Archives for indoor air quality

Disposable Versus Reusable Air Filters

filter MERV ratingYour air filter is one of the most important aspects of your HVAC system. A clean, quality filter will improve indoor air quality and improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system.

Since indoor air is generally more polluted than outdoor air, good air filter is essential. Helping remove chemicals from cleaners, pet dander, dust, allergens, an effective air filter can help improve your indoor space and help you breathe easier.

There are two basic categories of HVAC air filters – disposable and reusable. Here are some pros and cons of each category. Use this information to help you choose the type of perfect air filter for your home.

Disposable Air Filters

The most common type of HVAC filter, disposable filters, are designed for one-time use. You will need to replace these filters must regularly to maintain sufficient airflow. Over time, these filters will become clogged with dust, dirt, hair, and other debris.

Disposable air filters come in a variety of filtration levels. The more filtration power a filter has, the smaller the particles it will remove from your indoor air. Filtration is indicated by a MERV rating. MERV stands for “minimum efficiency reporting value.” This number indicates how effectively the filter removes particles from the air as it passes through.

Most professional suggest replacing your disposable air filter monthly. Be sure to check with your system’s owner’s manual or an HVAC professional for specific requirements.

One of the biggest advantages of using a disposable air filter is the convenience. They require no special cleaning or washing. Simply pop out the old one and replace it with a brand new one.

Most disposable filters are typically composed of metal mesh, fiberglass filtration material, and a cardboard frame. Recycling these materials individually is not difficult. However, separating them can be a logistical nightmare for local recycling centers. Also, since fiberglass is non-biodegradable, it will take up space indefinitely in the local landfill.

Another drawback to conventional disposable filters is the cost. You will need to purchase replacement filters several times a year, which becomes expensive over time.

Reusable Air Filters

Reusable HVAC filters, although less common than their disposable counterparts, are growing in popularity. Rather than tossing these filters in the garbage when dirt and dust begins to build up, you simple was reusable filters and reuse them.

Reusable air filters cost more initially than disposable. However, after the upfront cost, the only investment is the time it takes to wash them. A reusable filter, when properly maintained will save you significant money over time.

With a reusable filter, you never have to worry about running to the hardware or home improvement store to buy a replacement. As long as a little dirt and dust doesn’t scare you, maintenance is as simple as flushing the filter with water and then allowing it to dry before replacing it. To ensure your reusable filter is sanitary, you can also a purchase a specialized filter cleaner that you can easily purchase online.

Reusable HVAC filters do require an amount of patience. Replacing the filter before it has had sufficient time to dry attract mold into your HVAC unit. This will affect your air quality, wreak havoc on your system, and could potentially cause health problems.

If you are the impatient sort, consider purchasing two reusable filters. Then simply alternate the filters, replacing with a dry one each time cleaning is required.

The Bottom Line

If you have concerns about indoor air quality, you may want to stick with a disposable HEPA filter. Reusable filters do little to combat cigarette smoke, pet dander, or cleaning chemicals. Consumers with allergies, asthma, or chemical sensitivity may want to stay with high-quality disposable filters.

However, if saving money or going green are high on your list of priorities, a reusable HVAC filter may be exactly what you’ve been searching for.

If you have any questions about what type of HVAC filter is right for you, contact your local HVAC specialist for more details.

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Dealing With Dry Winter Air

dry air As winter sets in and the temperatures fall, so do humidity levels. It is annoying, and probably something we take for granted, but as the weather outside gets colder, the air inside gets drier.

We easily see the effects of dry winter air in irritating static electricity. However, the trouble low humidity levels cause stretch well beyond clinging clothes and the ability for kids to shock each other.

The Effects of Dry Winter Air

One of the major effects of dry winter air is a cooler feel to the indoor temperature. The optimum humidity for comfort is around 40 percent. When the relative humidity is below that level, you may be tempted to turn your thermostat up a few degrees to feel warmer.  And for every degree you bump up the thermostat, you’ll see a 4 percent increase in your heating bill.

