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Air Purifiers: Should You Buy a Single Room Unit or Whole Home System?

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We all want to breathe fresh air indoors. When it comes to air purifiers for your home, should you buy a whole-home system or a single room unit?

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Between single room units and whole-home air purifiers: which one is better? The answer will  depend on what “better” is for your indoor space. Better often means something different for everyone. Price, effectiveness and convenience all play a role in deciding the best option overall and what to invest in to improve your home’s indoor air quality.  

Unfortunately, there is a lot of contradictory information when it comes to what the best air purifier options are. That said, it’s time we explain the benefits of both single room and whole-home systems to help you make the right choice for your home and the health of the people living in it. 

Single Room Air Purifiers

Standalone units do a great job of purifying the air in a single room or small space. For smaller homes or studio apartments, one large portable air purifier may be enough to cover the entire home. If you’re looking for a unit to clean the air only in a bedroom or solely in your office space, this will sound like the easier way to go as well. However, single room air purifiers have quite a few impractical requirements to truly be effective. 

To get the most out of a standalone unit, here’s what you need to keep in mind:   

  1. Placing a single room unit against a wall limits its ability to clean the air. This means that for best results, they should be placed in the center of the room. For most, this would be highly inconvenient and rather impractical. 
  2. They must be on and running at all times to truly purify the air. For example, if the purifier is in your home office, then to effectively purify the space, you would have to leave it running with the door closed consistently. If it’s not constantly on, each time you return to work in the space and turn on the purifier, you’re starting from zero. There are minimal lasting purification effects with standalone units. 
  3. Single room purifiers have small filters that must be replaced often. If filter upkeep is not maintained regularly, the purifier is significantly less effective.

Whole-Home Air Purification Systems

As the name suggests, whole-home air purifiers are designed to clean all the air inside your home at once. There are different types of whole-home purification systems. It’s important to note that there is a fair amount of misinformation about these systems and larger standalone units are marketed as whole-home purifiers. The notable difference: true whole-home purifiers are installed directly into your existing HVAC system.

This means that whole-home purifiers are constantly decontaminating the air that blows through your home everyday. As the air circulates throughout your home, the purifier removes harmful particles and continuously disinfects the air as it passes through the ductwork. Thus, there is no air in your home that remains unpurified.

A possible downside is that your HVAC system must be running for this to work. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the heat or A/C must be on; alternatively you can simply run the HVAC fan to keep the purification system going. Because the air cycling through your HVAC system is kept clean, it reduces wear-and-tear on your system by limiting the amount of dust and debris cycling through.

The Best Whole-Home Active Air Purification System

What you want from the ideal whole-home purification system is one that uses bi-polar ionization. This process fills indoor air with both positive and negative ions that make indoor air pollutants larger and thus easier to capture and remove. These systems actively seek out and destroy pollutants in the air and on surfaces.

Which System Filters Better?

Technically, single room purifiers with HEPA filters are better filters than those commonly found in residential systems.  However, this is because whole home purification systems don’t need their own filter. Rather, it depends on the filter already installed in your HVAC system.  

We strongly recommend upgrading to MERV 13 air filters which are three inches thick yet fit into the 1 inch slot where the current filter is. This means you can vastly upgrade your filtration system to work with the whole-home purifier without costly adaptations. Using a MERV 13 filter, coupled with a dual technology air purification system for your home will dramatically improve the quality of the air you breathe.

Which One Is Cheaper?

Solely looking at system price: single room purifiers can be less expensive than whole-home purifiers. However, some of the more popular standalone brand names are in the same price range as whole-home purification systems. Also, because most end up needing multiple standalone units to purify a whole home or larger space, single-room purifiers end up being just as expensive, if not more.

When it comes to maintenance, single-room purifiers require more upkeep and regular filter changes because the filters are disposable. Therefore, standalone units have recurring costs and HEPA filters in particular are expensive. Whole-home purification systems require minimal maintenance–usually only every few years. The only extra cost for whole-home purifiers to keep in mind is that they must be professionally installed. Overall, whole-home units require less maintenance and are more cost-effective in the long run.

Which One Is More Convenient?

The main convenience of portable units is that they can be set up and maintained without professional help. Standalone units can also be moved to the space where you need them. However, obviously whole-home units which are actively purifying the air throughout the entire space are far more convenient than manually moving small units on an as-needed basis. Also, once the whole-home system is installed, the job is done. It’s quite an easy process compared to consistently having to shift the location of single room units to balance effectiveness (which again, would ideally be the center of the room) with convenience and aesthetic.

Final Thoughts

A whole-home solution trumps single room purifiers in every way: cost, convenience, effectiveness and efficiency. The best whole-home solution is one that will actively clean the air and surfaces in your home. The ease of allowing a whole-home purification system to constantly decontaminate the air around you without ever needing to worry about it wins out every time.

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