One way to improve the air quality in your San Marcos, CA home is by having UV lights installed in your HVAC system. These lights both remove and inhibit mold and mildew. They also neutralize volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and eradicate viruses and bacteria. Although they aren’t an effective standalone solution for preventing the transmission of illness, they can be a valuable tool in your arsenal. The following are several ways to know whether your UV lights are working.

Avoid Do-It-Yourself Installations

There are countless reasons to avoid do-it-yourself (DIY) HVAC installations and modifications. When it comes to these integrated HVAC accessories, the first and most important reason is that you run the risk of getting defective or counterfeit products. In 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) settled charges with two major UV light manufacturers alleging that their lights eliminated MRSA, E. coli, and other well-known and dangerous pathogens when they in fact, did not. Moreover, these charges pertained to products bought and sold on the open market rather than through licensed HVAC companies.

When most consumers think of UV lights, they expect to see lights that emit a bright blue or purple glow. Although HVAC UV lights do indeed emit colorful illumination, this light is imperceptible to the human eye. As such, if you purchase low-cost products from an online supplier, you can’t know for certain that they’re working just by verifying that they’re on.

This also holds true when working with disreputable installers or HVAC companies with limited experience and history. When making these HVAC upgrades, it’s always important to work with businesses that have been around and that fully understand these and other integrated HVAC accessories. Fake UV lights abound on the open market and the only sure way to avoid them is by hiring a contractor with excellent supplier relationships and access to high-quality, high-performing products.

Dosimeter Testing

One way to test the efficacy of already-installed UV lights is by scheduling dosimeter testing or performing dosimeter testing yourself. Dosimeters are small, hand-held instruments that HVAC technicians use to measure ionizing radiation exposure. Not only will these meters tell you whether or not your UV lights are actually on and functioning, but they’ll also give you an accurate reading of their output.

Alternatively, you can perform dosimeter testing on your own by placing dosimeter cards in your UV lights’ path. For homeowners, dosimeter cards are both cheaper and easier to acquire than dosimeter devices. These cards work with pulsing, Xenon lights that produce broad-spectrum UV light. You can order multiple cards at once for ongoing testing over time. Each card provides a clear, visual indication of effective germicidal irradiation. Depending upon which dosimeter card you choose, this indication could come in the form of a check mark, an “X”, or a change in the card’s color at its center.

How to Test Your UV Lights With Dosimeter Cards

Place a single dosimeter card approximately six inches away from your UV lights. Then, run your UV lights for at least 30 minutes. Most cards will darken at their center to indicate a change in radiation exposure. Others, however, could change in appearance to display a special symbol. Before using a dosimeter card, make sure that you understand the visual indicator you’re looking for. Having more than one card on hand will allow you to compare changes in appearance by assessing them before and after exposure.

Check for Changes in Resident Health

Integrated HVAC UV lights aren’t miracle workers. These devices won’t prevent all residents from getting sick all of the time, and they won’t eliminate mold problems on their own. At best, they’ll treat the air that’s moving through your HVAC system as it passes by. However, after several days or weeks of use, you should be able to detect a marked change in your indoor air. If your UV lights are working, you can expect people to experience less:

  • Sniffling
  • Sneezing
  • Eye and skin irritation
  • Nasal irritation
  • Stuffiness

If everyone in your home feels much the same after you’ve started using your UV lights, give it some time. While it takes just 10 seconds of contact with a UV light for most allergens, pathogens, and contaminants to either die off or be neutralized, it can take several days before much of your indoor air has a had a chance to cycle beneath or through them.

Schedule Indoor Air Quality Testing Before and After UV Light Installation

Among the best ways to determine how well your UV lights are working is to schedule an indoor air quality (IAQ) assessment both before and after installation. Scheduling an IAQ assessment before having your UV lights put in will tell you whether or not this is the best integrated HVAC accessory for your needs. Depending upon your IAQ concerns, the makeup of your household, and your average humidity levels, you may be better served by a(n):

  • Air scrubber
  • Whole-house air purifier
  • Media filter
  • Whole-house humidifer or dehumidifier

In some instances, such as when indoor humidity levels are exceptionally high or low, it may even prove necessary to have two integrated accessories at once. For instance, pairing a dehumidifier with UV lights could be the right choice if you have recurring mold issues or condensation on your windows and walls.

Another important benefit provided by professional IAQ assessments is insight into the exact toxins you’re contending with and their concentrations. These evaluations can point out fixable problems that might not necessitate the ongoing use of UV lights or other integrated accessories such as slow and hidden leaks, slab leaks, poorly covered sump pumps, and leaky, aged ducting.

With a second IAQ test, you can compare concentrations of key contaminants after your UV lights have been set up. This will let you know whether your IAQ is improving and your UV lights are bringing you closer to your goals. However, even in these instances, having similar or even higher concentrations of indoor allergens, pathogens, and contaminants doesn’t always mean that UV lights aren’t doing their job. In some instances, insufficient change in the indoor environment during a second IAQ assessment is simply further confirmation that other measures such as secondary accessories are required.

Make Sure That Your UV Lights Are in the Right Location

Professionals who’ve worked with IAQ accessories before know where to install UV lights for optimum benefits. When exposed to UV lights, certain plastic components deteriorate at a rapid rate. If you’ve been replacing your HVAC air filters more frequently since your UV lights were put in, it may be that your installer put these features in a less-than-ideal location.

The best place for these improvements is away from vulnerable, hydrocarbon-based components or at least 36 inches away from all non-UV materials. In most systems, this is the return plenum.

Mold and Algae Inspections and Mitigation

The next thing to check is your HVAC system’s condensate drains. If your UV lights are working, you shouldn’t find any mold, visible bacteria, or algal blooms in these locations. More importantly, you shouldn’t contend with blocked condensate drains, overflowing drain plans, or excessive drain odors.

General HVAC Maintenance

Integrated HVAC system accessories can facilitate remarkable improvements in the health, safety, and overall comfort of living environments. However, even high-performing UV lights aren’t a substitute for ongoing HVAC maintenance. If you aren’t using the right filters and changing them often enough or if you regularly skip annual heater and AC maintenance, your IAQ will continue to decline.

Since 1998, we’ve been helping homeowners maintain comfortable, healthy homes. We offer AC, heat pump, furnace, and ductless mini-split installation, repairs, and maintenance. Our clients can also turn to us for IAQ improvements, smart thermostats, and preventative maintenance plans. To schedule an IAQ assessment for your San Marcos, CA home, give Oak Island Heating and Air Conditioning a call now.

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