Indoor Air Quality: Identifying the Sources and Health Risks in Your Home
The Environmental Protection Agency has consistently ranked indoor air pollution as one of the top five environmental risks to public health. The air inside the average home can have up to five times as many pollutants than outdoor air - sometimes as high as 100 times more - and you and your family may be completely unaware.
As the EPA reports on their website, “Health effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon after exposure or, possibly, years later.” Not everyone will react the same to indoor air pollution. Some are more sensitive than others and will become ill more quickly. So even if no one seems sick, it is still important to ensure that the air in your home is healthy.
Indoor Air Quality: The Basic Facts
Annually, illness and lost productivity caused by poor indoor air quality can cost American households over $60 billion. Over the last decade, respiratory problems like asthma and allergies have steadily increased in children and seniors. The blame of many of these issues can be given to a home’s inadequate ventilation or poor control of moisture.
Indoor Air Quality is created by the interaction of four main elements:
- The HVAC system
- The home’s occupants and their activities
- The outdoor environment
- The home’s envelope (the physical separator between the conditioned and unconditioned environment)
Factors Affecting Indoor Air Quality
The average American spends 93% of their time indoors. So in any given house, the source strength of a pollutant might be the difference between having an occasional cough or developing a respiratory issue. A pollutant’s strength is determined by a number of issues. The difficulty is, is sometimes tough to pinpoint the exact issues or direct pollutant affecting indoor air quality. Exposure time and individual sensitivity from person to person will play a large part.
Over 50% of indoor air quality problems are a result of inadequate ventilation and is determined by more than just how frequently you open your windows or change the filter on your vacuum. The air exchange rate in your home depends on the design, construction, and operating parameters of the home.
The three most important factors of home ventilation to consider are:
- Natural Ventilation: Air that flows freely through opened windows and doors
- Mechanical Ventilation: Air directed indoors or vented outdoors by devices such as fans or air handling systems
- Infiltration: Air that flows into structures through unnecessary or unintentional openings, such as improperly sealed joints (think windows and doors) or cracks in walls, floors, or ceilings
Common Indoor Air Contaminants
- Volatile Organic Compounds such as cleaning products, the improper storage of supplies, or inadequate ventilation of storage area
- Occupant -Generated Products such as perfumes, colognes, lotions, air fresheners or candles
- Carbon Monoxide
- Combustion Products
- Construction fibers such as asbestos or fibrous glass
- Allergens such as pollen, dust mites, cat, dog, cockroaches
- Microbial Organisms such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi
- Sewer Gas
Illnesses Related to Poor Indoor Air Quality:
Sick Building Syndrome and Building Related Illnesses
There are two classes of illness that can result from indoor air quality problems in a house - even custom built homes. One class is a generalized illness called Sick Building Syndrome. The EPA identifies sick building syndrome as, “A situation in which a building’s occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.” Those affected by sick building syndrome can have a variety of symptoms. They might feel irritation and dryness in their eyes, nose, and throat. They might experience sneezing or a stuffy or runny nose. They might suffer from headaches, dizziness, nausea, irritability, and forgetfulness. They might even feel fatigued and detached from their surroundings. Symptoms of sick building syndrome are often very hard to diagnose.
Other types of illness caused by indoor air pollution are those specifically related to a particular contaminant in a home - also called Building Related Illnesses. Examples are asthma - which can be chemically induced or caused by mold - humidifier fever, respiratory allergies, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Because these illnesses are caused by specific contaminants, they are much easier to diagnose.
Improper Energy-Efficiency Measures: The Unintended Consequences
To create a healthy home, understanding and recognizing the quality of the air is a great first step, but understanding the proper ways to improve your home’s air is even more important. Homeowners looking to improve the air in their home or build a healthy home often execute incorrect precautions and end up creating a worse problem.
For example, a homeowner’s goal might be to contain and maintain temps inside the home - saving money on utility costs and creating consistency in the home. The outcome of doing this incorrectly becomes reduced natural ventilation. Without the proper procedures in place, this can increase carbon monoxide levels and the amount of moisture in a home.
Improper sealing can also result in penetrations in your home’s envelope, increasing carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide levels. It might also decrease the ability of walls to dry or further release volatile organic compounds from common household products.
Further, an inexperienced DIYer may end up disturbing existing insulation, create back-drafting of combustion appliances, or increase airborne dust, fiberglass, and asbestos within their home - all while under the impression they are improving the health and efficiency and working toward a green home.
These are just a few examples of the unintended consequences of trying to improve the air quality in your own home. The best way to improve the health of your home is to consult the experts.
How BrightLeaf Homes Improve Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air quality is an important factor to think about while building your custom home. BrightLeaf custom homes are equipped with high-performance systems designed to protect your home and your family’s health. Our building materials reduce the risk of sickness, prevent dangerous gas leakage, and improve your cooking systems to properly vent combustion by-products.
Our expert insulation and sealing practices keep heating and cooling inside, maintaining comfortable indoor temperatures and lower indoor relative humidity while reducing allergens. Increased air flow within your home also reduces gases and mold buildup that can make you and your family fall ill. We also provide a vented path from the area under the basement floor and around the foundation to the roof. This allows any soil gases to escape the home without entering the home itself, venting potential radon emissions in your custom built home.
Learn more about the health benefits of building an energy efficient home or connect with our team to get healthier indoor air.