVAC system. These can be placed within the supply ductwork of a central HVAC system to reduce mold, bacteria and viruses, sanitizing the air before it’s returned into the home. “They take care of any germs, bacteria and odors. They can neutralize smells going through the house,” Randall says.

UV light doesn’t have any impact on dust, however, so it’s generally installed to work in tandem with an air cleaner.

High-end filters aren’t the answer 

Every homeowner has been to the big-box home improvement store and had to choose between countless levels of air filters. The expensive, allergy-preventing filters are better, right? Not so fast, say the experts. Burnam says the allergen-protection filters can sometimes be so thick they restrict air flow. They might capture a lot of microscopic particles, but the lack of air passing through might also cause mechanical strain. “Those have such high restrictions, we see them burn up motors and lead to thousand-dollar repairs,” Burnam says. 

Randall says high-end filters are great for HVAC systems that were designed for their use—like in a hospital or medical setting with plenty of air returns. Most homes aren’t built that way. For homeowners who don’t use an electronic air cleaner, Burnam recommends a mid-range filter. Not the cheapest one, but not the most expensive one, either. “The biggest thing a homeowner can do is change out filters on a consistent basis,” says Scottco’s Randall.

Distilled water always beats tap water 

Homes in the Texas Panhandle can be dry—especially during the cold months—and many residents use tabletop or in-room humidifiers. These cool-mist humidifiers help, to a degree, but not if you’re filling them with local tap water. “Tap water has lots of minerals, and humidifiers turn it into a vapor so you’re actually putting minerals into the air,” Burnam says. That can clog filters and actually make the air quality worse. 

At least locally, distilled water is a must for these products to be effective, and bulk quantities of distilled water can be expensive. Whole-house humidifiers are another solution—one most HVAC companies can install—but can be even more expensive.

That’s the bad news. The good news? Better breathing is possible during a Texas Panhandle springtime. And with a few HVAC modifications, the air inside your home can be fresher than the
outside air.