As interior designers, we believe in creating holistic homes that enhance your life through visible and functional beauty. And a part of that beauty involves creating spaces that improve your physical health. Positive Energy, a group of forward-thinking engineering consultants, who specialize in creating healthy living spaces, recently came by our office and educated us on some major discoveries in air health that greatly impact how you experience life in and outside your home.
Why Should You Care?
The human body is in constant exchange with our surroundings, but only 1/250,000th of what our bodies experience actually makes it to our neocortex, where it can be registered consciously. Meaning, there are a lot of variables affecting our health and well-being that we don’t even realize. For example, the imperceptible flickering of fluorescent lighting causes headaches and more. Similarly, there can be factors, like air quality, noise and vibration levels, and lighting that are keeping you from being fully rested and waking up restored.
One of those key players that usually stays off our radar is air quality. Nearly every minute of our lives we are immersed in a sea of air, though it’s so ordinary we don’t notice. However, air has real mass, and in fact is heavy. Air weighs about 13.7 pounds per cubic foot of your home, so the average 2200 sq ft household has around 1250 pounds of air inside. The air inside our home is comprised of what we bring in, so we need to be thoughtful about the personal care products we use, where we sleep, and what we clean with. We are spending nearly 90% of our lives indoors, so it’s vital to setup systems to insure we are breathing dry, clean, properly ventilated air — especially in our homes.
What’s The Cause?
There are two major factors that impact our home air quality, which in turn affects our health.
The first perpetrator of bad air is damp building conditions, which can be caused by a variety of factors, including improper home construction and HVAC equipment, leaky ducts, and wet crawl spaces. Due to hydrolysis, damp surfaces are more emissive than dry surfaces. This means more particles emissions plus humidity increases bacterial and fungal activity. You should aim to maintain indoor relative humidity levels between 40% – 60%.
We are living in a chemical age, which has many advantages, but it also contributes to the toxins we breathe every day. Chemicals like flame retardants, plasticizers, and dry cleaning solutions cause off-gassing. And common activities like cooking with gas ranges or taking walks on a busy street expose us to high amounts of air-pollutants, many of which are too small to see.
How You Can Fix It?
We have some good news! There are some simple steps you can take to improve the air quality in your home. If you are building or remodeling, reach out to experts like Positive Energy from the beginning of the process. They evaluate your home’s architecture and engineering to setup systems to ensure you are breathing the cleanest air possible.
If you’re like many of us who aren’t looking to rebuild or renovate anytime soon, there are some great options you can incorporate in your home for healthier breathing.
Where to start:
MONITOR YOUR AIR
Systems like the IQ Air AirVisual Pro will monitor the air in your neighborhood and the interior of your home, then send updates to your smart phones.
Have a professional come look at your ducts to make sure they are all sealed correctly. Most systems have around 30% leakage and are commonly installed in spaces that are too small, making it difficult to actually make repairs. Common leakage sites are at the initial connection of the duct to the unit, or at the end, where the run-out meets the sheet rock. After the ducts are sealed, have them checked by someone who is RESNET or BPI certified. They will run a pressure sensing probe through your duct system to make sure you have high back pressure and a low leakage rate.
UPGRADE YOUR WHOLE-HOME SYSTEMS
Consider investing in some of the latest and greatest in whole-home air systems. The main point to remember is that your heating and cooling equipment are mainly about your comfort , while systems that dehumidify, ventilate and filter are about your health.
Dedicated whole-home dehumidifiers like this can use your existing HVAC ducting to maintain the humidity level throughout your house. Dehumidifier systems monitor and dry the air in your home all the time – even when your AC system is not running in cooling mode. These systems can also provide filtered outdoor ventilation air that can be timed to operate when you’re home. The typical additional expense to run this whole home dehumidifier is typically less than $10/month.
Ventilation is an important function of your homes HVAC system. To do it right in most climates means to use an ERV. ERVs require consistently dry indoor conditions, so they need to be paired with dehumidifiers. ERV do their work by extracting the heat and humidity from outdoors and transferring it to the exhaust air as it leave the house, and vice-versa. These systems constantly bring in fresh, filtered, tempered (heated/cooled/dried) outdoor air while minimizing the energy impact on your heating and cooling and drying systems.
These systems are mainly about heating and cooling but do have impact on IAQ because they have very efficient fans that can constantly circulate, mix and filter your indoor air without costing a mint. When it comes to heating and cooling, these systems are highly energy efficient, quiet and versatile. They can allow you to have different set point temperatures in different areas of the home.
These are near HEPA level air filtration systems that works in tandem with your HVAC system to capture ultrafine particles, gases, and odors. These systems are simple and reliable but they are not plug-and-play by DIY homeowners. They need to be designed thoughtfully to make sure they don’t negatively impact air flows for heating and cooling.
If you don’t have the budget to install whole-home systems, invest in free-standing units.
Start with a dehumidifier. These test the air and kick on when the moisture in the air gets above your set level. Per our earlier point, dampness in your home attributes to many common health concerns.
When looking for an air purifier, search for filters that go beyond the standard HEPA (which can only filter .3 > particles), because 90% of all airborne particles are smaller than .3 microns. Ideally, you’d love for your purifier to be able to handle dander, smoke, and viruses as well. You also want to look at the CADR (clean air delivery rate), to make sure it’s not only cleaning your air well, but cleaning all of the air in the room. These systems make a powerful impact on your air quality and are something everyone can do!
Some of Our Favorites:
Low-Level Carbon Monoxide Detector: CO Experts PG-2017
Want to Know More?
If you’re anything like us, we like to do our homework. This blog only scratches the surface on such a complex topic, so we would encourage you to keep exploring! Below are a few resources we think would be helpful in your search for understanding air quality.