But your bank account isn’t the only place you’ll feel the negative effects of dry winter air. Low humidity levels can also have a negative impact on your family’s health. Some of the adverse effects of extremely dry indoor air include:

  • Irritation to the body’s mucous membrane. We feel this as dryness and itching of the eyes, nose, and throat.
  • Lowered immunity. The mucous membrane is the body’s first line of defense against infection. When the mucous membrane thins due to dry air exposure, you become more susceptible to colds, the flu, and other illnesses.
  • Asthma. Dry air can make asthma flare-ups more frequent and severe.
  • Skin irritation. Dry and scaly skin, especially on the hands and feet, can become severe, causing them to crack and bleed.

Long-lasting low humidity can also have a negative impact on your home. A few of the effects dry air can have on your home include:

  • Flaking or peeling paint.
  • Cracks in wooden surfaces, including floors, walls, ceilings, cabinets, and furniture.
  • Excessive static electricity can cause damage to sensitive electronic devices.

 

Dealing with Dry Winter Air

Winter air is naturally dry because as outdoor temperatures fall, the air contracts. Because the air molecules are more compact, the air has less capacity to hold moisture. This dry air gets inside your home through open doors and windows and causes your home’s relative humidity to fall.

But dry indoor air doesn’t have to be inevitable. There are steps you can take to restore relative humidity to a comfortable level and help protect your home’s interior and your family’s health.

Sealing Gaps and Cracks

First, seal cracks and gaps around doors and windows. Adding weather stripping to tighten door seals and caulk to seal cracks around windows, will go a long way to keeping dry winter air outdoors.

Other Small Ways to Increase Humidity

You can also add moisture to the air by allowing water to sit and evaporate into the air after you take a bath or shower. You can also leave bowls of water out to provide moisture as the water evaporates. Add a few drops of essential oil to the water to give a nice scent to the air in your home. Cooking on the stove can even help increase indoor humidity levels.

Add a Whole House Humidifier

One of the best ways to maintain comfortable humidity in your home is to have a whole house humidifier. A whole house humidifier works with your existing heating system to add moisture to the air inside your home.

Once installed by a qualified HVAC technician, a whole house humidifier brings water vapor into the duct system through a distribution tray. In this way, it helps adjust the indoor humidity level. You can monitor and control the level of humidity with simple adjustments to your thermostat.

For more information about how a whole house humidifier can work for you, contact your local HVAC professionals.

 

Dry winter air is a serious concern that should not be ignored. However, there are steps you can take to maintain humidity and protect your home and your family. Follow these steps and be comfortable all winter long.

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Improving Indoor Air Quality with Your HVAC Filter

Pleated Air FIlter

Pleated Air Filter

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American will spend 93 percent of their time indoors. With so much of our lives spent inside, the quality of our indoor air is important, especially when the EPA claims the average indoor environment is five times more toxic than the air outside.

How Regular HVAC Maintenance Can Improve Indoor Air Quality

Most homeowners don’t realize they can improve the quality of the air inside their homes by performing regular HVAC maintenance. Residential HVAC systems are usually forced-air units that blow cooled or heated air through ductwork.  HVAC systems have air filters to trap dust and keep it out of the mechanical elements of the system. These filters essentially protect your HVAC unit from potential damage caused by the dirt and debris that floats around inside of your home.

However, there is an added benefit to keeping your system’s filters clean that extends beyond the protection of the internal mechanisms of your HVAC unit.

Improve Air Quality By Upgrading Your Filter

You can use your HVAC unit to help improve indoor air quality by upgrading the filter. All filters have a MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating. This rating indicates the size particle the filter medium will capture. Particles that are too small to pass through end up trapped in the filter and therefore are not released back into the indoor air.

Filters for residential purposes generally have a MERV rating that falls between 1 and 16. A filter with a higher MERV rating is able to trap smaller particles which results in cleaner air.

Types of Air Filters

Most fiberglass filters have a MERV rating that falls in the 1 to 4 range. While these filters will capture most dust particles, they are incapable of trapping more irritating particles. Mold spores, pollen, pet dander, and dust mite waste will pass right through them.

Pleated filters usually have MERV ratings between 5 and 8. These filters will trap most irritating particles.

