Does Energy Efficiency Jeopardize IAQ?

September 17, 2010

In the race to reduce energy use and carbon in the residential housing arena, I’m concerned that we’re playing down the importance of indoor air quality in homes. One of the reasons green building took off in the marketplace the way it did is that green treated the house as a system. According to market research, the second most important driver for homeowners to buy a green home is 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 and 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 botched energy conservation retrofits that trap moisture in the walls and other building cavities.

On the inorganic front, urea formaldehyde is the number-one issue, according to the California Air Resources Board. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen and a strong eye, nose, throat and lung irritant. Many products used inside homes — including particleboard, cabinets, countertops, stair treads and shelving — are glued together with urea formaldehyde that can off-gas for years.

Other known carcinogens are standard fare in new construction and remodeling: synthetic rubber in carpet; vinyl chloride used to make PVC for flooring materials and shower curtains; and plasticizers that make vinyl pliable. 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 body at any given time. Several of these chemicals, like vinyl chloride, are also found in fish that have never seen land. Exposure to synthetic chemicals is becoming a global epidemic with unknown consequences.

For more information, visit: