The crocuses are starting to bloom, the daffodils are coming up and the days are getting longer. All this means spring to me. And unfortunately, with spring come spring rains and allergens. Moisture and allergies are two major reasons why Arlington Designer Homes is investing in improved indoor air quality. The other day I went to a seminar about the new Energy Star standards and a less well known program by the EPA called Indoor Air Plus. Most people are at least aware of the Energy Star program, but many people I talk to are not aware of the Indoor Air Plus program. I think this is perhaps because unless you are personally affected by poor indoor air quality (IAQ), you might not even think about it.
The seminar I attended summarized the issue well:
People are increasingly concerned about mold, radon, carbon monoxide, and toxic chemicals commonly found in homes. In fact, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies show that levels of air pollution inside the home are often two to five times higher than outdoor levels. And poor indoor air quality is associated with a host of health problems, including eye irritation, allergies, headaches, and respiratory problems such as asthma.
Many things go into creating good indoor air quality in your home. It is important to make sure that your home is moisture free, pest free and has adequate ventilation. It’s also important that you perform regular checks on the upkeep of your home. Every time you change the clocks (like this past weekend for Daylight Savings Time) you should also take the time to change the batteries in your fire alarm, and check the caulking and overall alignment of your house.
Over time, your house shifts, expands and contracts, and the sealants that are used both inside and outside can expand, contract, crack or simply wear out. Once there is an entrance to your house via a crack or contraction, it is an open invitation to moisture, mold, pests – all things that will lower the indoor air quality of your home. And if the ventilation in your house is inadequate, it can lead to the build up of nitric oxide, radon, formaldehyde, and other harmful gases or chemicals.
When building a new home, or undertaking a remodeling project, we use green building techniques to address these potential problems before they occur. The first thing we do is create a tight building envelope. (Check out this video series from NAHB for more details about keeping moisture out when constructing a home.) This not only helps with energy efficiency but also serves to block out moisture and air infiltration which can bring in allergens. Of course, once you have blocked exterior causes from becoming a factor you need to take a look at the interior. That is why so much attention is paid to ventilation, making sure that we are getting moisture out of the house with bath fans, and introducing fresh air in a controlled manner with Energy Recovery Ventilators. Next we must control Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs – chemical gasses emitted by paints and other building materials that can adversely affect your health. We control VOCs and the introduction of formaldehyde by simply eliminating it from our construction materials. One of the last parts of the green process is verifying that our techniques work.
All green programs that are worthwhile require 3rd party certifications that independently check all the information provided. They use the checklists provided by the EPA, Energy Star, and any other relevant green building programs to analyze how the whole system works. It is just another type of check and balance to make sure that the systems we have designed and installed work as they should.