Some filters may have a rating of 13 or higher. Before installing a filter with a high MERV rating above 8, it is important to contact your HVAC technician or consult your HVAC system’s manual. A filter too dense for your unit will hinder airflow and cause the system to run inefficiently.

Keeping Your Filters Clean

Most air filters are disposable and need to be replaced periodically. How frequently you should replace your filters depends on several factors. If you have a home with pets, smokers, or people with allergies, your filter should be replaced more often.

Thicker filters and filters with higher MERV ratings will also need to be replaced more frequently. Although, pleated filters will last longer than fiberglass ones.

If you are concerned about how often you should replace your filter, contact your local HVAC technician for help.

Clean Filters Help Keep Ducts Clean

A clean filter will also help keep you ductwork cleaner. However, even with frequent filter changes, dust and debris can build up in your ducts over time. Look for dust deposits around your registers. This could be a sign of dirty ductwork.

By removing your register covers and using a flashlight, you can check to see if dust and debris has collected in your ducts. Ducts that are overly dirty require professional duct cleaning to keep your system running smoothly and the air inside your home clean and easy to breathe.

The best way to prevent dirt from building up in your system ducts is to check your filter at least once a month and replace it when it is dirty.

 

By upgrading your HVAC filters and keeping them clean, not only will your system run more efficiently, but everyone in your home will breathe easier.

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Is your ac giving you a headache?

Is Your AC Giving You a Headache?

If you suffer from frequent summer headaches, your air conditioning could be to blame. AC is a modern comfort welcome in most areas and a downright necessity in others. However, your head could end up suffering during the long, hot months of summer.

How Your AC Can Give You a Headache

There are several reasons your air conditioner could be causing your head to throb. Here are some common contributing factors and some solutions to help you feel better.

Dehydration Headaches

While your air conditioner is bringing the indoor temperature down to an enjoyable temperature, it is also drawing out the humidity in the air. One great benefit is the reduced risk of indoor mold and mildew. However, one drawback to reduced humidity levels is an increased risk of dehydration.

There is an elevated risk of dehydration during the summer months due to the climbing temperatures outdoors. However, if the indoor air becomes overly dry and you don’t consume enough water, it could lead to dehydration.

Along with dehydration comes the risk of a painful headache. Caused by the brain temporarily contracting due to fluid loss, dehydration headaches can be mild or severe.

Dehydration headaches are simple to prevent, however. Make sure that you stay well hydrated. The Institute of Medicine recommends 91 ounces of water from food and beverages each day for women, and 125 ounces for men.

You can also combat dehydration by running a simple humidifier in your home or office space. This will help prevent the indoor air from becoming excessively dry.

Cold Temperatures Cause Blood Vessel Contraction

If you are the type of person who likes to keep the indoor temperature chilly enough for penguins and polar bears, it may be causing your headaches. When you get cold, the blood vessels in your body contract to help preserve body heat. As the blood vessels in your brain contract, it can cause you to develop an uncomfortable headache.

To prevent this, simply turn up the temperature on your thermostat a few degrees.

Excessive Noise from Your AC Unit

It isn’t a secret that loud environments produce headaches. If your air conditioner is loud when it runs, or even if it just hums at a frequency that irritates you, it could contribute to your summertime headaches.

If you think your air conditioner’s compressor is annoyingly loud, call your local AC technician for a unit tune-up. The problem may be remedied with some basic adjustments to the unit. However, excessive noise could be an indication that you may need a whole new model.

Headaches and Airborne Allergens and Chemicals

If you suffer from frequent headaches, it is possible that your AC unit is circulating more than just air. If your vents and duct work aren’t clean, a forced-air system will send dust, pollen, mold, and other allergens into your living or work space.

Also, chemicals from cleaning supplies, construction materials, paint, or other sources can cause problems if your indoor space does not have adequate ventilation. Your AC system will just keep recirculating irritating or toxic substances through your indoor spaces repeatedly.

One potential solution to the problem of airborne allergens and chemicals is to schedule regular cleaning and maintenance for your AC system. A qualified professional AC technician can make sure all parts of your system are clean and running efficiently.

