Indoor Air Quality in Homes
Remodeling Your Home? Have You Considered Indoor Air Quality?
Ventilation for Homes
In general, you should address the following issues when remodeling your home.
|Energy Efficient Improvements|
|Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)|
Read about Best Practices
If too little outdoor air enters a home, pollutants can sometimes accumulate to levels that can pose health and comfort problems. Likewise, one approach to lowering the concentrations of indoor air pollutants in your home is to increase the amount of outdoor air coming in.
Outdoor air enters and leaves a house by: infiltration, natural ventilation, and mechanical ventilation. In a process known as infiltration, outdoor air flows into the house through openings, joints, and cracks in walls, floors, and ceilings, and around windows and doors (air may also move out of the house in this manner — this is called exfiltration). In natural ventilation, air moves through opened windows and doors. Air movement associated with infiltration and natural ventilation is caused by air temperature differences between indoors and outdoors and by wind. Finally, there are a number of mechanical ventilation devices, from exhaust (vented outdoors) fans that intermittently remove air from a single room, such as bathrooms and the kitchen, to air handling systems that use fans and duct work to continuously remove indoor air and distribute filtered and conditioned outdoor air to strategic points throughout the house. The rate at which outdoor air replaces indoor air is described as the air exchange rate. When there is little infiltration, natural ventilation, or mechanical ventilation, the air exchange rate is low and pollutant levels can increase.
Unless they are built with means of mechanical ventilation, homes that are designed and constructed to minimize the amount of outdoor air that can "leak" into and out of the home may have higher pollutant levels than other homes. However, because some weather conditions can drastically reduce the amount of outdoor air that enters a home, pollutants can build up even in homes that are normally considered "leaky."
Most home heating and cooling systems, including forced air heating systems, do not mechanically bring fresh air into the house. Opening windows and doors, operating window or attic fans, when the weather permits, or running a window air-conditioner with the vent control open increases the ventilation rate. Local bathroom or kitchen fans that exhaust outdoors remove contaminants, including moisture, directly from the room where the fan is located and also increase the outdoor air ventilation rate.
Ideally, new homes will be built to minimize leakage to control energy loss, improve comfort, and minimize the transport of moisture and pollutants through the building shell. These homes should then also have mechanical ventilation to remove pollutants generated in the home and provide outdoor air in a controlled manner. Whether a mechanical ventilation system makes sense in your existing homes depends on the house, your existing heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system, and the changes you have planned. You should discuss this with your HVAC contractor. A local Weatherization office, or building performance contractor, might also be able to help you with this decision or point you to local experts.
How much ventilation do I need?
The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineering, or ASHRAE at www.ashrae.org provides procedures for determining whole-house ventilation rates in its Standard 62.2, "Ventilation and Acceptable Indoor Air Quality in Low-Rise Residential Buildings". The standard also provides requirements for exhaust ventilation for kitchens, bathrooms, and other point sources, such as clothes dryers and venting for fuel-burning appliances.
For a basic overview of ventilation, including different types ventilation systems, try the following resources:
- U.S. Dept. of Energy, Energy, Efficiency & Renewable Energy's "Guide to Home Ventilation" (PDF).
- ENERGY STAR® ventilation fan specification. www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=vent_fans.pr_vent_fans
- American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineering, ASHRAE at www.ashrae.org . ASHRAE Standards and Guidelines at www.ashrae.org/technology/page/548
- Energy & Environmental Building Alliance, or EEBA at www.eeba.org . EEBA Ventilation Guide publication www.eeba.org/bookstore/prod-Ventilation_Guide-10.aspx
- Home Ventilation Options for Home Builders - http://oikos.com/esb/39/VentOpt.html from Energy Source Builder.
For a detailed analysis of ventilation system options for new homes, see the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report Recommended Ventilation Strategies for Energy-Efficient Production Homes. Copies of ASHRAE Standard 62 are available from ASHRAE.