Friday, January 16, 2009

Define Your Shade – Indoor Air Quality

Last evening, I attending an interesting session with my local chapter of the USGBC. The meeting was an introductory session on LEED for Homes with a great deal of time spent discussing Indoor Air Quality.

Improving indoor air quality is important to the overall health of the occupants. Whether at home, work, church or shopping, the air we breath indoors is often more detrimental to our health because of these wonderfully tight structures that trap all the contaminates, dust, and bacteria inside. Our challenge is to find effective ways to prevent contaminate infiltration and to filter and remove any particulates that end up indoors.

This can be done in a number of ways, but here are a few options:

Burning Fuels
– Unless you are in an all electric home (which is one way to guarantee improved air quality), location and venting of gas fired appliances is critical to indoor air quality. Keep all furnaces and indoor air handlers out of the garage. Any leaks in the ductwork is a potential for car exhaust to enter the system an eventually the home. Install water heaters in the garage when possible. If a furnace or water heater must be installed in conditioned space, place it in a sealed closet with fresh air vents and combustion air vents.

Fireplaces – Wood burning fireplaces can be very inefficient. Installing doors, additional flue dampers, and better seals on the unit will reduce air loss to the outsides as well as reducing smoke and fumes from infiltrating the home. All gas fireplaces should be sealed units, vented to the outside, to prevent adverse affects on you and your family. The best case scenario is to just not install one if it will not be used.

HVAC Installation
– While sealing the ducts and plenums is typically talked about in energy efficiency, it is also vital to indoor air quality. Without properly sealed ducts, the air handler will inevitably draw air from the crawl space, attic, floor system or other unconditioned space into the air you breath. A commonly missed area is the return air duct, especially if building cavities are lined to act as the duct. Ensure proper sealing of all HVAC components.

– Filters are important to the system. The most important advice on filters is simple, replace/clean them regularly. Filters can be an entire discussion on their own and will be covered in another article.

Fans & Exhaust
– Removing air from the house is also important. This can be as simple as a 50cfm fan in each bathroom or as complicated as a whole house fan on automatic timers or a humidistat. If fresh air is added to the house, venting air from the house is vital as well. Fans should always be run after showers, baths or other excessive use of hot water.

– Chemical usage can also affect the air quality. During construction, utilizing products that have no noxious chemicals or low/no VOC sealant/paint. Following closing, encourage homeowners to find alternatives to bleach, ammonia and other chemical based cleaners.

This list is in no way all-inclusive, but it does give you some ideas where to start. As part of a green program, there are many affordable options to ensure better air quality. However, if the homeowner does not use the features, they will do little to improve the overall home health. Many innovative product reviews to come in the near future on this blog, so stay tuned.

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