Builder Focus: The Air We Breathe - Indoors and Out

2013-07-20T12:00:00Z Builder Focus: The Air We Breathe - Indoors and OutMichelle Krueger Times Correspondent
July 20, 2013 12:00 pm  • 

Thursday was the fourth Air Quality Action Day of the week and the sixth of the year.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management urged us to reduce vehicle trips, mow lawns early in the morning or later in the evening and generally reduce our energy use in businesses and homes because high ozone levels are created on hot, still days when pollutants in gasoline, automobile emissions and other combustion engines, such as those that burn coal and other fossil fuels, are cooked by the sun.

So what happens when we all crank up the air conditioning and avoid the sweltering outdoor wall of heat by staying indoors as much as possible?

On average, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors. Since indoor air quality can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, indoor air pollution can threaten the health of everyone in your family – especially children, the elderly and those with respiratory difficulties.

According to the American Lung Association, the single most effective way to keep the air in your home healthy is to keep things out of your home that cause air pollution, including cigarette smoke, excess moisture and chemicals.

The second most important strategy is to ventilate - to pull dangerous pollutants out of the house. Run the exhaust fans in your bathroom and kitchen. Open your windows. Make sure you have a good exhaust system in place for appliances and stoves.

When it comes to keeping your family safe and healthy, whether you plan to continue living in your current home or want to build or remodel, make healthy air your goal.

When homes were naturally ventilated by the wind and other uncontrolled forms of air leakage, there was no need for a controlled ventilation system. However, today most people prefer a cozy, draft free and energy efficient home.

Modern building materials make newly constructed and remodeled homes much tighter than older ones. Plywood, housewrap, better windows, caulk and expanding foam are a few examples of common products that tighten a house.

Here’s the most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to air sealing. While people need to breathe, houses do not. People need windows that open and close and mechanical ventilation systems for fresh air. High performance walls need to be able to dry out when they get wet.

So, the problems once associated with a super insulated, super tight house – poor indoor air quality, back drafting of combustion appliances and high humidity and mold growth – are easy to address today.

First, seal up the house as tight as possible and then intentionally bring air in from location where you know it will be as fresh as possible. Mechanical ventilation systems are more than exhaust fans (which are provide spot ventilation to expel moisture and odors from limited areas). They expel stale air containing water vapor, carbon dioxide, airborne chemicals and other pollutants; draw in outside air, which contains fewer pollutants and less water vapor; distribute the outside air throughout the house; and control system operation automatically.

The equipment that performs these functions is available in many shapes, sizes and price points, so it’s important to work with an experienced builder to determine the right one for your home.

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