GREEN BUILDING: Indoor Air Quality, Health & Safety
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David K. Horvath, GMB, CAPS, CGP, LEED-AP
General Manager, Certified Builder
Office: (615) 791-5678
Cell: (615) 319-0000
Providing a safe, healthy and comfortable indoor environment is important. People are increasingly concerned about mold, radon, carbon monoxide, and toxic chemicals commonly found in homes. Poor indoor air quality is associated with a host of health problems, including eye irritation, headaches, allergies, and respiratory problems such as asthma. Taking reasonable measures to reduce the likelihood of experiencing such problems as well as considering your individual needs and expectations is vital to this process. The following practices should be included in the whole house system to improve the health, safety, and comfort of the occupants:
Residue from pests, such as rodents, dust mites, and cockroaches, is known to trigger allergy and asthma episodes. In addition, wood-eating pests, such as termites, can quickly destroy a homeowner’s most valuable investment. Defense against these problems includes fully sealing, caulking, or screening possible pest entry points and using termite shields in areas of the country subject to termite infestation.
Removing airborne dust particles and contaminants is fundamental to a healthier and cleaner indoor environment. A filtration system may include:
- Design air distribution systems for easy filter access, cleaning and maintenance.
- Maximize hard surface areas (tile, vinyl, hardwood) to better manage dust for health purposes.
- Provide filtration systems for forced air systems that provide a minimum atmospheric dust spot efficiency of 30 percent or MERV of 6 or higher. MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) is a measure of an air filter's efficiency at removing particles.
- Ultra-violet light air treatment =
Protection from potential exposure to combustion pollutants by using fossil-fuel heating equipment, appliances and garage units that cannot spill combustion gases inside the home is vital to a quality indoor environment.
Fireplaces. Use sealed-combustion gas fireplaces to prevent harmful combustion gases from entering the house. All fuel-burning fireplaces should have sealed combustion and be properly vented to the outside. If not properly vented and sealed, the fireplace can emit into the home harmful combustion pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide.
Appliances. Ensure that all combustion appliances in the conditioned space are sealed combustion or power vented. Specifically, any furnace inside conditioned space should be a sealed-combustion 90 percent plus (AFUE of 90 or greater) unit. Any water heater inside conditioned space shall be power vented or power-direct vented. Avoid designs that incorporate passive-combustion air supply openings or outdoor supply air ducts not directly connected to the appliance.
Combustion Safety. Install carbon monoxide detectors (hard-wired units at one per every approximate 1,000 square feet) in any house containing combustion appliances and/or an attached garage. Taking necessary steps to prevent pollutants in the garage from entering the house is also important.
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In occupied spaces, provide continuous controlled mechanical ventilation that exhausts stale indoor air and replaces it with fresh outside air. In cold climates, heat-recovery ventilation reduces the energy penalty of ventilation.
Base Rate Ventilation: Provide controlled mechanical ventilation at a minimum base rate of 15 CFM for the master bedroom and 7.5 CFM for each additional bedroom, as listed in ASHRAE 62.2 or as determined by a ventilation professional.
Kitchen Ventilation: Provide intermittent spot ventilation of 100 CFM for the kitchen; vent all kitchen range hoods to the outside (no recirculating hoods).
Bath Ventilation: Provide intermittent spot ventilation of 50 CFM or continuous ventilation of 20 CFM for each washroom/bathroom. Fans should be quiet, producing less than 1.5 sonnes and include a timer switch.
The types of materials used and the way they are managed during construction can affect a home’s indoor air quality.
- Reduce sources of pollutants by protecting materials stored on-site from weather damage.
- Use materials with reduced chemical content.
- Ventilate homes prior to move-in to help improve indoor air quality.
- Avoid materials with high rates of VOC offgassing such as standard particleboard, some carpets and adhesives, and certain paints.
- Avoid materials made from toxic or hazardous constituents (benzene, arsenic, etc.).
Exposure to radon, a naturally occurring radioactive, invisible, and odorless gas, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. In high-risk radon areas, homes with the Indoor Air Package are built with radon-resistant construction techniques. Homebuyers in these areas are also provided with test kits to check radon levels after they move in.
Moisture problems can lead to mold, mildew and other biological pollutants that can negatively impact health. A variety of moisture control features are designed to minimize these risks, including improved control of condensation and better roof, wall, and foundation drainage. Indoor humidity should be maintained in the range of 25 to 60 percent by controlled mechanical ventilation, mechanical cooling or dehumification.