Meet the Mind Behind the RZ AIRflow: RZ Industries Founder & CEO Steve Torbenson

RZ CEO Steve Torbenson came up with the idea for the RZ AIRflow after spending too many mornings with a stuffy nose and watery eyes from his hotel room’s air. To celebrate the AIRflow launch, Steve discussed the thought process behind the product’s design, why all people could benefit from cleaner air with the AIRflow, and what’s really lurking in your PTAC units.

How did you come up with the idea for the RZ AIRflow?

For 24 years, I bought and sold real estate. I’ve been around dust my whole life, and I’m very sensitive to it. Throughout my life, I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels and motels. I’ve traveled all over the country and different parts of the world, and I noticed that I’d go into a hotel room and there would be musty smells or dust. Then my allergies would start to act up. I started wondering why as soon as I walked into a hotel room, I would start to feel bad, and I figured there had to be a solution. So that’s how I started to think of the idea for the AIRflow.

You said you started to feel bad when you walked into your hotel room. What were your symptoms?

As soon as I walked in, I would always sneeze and my eyes would kind of itch. Then the next morning, after I’d spent the night in that dirty air, I would wake up congested, sneezing, watery eyes, you name it.

Did you immediately think the air inside the hotel room was making your allergies flare up? 

I knew it had to be something in the air. And I looked at the PTAC units and thought that because these units heat or cool down the room, so much of the air in the room is being circulated by these PTACs. So I got a tool to measure the air quality in the hotel room and went crazy. Then one day, I took off the cover to my hotel room PTAC unit and saw how much dirt and dust was inside and being circulated in the room. That’s when I knew where the problem was.

What was your reaction to seeing the dust, dirt, and grime in the PTAC units?

I was just shocked. I figured I would see some things in there, but there have been a few PTACs that when I pulled off the cover, I couldn’t believe what was in there. We literally took samples of that dirt and dust from those PTAC units and sent them out to a company to see what was in it. They came back and said that they had found over 40 or 50 different things in the dust. Most of it was stuff you’d expect, like dirt, pollen, dander, pet hair. But some of it was too gross to even mention. I was blown away.

When you walk into a hotel room, you think you’re by yourself. But there have been hundreds of people in and out of that room, and they carry dog hair and dust from their house, the plane, or outside. So that’s how that dust accumulates in the PTAC unit.

How did you develop the RZ AIRflow?

Originally, I just took a piece of filtered material with double stick tape and put it over the vent on the PTAC unit. And that worked unbelievably well. So originally, that was my plan — just to have a simple filter rolled up in a tube, sell it, and, you know, have a good day. Then I started thinking, “Well, what if you actually had a frame that you could replace these filters, you could attach it securely, and you could have a good seal?” So I started working on it and finally came up with the concept where it has replaceable filters. It’s got a HEPA filter and active carbon filters that take care of the fumes and odors.

How long did it take to evolve from that roll of filter material to the final AIRflow design?

It probably took us 5 or 6 months. We discussed the design and features of the AIRflow with so many people because we wanted to get it right. We probably went through three or four different variations of the actual design until we got it where we liked it, and everyone who’s used it has liked it.

What’s been the reaction from those who have used the AIRflow?

It’s been great! We wanted to get actual feedback and opinions on the AIRflow, so we’ve done focus groups, sent it out for testing, and gave it to people we knew would give us honest feedback. And everyone has loved it. It was awesome to hear because before they tried the AIRflow, they said they would have trouble sleeping or have allergy problems the next morning. Then after they used it, they all said those problems were gone and they wouldn’t go to another hotel without it.

Why do you think this product can improve people’s lives?

Everyone wants to breathe cleaner air. I don’t think there’s anyone who wants to breathe air full of dust and dirt. And the AIRflow can help give them clean air.

I thought that filtering the air from the PTAC unit made sense, but I didn’t realize how much until I tried it for the first time. The first time I put an AIRflow on the PTAC was the first time I woke up and my head was clear, I didn’t have a sore throat, and I felt amazing. That’s a feeling everyone wants.

Who would you recommend getting an AIRflow?

I know you shouldn’t say “everyone”, but I do think everyone could benefit from using the AIRflow. People who are sensitive to dust, like me, and allergy sufferers are perfect users of the AIRflow, but also young, healthy people can benefit. Who doesn’t want to know their air is cleaner? And smells better?

One night I was staying at a hotel in Orlando and didn’t have the AIRflow with me. I woke up the next morning, and I felt horrible. I mean, the worst I’ve ever felt waking up a hotel. So I went outside on the balcony, and I saw all these families. Moms and dads and people with their kids coming down there for a Disney vacation, and I thought, “You know, these people have saved up for a weeklong vacation in Disney or Universal. They’re excited. Then they get to the hotel, and they wake up feeling miserable.” You want to feel your best on vacation because it can totally change your trip if you or your family isn’t feeling great.

The AIRflow is perfect for more than people at hotels. Senior living communities are great for the AIRflow because many of them use PTAC units, and they want to protect their residents from dust and other respiratory issues. My mother lived in one, and I wish that I could have had one for her when she was there.

But really, anywhere with a PTAC unit can benefit. PTAC units are becoming more and more common in large apartment complexes, and even schools, so there are millions of people who would be helped with an AIRflow.

Have you noticed a change in your health since using the RZ AIRflow?

I feel amazing. I take it with me everywhere I travel. The first thing I do when I get to my hotel room is put the AIRflow on the PTAC unit. After a few minutes, I can definitely tell that it’s working.

On the last two trips I took, normally I would have woken up feeling lousy because there was a ton of dust in the air. But when I woke up, I wasn’t congested, my head wasn’t plugged, and it was unbelievable.

What’s next to come within the air purifier space for RZ?

I’m hopeful this is just the beginning. We’re working on expanding this technology and design to other popular HVAC units so we can help more people feel better and breathe cleaner air in an affordable way. Stay tuned, lots of ideas are in the works!