Today's tightly-constructed homes are more energy efficient, helping to keep utility bills lower. While older houses can be notoriously drafty and expensive to heat or cool, more modern construction is often – quite literally – airtight. Advances in insulation, windows, house wraps and other construction materials aim to make the house efficient. This is a positive for homeowners. But there is a downside.
A tight home 'envelope' (all the layers separating the indoors from outdoors) also traps things that you don't want in your house – namely, indoor pollutants. Secondhand smoke, viruses and bacteria, particulate matter (from your stove, fireplace or chimney), as well as more immediate threats like carbon monoxide and radon, can build up in the stale indoor air. Trapped moisture can also promote the growth of mold spores that can be allergenic or even toxic. Even the construction of carpet pads and new furniture can emit formaldehyde and other volatile compounds into the air.
With all of these potential sources of household pollution, it's no wonder that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cites poor indoor air quality (IAQ) as a major environmental health concern. In the short term, poor IAQ aggravates conditions like allergies and asthma, and can produce symptoms like headaches, dizziness, and shortness of breath. A growing body of research connects long-term exposure to respiratory ailments like emphysema, heart disease, and some types of cancer.
So, how can you protect your family from IAQ threats?
The most straightforward way to address indoor pollutants is controlling their sources as much as possible. Some simple steps can make a difference, according to the EPA: Asking smokers to go outside, for example, and regular housecleaning to subdue pet dander, dust and pollen. Always running the exhaust fan when cooking with gas stoves (and making sure burners are correctly adjusted), and proper cleaning and maintenance of chimneys and flues will also limit hazardous emissions.
However, attempts to attack the many sources of pollution can only be so effective – and don't address the root cause of chronic IAQ issues associated with trapped gases and tiny airborne particulate, a stagnant indoor environment.
Ultimately, an airtight home may need more ventilation. The challenge is letting fresh air into your home without letting money fly out in the form of higher heating and cooling costs. Bryant offers a full line of energy recovery ventilators that bring pre-filtered, pre-conditioned fresh, outdoor air into the house while helping to minimize energy loss. In the process they expel stale, polluted indoor air, and can also help control incoming humidity (and therefore the risk of mold growth).
Circulating fresh air into the home is critical to a fresh indoor environment – but outdoor air carries pollen, particulate matter and other contaminants. So it's also important to filter and purify all of the air that's flowing through the home, on an ongoing basis.
Air purifiers provide the solution – but where portable units may help clear one room, the best approach is an integrated system that tackles 100% of the conditioned air. Bryant offers whole-home purification solutions that fit in line with your ductwork. These air purifiers use a patented 'Captures and Kills' technology that traps particles and germs, mold and other pathogens (including human flu, the Streptococcus bacteria, even the common cold virus) killing or inactivating them to prevent growth.
A well-built home shields your family from the elements and saves energy. But while a tight home envelope is meant to promote indoor comfort, a stale indoor environment is anything but – especially when it starts to impact your health.
Homeowners should embrace energy efficiency, but be aware of indoor air quality issues – and there are better, far more efficient solutions than cracking a window or two. Take a proactive approach, so you and your family can breathe a little easier.