In the age of COVID-19 and increased awareness of airborne illnesses – not to mention ever-rising air pollution levels – air quality is a foremost concern for many regulatory bodies. Air purifiers and filtration systems, both commercial and industrial, have seen massively increased demand over the past two years and have proven to be a useful tool in combating COVID-19 in enclosed areas like schools and shopping malls. But many purification systems also contribute to another insidious form of pollution: noise. Every air filtration system has to pull air through it in order to function, and that can’t be done without making noise — no matter what the marketing says. At home, this noise can impact sleep quality and our ability to concentrate; in public, it can add an additional layer of noise below the already dense audioscape. So what are air filtration brands doing to address noise in their products? And what can consumers do to ensure they’re putting their money towards the highest quality brands? Let’s take a look.
While clean air is of utmost importance for a healthy life, getting there needs to be done thoughtfully. Though there has been a lot of news and research around air quality and pollution, the World Health Organisation has also ranked noise as the second most deadly form of pollution affecting the world today. Excess unwanted noise increases our stress levels and can lead to physical and mental health problems like hypertension, insomnia, and anxiety. If we’re regularly exposed to this nuisance noise, it can drastically impact our quality of life.
If a consumer purchases an air filter under the assumption it’ll make their household (or a commercial site manager purchases one for their building) a cleaner place only to find it to be disruptively loud, they are just trading one health problem for another.
Measuring noise is also context-dependent. Noise can be much easier to mentally block out during the day — but at night, when there’s nothing to cover it up, it can disrupt your wellbeing and cause real damage. Distance, intervening structures, the source’s frequency, our own misophonia, and more factors can all adjust our perception of noise at different times.
In 1959, UK entrepreneur John Connell OBE founded the Noise Abatement Society to politically address infrastructural noise issues that were negatively affecting the urbanite UK public. Over 60 years later, his granddaughter and great-granddaughter, Gloria Elliot OBE and Poppy Szkiler co-founded Quiet Mark. Quiet Mark is a commercial award programme closely associated with the Noise Abatement Society to further their mission to make the best expertly verified noise reduction solutions more readily available for global designers, consumers and trade buyers. They work to certify brands and products that effectively incorporate noise abatement into their engineering, design, and company ethos.
For commercial air purification systems, this means managing two things: air flow noise, and noise from any liquid elements (if the purifier utilises them). For airflow, which — when the machine is functioning optimally — is produced as pitchless “broadband” sound, this is done through the structural material of the device dampening that sound. If the material is thin, brittle, or sonically amplificative — or if mechanical elements like the fan or filter become damaged or filled with debris — that broadband sound will alter into pitched noise and become much more irritating.
For the water-based filters, the device’s structural material also plays a role, but more importantly is the mechanical elements like the pump or fan that pushes the air into the water.
To certify air control products like purifiers, Quiet Mark looks at the quality of all these elements, but also actively tests the devices in a simulated home-like laboratory. They take decibel and frequency readings within different contexts, such as during the day while other appliances are running, or at night while someone sleeps nearby. If those readings come within a low enough range in all tests over an extended period, they gain Quiet Mark certification as the consistently quietest products on the market.
Despite noise pollution becoming a rising concern within academic communities like the WHO, it has been slow to reach into the public consciousness. When purchasing products like air purifiers that endeavour to remove one kind of pollution from our home environments, it’s important to be aware that they may be simultaneously introducing a new kind of pollution that can be just as damaging. If you want to learn more about how noise can impact our daily lives and how this impact can be mitigated, head over to https://www.noisenet.com/.