Indoor Air Quality as Important as Energy Efficiency

In the race to save energy and carbon in the residential housing arena I’m concerned that we will play down the indoor air quality of homes. One of the reasons green building took off in the marketplace the way it did is that green building treated the house as a system, including residents. According to market research, the second most important driver for homeowners to buy green homes was improved indoor air quality, especially when children are in the house.

Indoor air quality assaults come from various sources; Organic sources like mold, animal dander, pollen and inorganic sources like the synthetic chemicals that are in building products and furnishings. On the organic front mold is the biggest culprit and can actually be caused by incorrect energy conservation retrofits that trap moisture in walls and other building cavities.

On the inorganic front urea formaldehyde is the #1 issue for the California Indoor Air Quality division of the CA Air Resources Board. “Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen with no level of exposure that poses zero risk, and is a strong eye, nose, throat and lung irritant” according to one of their reports. Many products used inside of homes including particleboard, cabinets, counter tops, stair treads, shelving are all glued together with urea formaldehyde that can off gas for years.

Other known carcinogens are standard fare in home remodeling and new construction, synthetic rubber in carpet (in addition to an average of 100 other synthetic chemicals), vinyl chloride used to make PVC for flooring materials and shower curtains, and the plasticizers that make that vinyl pliable can lead to leukemia and other forms of cancer. The tighter we make our homes the more concentrated these chemicals become. At a recent medical conference it was reported that the average American carries up to 400 synthetic chemicals in their bodies all the time. Several of these chemicals like vinyl chloride are found in fish that have never seen land or polar bear fat. This is becoming a global epidemic with unknown consequences. For more information visit the Air Resource Board or review greenbuilding’s library on: