Hearing the words “air pollution” usually brings to mind images of cars and factories spewing contaminants, but few people think about the quality of indoor air. Most of our exposure to environmental pollutants occurs from breathing indoor air, which contains up to 100 times more pollutants than outdoor air. What produces these pollutants? Mold caused by excessive moisture, Carbon Dioxide fumes from gas combustion appliances, paints, cooking fumes, VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) from building materials and furnishings, flame retardant dust from carpets and upholstery, radon from the soil under the building and particles shed by pets are common sources. Contaminants such as these are associated with asthma, headaches, allergies and cancer which can be significant enough for a structure to be labeled with sick building syndrome. Aside from avoiding products and chemicals that can cause irritation, how can indoor air quality be improved?
The prevailing notion guiding past building projects was that they needed to “breathe” to protect occupant health. While it’s true that buildings without proper ventilation are susceptible to moisture problems, mold, and fume build-up, when ventilation happens accidentally by way of cracks and holes in a building’s shell, the building is also extremely inefficient and uncomfortable. According to ENERGY STAR, the holes and gaps in a typical home result in the same amount of air leakage as leaving one window open year-round! In today’s buildings, ventilation works in conjunction with air sealing and insulation to ensure comfort and efficiency.