Consult Your Doctor and Your HVAC Technician

Persistent headaches could be a symptom of a serious medical condition. Therefore, if you have recurring migraines or serious headaches, you should consult your physician for proper diagnosis.

However, if your headaches are mild, and you are convinced that your air conditioning is contributing to your suffering, consult your AC technician to diagnose and remedy any potential problems with your AC. The solution may be as simple as basic maintenance and cleaning, no doctor visit required.

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Improving Indoor Air Quality With House Plants

House PlantsThe survival rule of threes, intended to help people prioritize during a survival situation, states that you can live three weeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without air. This rule of threes helps illustrate just how important the air we breathe is to life.

While many people focus on the importance of hydration and nutrition for health, we shouldn’t overlook air quality. We consume more air proportionately than any other substance. Clean air isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity.The quality of the air we breathe is important to our health and our comfort.

The average American spends as much as ninety percent of his or her time indoors, where the air can actually be several times more polluted than the air outside. HVAC professionals can help you keep the air inside your home clean and contaminant-free by installing products like electrostatic filters or providing services like duct cleaning techniques approved by the National Air Duct Cleaning Association.

However, there is one easy and attractive way you can take action to improve your home’s air quality. All you have to do is add some house plants.

How Plants Improve Indoor Air Quality

The NASA Clean Air Study was the first published research that proved common house plants can effectively eliminate specific toxins from indoor air. The research began in the late 1980s, and was intended to help NASA discover ways to keep the air inside of space stations safe and clean for astronauts.

During research, scientists discovered that certain plants did more than just absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Many houseplants also effectively removed significant amounts of toxins including:

  • Benzene – A chemical commonly found in household detergents, paint, gasoline, and plastics, benzene can cause headaches, dizziness, and eye irritation. Benzene exposure is also known to cause certain types of cancer.
  • Formaldehyde – A colorless, flammable chemical commonly found in building materials, permanent press fabrics, adhesives, and industrial disinfectants, formaldehyde can cause watery eyes, burning of the nose and throat, nausea, and skin irritation. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services listed formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen.
  • Ammonia – This chemical is a common ingredient in many household cleaners. Exposure to ammonia can cause coughing as well as nose and throat irritation.
  • Trichloroethylene (TCE) – A solvent used most commonly as a grease remover, trichloroethylene is also used to make refrigerants, adhesives, and paint removers. Exposure to TCE can cause skin rashes, nerve damage, and liver and kidney damage. Long-term exposure can lead to lowered levels of reproductive hormones, low sperm quality, and a decrease in sex drive.
  • Xylene – Xylenes are important petrochemicals often found in cleaning products, paint thinner, and gasoline. Exposure to Xylene can cause dizziness,confusion, headaches, lack of muscle coordination, and possible changes to the lungs and kidneys.

Plants aren’t just helpful in space, however. Having a few potted plants is more than just a simple and natural way to clean air inside of space stations. They can also be used to clean the air inside of your home or office.

Other research shows that having plants in your home or office can also significantly help overcome the effects of sick building syndrome, a mysterious medical condition where inhabitants of a building feel unwell for no apparent reason.

More recent research suggests that it is more than just the houseplants themselves that clean indoor air. A study released in 2004 shows that tiny beneficial microorganisms living in the soil of many potted plants aid in removing toxins from indoor air.

The Best Potted Plants for Clean Air.

Most of the plants that made NASA’s list of the best air-filtering plants originated in tropical and subtropical environments. Because or their ability to thrive in often  thick forested environments, thriving on sunlight filtered through lush forest canopies, these plants are capable of growing well in filtered household light.

NASA’s top plant performers are the peace lily and florist chrysanthemum. Both of these plants are effective at filtering all five toxic compounds in the original research study (benzene, formaldehyde, ammonia, trichlorethylene, and xylene) from indoor air.

  • Peace Lilies – When it comes to house plants, peace lilies are some of the easiest to grow and care for. Since they prefer medium to low light areas, they grow well in homes and office spaces.. Peace lilies are great plants for beginners as they are very forgiving and can even “tell” when they need to be watered. Just be careful not to over water. The soil should be almost dry. Water only when the leaves begin to droop.

