Building to Breathe Deeply: A Look at Indoor Air Quality

February 23, 2017

Car emissions.  Factory fumes.  Environmental toxins. These topics resonate when we think about outdoor air pollution.  But what about indoor air?  Have you considered how your home impacts your ability to breathe?  New research suggests that indoor air may be more polluted than outdoor air.  Since most of us spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors, building to impact indoor air quality (IAQ) is a subject well worth investigating.

What is Indoor Air Pollution?

There are a variety of things that negatively impact indoor air quality, everything from fungal spores, cooking residue, animal dander, dust mites, household cleaning products and material out gassing.  Also known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, certain materials like paint, glues, carpet, pressed board in sub-floors and sheathing on wood construction, can release contaminants like formaldehyde into the home environment.

When the home lacks proper ventilation, these indoor pollutants get trapped inside and can accumulate to levels that pose health risks for occupants.

Solutions for Cleaner Indoor Air

While there are a handful of everyday choices that can improve IAQ, the bulk of solutions lie in building with a preventative mindset.

Build it Tight
A good place to start is building a tight home to keep outdoor pollutants from coming in.  Tight construction focuses on preventing air from entering the home in an uncontrolled manner from unplanned locations.  By properly sealing crawl spaces, basements, garages and attics, pollutants like radon, mold, car exhaust and soil gasses can be kept at bay.  It is also important to provide proper drainage and seal foundations to inhibit moisture from entering the new home.

Provide Adequate Ventilation
A tightly built home, however, cannot stand alone in the pursuit of IAQ.  While tightness keeps outdoor pollutants out, it also keeps indoor pollutants in.  Tightness must be paired with proper ventilation to dilute indoor emissions and carry contaminants out.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends a ventilation rate of 0.35 ach (air changes per hour) for new homes.  One way to achieve this necessary air exchange is through an advanced mechanical system such as a heat recovery ventilator (HRV).  An HRV exchanges stale indoor air with fresher outdoor air, as well as captures heat from contaminated air before it is moved outdoors.  This process saves energy while ensuring absolute comfort.

Other important areas needing proper ventilation include fireplaces, furnaces, heaters and woodstoves.  The Environmental Protection Agency shares that “combustion gases, including carbon monoxide and particles can be back-drafted from the chimney or flue into the living space if the combustion appliance is not properly vented or does not receive enough supply air.”

Carefully Select Materials
The selection of building materials is also of utmost importance.  Without thoughtful choices, a new home could end up with even higher amounts of contaminants from manufactured materials.

We recommend selecting paints, adhesives, flooring and cabinetry that are formaldehyde free and low in VOCs.  Thanks to advances in green building, there are many products availableicf_-creative_commons with reduced chemical content.

Other smart choices include using solid wood products or selecting an alternate construction method like Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs).  Non-toxic ICF molds have built-in insulation for accepting reinforced concrete, which results in a high-performing wall that is structurally sound, insulated and has a vapor barrier.  Benefits of ICF construction include no off-gassing or cavity walls for mold, mildew or rodents.  Winsome Construction is an experienced ICF contractor, having completed 25 ICF custom homes to date.

Take a Deep Breath
Building homes with superior indoor air quality is one of our highest priorities.  We would enjoy the opportunity to help you breathe easier through the use of green building technologies in your new Oregon luxury home.  Call us at 503-472-7402 to get started.