The household air cleaner has become a commodity item, with Korean value brands establishing a low-margin floor where serviceable air purifiers can be had for around $200.
This maturing market has caused many manufacturers and vendors to attempt upscaling to the premium space, where lower volumes but higher margins sing a siren's song of profits.
A conspicuous success in the premium space is Blueair Air Purifiers, whose one-piece electrostatic filter design ("HEPAsilent") offers high throughput and close-to-HEPA performance.
The downside for Blueair consumers is frequent and pricey unifilter replacements, a sacred cash cow unique in the premium segment.
Alen Corp is a successful US air purifier vendor with good market penetration.
While the company insists its name should be pronounced "Allen," like the male name, I join the majority who naturally say "A-len."
Alen has tried approaching the upper price echelon from the "green" angle, with the Alen Paralda air purifier, but without much success.
So Alen CEO Peter Mann cleverly re-targeted the premium space with a Blueair-like design.
Alen's newest and strongest air purifier, the $599.00 Alen Breathesmart, features a modern appearance, medium power and performance, and the longest warranty in the business.
A price step up for current Alen owners, the simple and intuitive Breathesmart has established a user-friendly reputation.
Breathesmarts are widely available, but sales volume is low as expected in the price class, with an Amazon Sales Rank of 19,049 in Home & Kitchen.
However, at least at Amazon, Breathesmart is currently (11/21/13) outselling the highest-ranked Blueair, the 203 at 21,109.
At toptenreviews.com, reviewers scored the big Alen 9.65 points out of 10, lavishing Breathesmart with TopTen's Gold and Excellence awards, their highest accolades, and a number one ranking.
TopTen said; "The Alen BreatheSmart overcomes its few flaws with excellent air-cleaning features."
AllergyBuyersClub.com is a premium online allergy shop.
Their technical staff's "Expert Review" gave the Breathesmart 4.5 stars out of five.
Air-purifiers-america.com posts 23 buyer reviews, all the sunny-side 5 star variety (again no amazement, site is owned by Alen).
Sylvane.com has one four-star user review.
Airpurifiers.com shows 38 customer reviews averaging a positive 4.9 stars.
So I think it's time to give the Alen Breathesmart a closer look.
A particle sensor automatically adjusts airflow when detected particulate pollutants rise above a threshold level.
All four fan speeds are modulated automatically.
BreatheSmart's digital control panel is top mounted, featuring LED indicator lights.
A colored air quality indicator changes color (blue, orange, red) to depict pollutant levels.
Automated air cleaning offers lowers expenses and reduces noise, does NOT guarantee best air quality.
This is especially true where the Alen is installed in a large room, as promoted by the company.
I recommend users run all air purifiers, not just the Breathesmarts, on HIGH as much as possible, and use medium speeds at noise-sensitive times.
Auto mode is best used for sleeping.
Breathesmart's controls also include a timer, but there is no remote.
However, toptenreviews.com quotes CADR numbers in their Breathesmart review that seem quite credible to me.
TopTen lists these numbers;
Alen offers these specifications for airflow in Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM):
Speed 1: 150 CFM;
Speed 2: 185 CFM;
Speed 3: 225 CFM;
Turbo: 286 CFM.
These numbers suggest an estimated average CADR around 270, strong enough for a larger room.
One common email query I get is "recommend one air purifier for three adjoining rooms totaling 2,000 square feet, under $300, please help."
This huge demand for air purifiers with enough capacity for the modern "open concept home" has rewarded vendors for vastly exaggerating their purifier's ability to clean larger spaces.
No stranger to room size inflation, Alen actively promotes the Breathesmarts as suitable for rooms to a preposterous 1100 Sq. Ft.
Topten Reviews divided the manufacturer's room size in half, allowing 550 square feet, still vastly inflated.
Using AHAM's rather generous rule, (1.55 times the dust CADR), we get a smaller 428 square feet.
I think a proper room size for the Alen Breathesmart is 278 sq. ft. (my rule is 1.0 sq. ft. per dust CADR, and 6 air changes per hour).
Folks who prefer quiet low speed operation should size the BreatheSmart even more conservatively.
Despite my warning about the room size hype, Breathesmart IS a powerful air cleaner in a world full of 150 CADR pretenders.
And, like BlueAir, there is much marketing use of the word "HEPA" when the filter offers slightly lower than-true-HEPA performance, short filter life, and premium-priced replacements.
Many buyers will not notice the subtle difference between "99.97% of .3 micron particles" (true-HEPA specification), and "up to 99% of .3 micron particles" (Alen ads).
HEPA-style does NOT equal true-HEPA.
But Alen has wisely addressed the biggest issue with Blueair's filter design, the lack of a prefilter.
With the Blueairs, operation in very dusty environments can clog filter faces prematurely.
To circumvent possible motor overheats and attendant warranty claims, Blueair's design leaves the third filter, on top of the air purifier, loosely held.
Under heavy loads, Blueair's filter lifts up and leaks a bit to insure cooling airflow, and allows pollutant bypassing where users fail to maintain the filters.
Alen's filters combine a pre-filter, the hybrid "HEPA" filter, and (optional and pricey) additional filter materials in one piece.
But, unlike Blueair, the Alen prefilter is detachable from the HEPA-style media, and is washable for reuse.