    Not only are these hardy plants efficient air cleaners, they also brighten up any living space with their wide green leaves and lovely white “flowers.”

  • Florist Chrysanthemum – With their big, bright flowers and dark green foliage, florist mums will bring a splash of color and sunshine to any indoor space. They require a cool, bright spot for optimum blooming. Once the flowers are spent, it is difficult to get the plant to re-bloom. Because of this, florist mums are often treated as annuals, needing to be replaced every year. While chrysanthemums help keep indoor air healthy, the leaves are toxic. Make sure to find a place safe from small children and curious pets.

  • Other Plants – While peace lilies and florists chrysanthemums were NASA’s top clean air performers, there are many other plants that you can include in your home or office to help improve indoor air quality. Here are some other varieties that will brighten your indoor spaces and clean the air you breathe:

    English Ivy
    Flamingo Lily
    Snake Plant (also known as Mother-in-law’s Tongue)
    Red-edged Dracaena
    Cornstalk Dracaena
    Barberton Daisy
    Janet Craig
    Aloe Vera
    Weeping Fig
    Broadleaf Lady Palm
    Devil’s Ivy
    Bamboo Palm
    Boston Fern
    Lilyturf


House plants are one proactive step you can take to improve the quality of the air you breathe, However, a few potted plants are not cure-all solution. There are many  other steps you can take. If you want to further improve the air purifying properties of your HVAC system, reach out to your local HVAC experts to explore other options for optimum indoor air quality.

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Protecting Home Air Quality from Your Pets

A staggering 90% of our lives are spent indoors, and while pets bring a remarkable amount of joy into the family home, they also bring in a lot of allergens that can seriously detriment indoor air quality. The Environmental Protection agency has warned of health risks associated with poor indoor air quality; with 37-47% of US homes now including a dog and 30-37% including a cat, those warnings should not be taken lightly.

Lets take a look at how to keep the air at home safe without ousting everyone’s favorite family member.

Where Do Pet Allergens Come From?

So, what exactly is it that pets bring in that harms air quality? As every dog or cat owner knows, pets can shed a lot of fur and while this can be annoying and clog your air filters (more on that in a bit) it generally doesn’t irritate the respiratory system.

The big problem is pet dander. Dander is a small, sometimes microscopic, skin flake that is regularly shed off of mammals with fur, hair, or feathers. Dander travels through the air on house dust and then into the lungs of the occupants where it can cause irritation or allergic reactions.

Other sources of pet irritants come from their dried saliva that can build up in their fur and get shaken off into the air, or from dust released from their dried feces.

Change Air Filters and Use HEPA filters

Filters are your first and best tool to keep your home’s air fresh and allergen free. However, as your pets shed their fur and dander, air filters become clogged and make your system less efficient. A less efficient system means higher heating bills and lower life expectancy for your system. Regularly replacing air filters can go a long way to improving your home’s air quality and your family’s health and comfort, while also saving you a couple bucks.

Traditional air filters, however, might not be up to the challenge of filtering out pet dander. If you really want to filter out nearly all (99.97%) air pollutants, consider integrating a HEPA filter into your system. Contact your local HVAC experts for more information.

Clean Air Ducts

Having pristine air filters doesn’t do much if your air ducts don’t also receive regular attention. Over time, air ducts can collect dust, bacteria and viruses (it is an ideal breeding ground for them), mold, and other nasties. If your ducts aren’t regularly cleaned, every time your air kicks on, pieces of whatever is stuck up there get blasted back into your home. Make sure to have your ducts serviced regularly!

Regular Maintenance

Lastly, having a regular bath schedule for your pet goes a long way in reducing what they would otherwise release into your air. Vacuuming, dusting, and keeping pets off of furniture, carpets, and bed helps prevent dander from building up in fabrics where it will slowly find its way into the air.

This week in Allentown, temperatures will make it to the high 50s. Spring is right around the corner! Unfortunately, so is allergy season. These tips for helping to keep your air clean while co-existing with your furry companion will also help in the fight against spring allergies. Change your filters and contact MBI for your regular maintenance and duct cleaning at: 610.821.9555

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How to Use Your AC to Reduce Allergy Season Flare Ups

With spring comes wildflowers, sunshine, new life…..and you guessed it — allergies.

