Some thoughts on Indoor Air Quality

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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The quality of the air we breathe while in our homes is impacting our health. There is an incredible amount of research on this topic and more is being discovered every day.  For example, some families spend thousands of dollars per year on asthma treatments. Between 2001 and 2009 the number of people in this country diagnosed with asthma increased by five million(1). Two of the main causes of asthma are Nitrogen dioxide from combustion appliances and chemical odors from paint, solvents, pesticides, adhesives, particleboard, vinyl flooring and tiles, dry-cleaned clothes, toner from photocopiers, and cleaning agents (2).

In this region, wildfire can also have a major impact on our lungs and potential dire consequences for asthma sufferers. The general recommendation for lung health during wildfire is to stay inside. This assumes good indoor air quality and lack of smoke infiltration into the home. This issue was especially concerning with the recent Santa Rosa fires causing toxic smoke to fill the sky. Many were questioning how to filter their air, if they should replace the soil in their yard and most importantly - How to rebuild better! Home Energy Pros shares an in-depth evaluation here. This hit our family personally as Grandma and Grandpa are currently living with a host family from their church trying to determine next steps after loosing everything. Although this an extreme example, better buildings can buffer our exposure to adverse health impacts of wildfire and needs to be addressed.

Asthma is just one impact of poor indoor air quality. During a home assessment we look for moisture, asbestos, combustion gases and potential contact with hazardous materials from garages, attics and crawlspaces. When it comes to building new - this issues can be eliminated through material choice and better building strategies. LEED, Living Building Challenge and Built Green among other building certification programs address health and safety. The EPA and ASHRAE  provide guidance as does the WELL Building Standard. This standard looks to go beyond health and safety. It has seven areas of concentration, called Concepts, which are air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind.

Better buildings start to be very cost effectiveness when health and safety is taken in to account, even in this region where utility rates are quite low. I look forward to exploring this more and developing strategies to improve the indoor air quality for existing and new homes in 2018!

Resources: (1) American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, (2) Asthma Initiative of Michigan