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Of all the amenities in a home or commercial building, air and water are the most basic. However, because fluids like air and water can easily carry contaminants, it’s important to filter them to decrease human health risks. Air and water filtration systems operate on similar basic principles, drawing out contaminants either via fine mesh filtration or targeted extractions such as chemical binding agents or static electrical attraction. However, these systems can be quite different in terms of design and maintenance protocols.

Air flows through a home by the design and operation of the HVAC system (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning). The HVAC system is built based on the specifications of that particular building and its expected use patterns, but needs to be maintained regularly to function as designed. A large part of this maintenance is tied to air filtration, as blocked or leaking air filter stages can cause pressure imbalances that throw other parts of the system out of calibration as well. Air filter checks are the most frequent maintenance recommended for an HVAC system, and can be recommended anywhere between once a month to once a year depending on component manufacturer guidelines1. Filter checks can be performed by building managers or homeowners, and are often simple enough for a layperson to carry out with just a few simple household tools, such as a screwdriver and a flashlight. When an air filter check is recommended, this does not necessarily indicate the normal interval at which it is expected to need to be replaced. However, regular checks can give the user a sense of the rate at which a filter is wearing out, which can increase the likelihood of a timely filter change once it is truly needed. Factors like humidity, use levels, and natural disasters affecting air quality (such as wildfires) can play a role in affecting the rate of filter wear. However, checking the accessible filter is not the only inspection needed to the system. Less frequently, it is recommended to contract a technician to inspect and service components of the filtration system that are less user-friendly. Services performed can range from checking for leaks, to calibrating the fans. Some HVAC systems also include multiple stages of filters, not all of which are accessible by the user1.

Water filtration systems are much more variable. Filtration needs can range from biotic threats like pathogens to abiotic threats like heavy metals, based on the water source and the infrastructure used to transport it. Filtration can also be carried out in a very centralized way, at municipal water treatment facilities, or at point-of-use filtration mechanisms, such as those which are present in many modern water fountains. Very often, the reality is a combination of both. While municipal facilities are typically inspected by publically-commissioned oversight organizations, localized water filtration systems are more likely candidates for inspection by a private contractor. A skilled technician can access and clean or replace the filter, reset the indicator (whether analog or digital), and gain information surrounding any extraneous issues. Like air filtration systems, water filtration systems must be serviced as recommended in order to function as designed.

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