Springtime activities such as hiking, swimming or tending a garden are treats some people look forward to all year. Reality is, sometimes allergens can put a major kink in some of our favorite seasonal pursuits. As it is, most of the state of Pennsylvania is already facing medium to medium-high pollen threats, and we’ve only now turned the official corner into spring.

Understandably so, when the allergens in the air make the season feel more like a nightmare for the respiratory system than another day in paradise, many retreat to the “safe” indoors.

While seeking haven inside your air-conditioned home may help you avoid allergens landing on your skin and clothing, if you don’t have the right air filters or you aren’t changing your filters regularly, the benefit of staying indoors might not be worth the Vitamin D sacrifice.

Contrary to popular belief, typical air filters do not prevent allergens from traveling indoors. Average filters are intended to cut down on dust build up in AC equipment in order to keep the system running flawlessly. Unfortunately, most of them do just that and only that, leaving allergen haunted residents feeling just as miserable while indoors.

Changing the Air Filters

Experts recommend changing your air filters once every three months, at the very least. For allergies, this means the air coming into your home will be cleaner. If you leave your normal air filters in for lengthy periods, such as a year or more, you’re probably punishing your lungs. Dust builds up in the filter over time, as it should, and eventually, the filter contains so much dust and that’s what anyone indoors will inhale. Among the worst cases, you might actually be safer outdoors than inside with things like pet dander adding even more to your issues.

In addition to helping prevent allergy symptoms, properly kept up filters can increase the efficiency of your AC system, saving you some serious cash.

Allergy-Preventing Filters

Typical filters may serve as a gatekeeper for dust and minimal allergens, but they won’t be saving the day by any means. Irritants such as pollen and bacteria still find their way into the air you’re breathing in while indoors.

If you want to battle the major allergens, look into more specialized filters, frequently referred to as HEPA filters. Even the smallest particles have a difficult time getting through these, with some HEPA filters blocking up to 99 percent of air contaminants. If even one of these filters isn’t helping, call a professional for a cleaning. It’ll be worth not missing any additional work or school.
Do your research and make sure to get this taken care of early on before the summer humidity brings the potential for  additional challenges, like mold.

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Stay Warmer and Cut Costs with Humidifiers

During the summer, we tend to take humidity for granted and even resent it. It’s hot, it’s uncomfortable, it’s sticky. During winter months, however, humidity is very much missed. Heaters produce dry air that can have negative impacts on air quality, health, and heating bills. Let’s take a look at couple advantages a humidifier can add to your home during winter.

Feel Warmer and Save Money

Experts recommend 68 degrees as a good temperature to set your thermostat at if you are interested in cutting heating cost while still staying warm. However, how the temperature of your home actually feels depends on a lot of factors. A thermostat set at 68 degrees can feel chilly or nice and toasty.

Air humidity is one of the most important factors. If the air inside your home is dry, your sweat will evaporate more quickly and make the room feel colder than it is. An air temperature of 75 degrees can feel like 69 degrees in 0% humidity or 80 degrees in 100% humidity. That’s quite a difference!

Improve Comfort, Health and Air Quality

Using a humidifier provides the important benefit of reducing the chance of spreading or contracting infectious diseases. Dry air dehydrates the moist protective coat that surrounds bacteria and viruses. This makes them more contagious when they come into contact with people. When you also factor in dry throat and sinuses, which naturally filter the air we breathe, you have a recipe for a long cold and flu season.

Humidifiers also help reduce the circulation of dust and other irritants. Additionally, it will finally put an end to the chapped lips and dry skin that plague so many in the cold months.

As an added bonus, humidifiers can help preserve your wood furniture and finishes by stopping the expanding and contracting that occurs when humidity levels change. It will even help electronics by reducing the amount of static charge in a room!

Choosing the Right Humidifier

Humidifiers come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from small room humidifiers that will fit on a table to whole-house humidifiers that are built directly into your heating system. Feel free to contact the MBI BTU gurus with any questions you have at: 610.821.9555

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