The Breathesmart User Manual says: "Rinse or lightly vacuum the removable black Alen Pre-Filter as soon as it develops a layer of visible particles."
The standard filter, "HEPA-Pure," at $59.00, is a simple two-stage particle filter, with no carbon or other chem/odor capability.
I would rate the Breathesmart several points higher if the standard filter carried some carbon, as Blueair finally did with their standard filter.
Alen offers three optional filters.
An additional thirty bucks gets you three pounds of activated carbon for chemicals and odors in the Breathesmart "HEPA-FreshPlus," $89.00 (BF35-VOC).
Alternatively buyers can install the $79 "HEPA-Silver" filter option, with anti-microbial silver-ion threads to protect the filter from microbe growth.
Note that this filter (BF35-Silver-Carbon), despite claims from the manufacturer, destroys only organisms that are trapped by the filter, not necessarily a guarantee against infectious disease transmission.
The silver option has a light layer (weight unspecified) of activated carbon, which captures some odors and chemical vapors.
The most expensive filter option is the $109.00 "HEPA-OdorCell" (BF35-MP).
This filter contains cells loaded with what Alen calls "patented Molecular Conversion Powder (MCP)."
Though no data is provided, I'll hazard a guess that this powder is potassium permanganate oxidizer.
Using powder contained in permeable cells (to maximize surface area exposed to the airstream) is a clever Alen touch.
Most builders use compressed pellets to minimize leakage.
Alen says "...tough odors like tobacco smoke are destroyed at a molecular level..."
AllergyBuyersClub says: "We recommend cleaning the pre-filter every 2-3 months and replacing the HEPA-style filter at least every 6 to 8 months with normal use."
While I would clean the prefilter every month, that main filter replacement interval is vastly shorter than most premium makes with true-HEPA filters.
Note that competitor Blueair requires proof of 6 month filter buys with all warranty claims.
Ironically, some brands with long-life filters have found dealers reluctant to stock replacements.
Alen air purifiers have good market penetration, and the upside to pricey and frequent filter changes is that replacement filters are widely available, a huge plus in today's shrinking air cleaner market.
Notice that the carbon-containing optional filters MUST be replaced as a unit, meaning that filters with expired (saturated) carbon will need replacement even though the particle filter is not clogged.
Some competitor's filters also have this issue, notably Austin Air and Blueair.
Installing replacement filters on the Breathesmarts is quite simple, contributing to the user-friendly image.
A negative ionizer completes the filter train.
Alen has not specified whether this ionizer is involved in charging the filters (like Blueair), or whether the filters are self-charged by airflow.
But the inclusion of a convenient ionizer on/off button suggests the self charging version is used.
But this probably means CARB-compliant, which means ozone emissions are lower than 50 parts per billion when running the ionizer.
Breathesmart is NOT silent, with decibel levels described by Alen as:
Speed 1: 41.5 dB ("whisper");
Speed 2: 44 dB ("light rainfall");
Speed 3: 50 dB ("rainfall");
Turbo: 56 dB ("box fan on medium").
While Alen has worked to constrain noise, designing the fan for lower RPMs and eliminating irritating high frequencies, this is still fairly loud.
TopTen said "in our tests, we felt that the BreatheSmart was loud, especially when automatically adjusting its fan speeds."
AllergyBuyersClub agreed; "Turbo setting is loud."
But any 270 CADR machine is going to make noise, just that much air rushing will be pretty noticeable.
Noise is one more reason to size the Breathesmart much smaller than 1100 square feet.
One common error by air purifier builders, even in the premium price brackets, is neglecting a lights-out switch for bedroom use.
Often the always-on light has emissions in the sleep-disturbing blue light part of the visible spectrum.
Human melatonin (healthy sleep hormone) secretion is especially sensitive to blue wavelengths of 460 to 480nm, so I recommend any lights used for nighttime safety be red.
Bolstering the user friendly image, Alen has included a lights-off setting on the Breathesmart.
An extra click on the power button dowses the lights, and the third click powers the Breathesmart off.
While the biggest Alen is Energy-Star Certified, it is not electricity frugal.
Measuring almost 27 inches tall by 18 inches wide and ten deep, Breathesmart is NOT compact.
Buyers should consider placement before purchase.
One reviewer who received the Breathesmart as a promotion had to stuff it between their washing machine and the laundry room wall, hardly conducive to efficient air cleaning.
With the Alen air purifier weighing 21 pounds, many users will find the built-in carry handle another thoughtful Breathesmart design feature.
Like Blueair, which requires verified 6-month filter purchases to remain in warranty, Alen asks for one year filter purchases.
This makes the Breathesmart's maintenance costs significantly lower than the three-filter Blueair models.
Breathesmart also comes with Alen's 60 day "Allergy Relief Guarantee."
Since many user reviews report quick allergy relief with the Breathesmarts, I doubt this guarantee increases Alen's costs much.
Though made in China, manufacturing quality of the Alens is very good, and the company has a reputation for good customer service and replacing the occasional defective Breathesmart quickly.
Buyer reviews report their purchases arrive strongly packaged, so in-transit damage is rare.
Alen has made a pretty good attempt at building a machine to challenge Blueair in the lower-premium air purifier segment.
Costs of ownership are acceptable compared to Blueair and others in this price class.
Shoppers can browse the
Amazon also carries BreatheSmart replacement filters;