Indoor Air Quality and Climate Change
Climate change may worsen existing indoor environmental problems and indoor air quality, and it may also introduce new problems as the frequency or severity of adverse outdoor conditions change.
On this page:
- How Does Climate Change Affect the Indoor Environment?
- Resources on IAQ and Climate Change
- IAQ and Climate Change Publications
- Research on IAQ and Climate Change
Climate change can affect conditions indoors by worsening existing indoor air quality issues and introducing new ones. Most people in the United States spend about 90% of their time indoors. The air we breathe indoors, and ultimately our health, can be impacted by many factors, including the air quality outdoors, people’s activities indoors, and the design, construction, operation and maintenance of a building.
Changes in the climate can affect the air we breathe indoors in many ways. For example, changes in the climate can worsen the quality of the air outdoors which infiltrates into indoor environments. Rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and warmer temperatures can increase outdoor airborne allergens which can infiltrate indoor spaces. Warmer temperatures and shifting weather patterns can lead to more frequent and severe wildfires. Smoke and other particle pollution generated outdoors, including from wildfire events and dust storms, can infiltrate into indoor environments and contribute to levels of indoor particulate matter.
Additionally, more frequent and longer outdoor heat waves can result in higher indoor temperatures. Climate change is also increasing the frequency and severity of some extreme weather events, such as extreme precipitation, flooding, and storms, which can result in damage to buildings and allow water or moisture to enter indoors. Increased indoor dampness and humidity can lead to increases in mold , dust mites, bacteria, and other biological contaminants indoors. Extreme weather events can also create conditions that support increases in and the spread of pests and infectious agents that can make their way indoors.
Lastly, power outages may occur with more frequent extreme weather, making it more difficult to maintain comfortable indoor temperatures and healthy indoor air quality, and leading to more frequent use of portable generators. Carbon monoxide poisoning from improper use of portable generators results in hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses each year.
Learn more about:
Below are links to resources which provide tips and strategies for adapting our homes and buildings, where we spend most of our time, to maintain a safe and healthy indoor environment.
- Health, Energy Efficiency and Climate Change
- Take Action for Climate Readiness and Indoor Air Quality
- Adapting Buildings for Indoor Air Quality in a Changing Climate
- Indoor Air and Climate Readiness Fact Sheet (PDF)
- Climate Change, Indoor Environment and Health, a Report of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences was tasked by EPA to convene an expert committee to summarize the current state of scientific understanding with respect to the effects of climate change on indoor air and public health. The committee examined the likely impacts of climate change in the United States on human exposure to chemical and biological contaminants inside buildings, and likely public health consequences. Findings from the expert committee were published in the report titled Climate Change, Indoor Environment and Health, which outlines the major climate-induced indoor environmental problems and recommends ways to reduce the health effects these problems cause.
EPA commissioned a set of contractor reports or white papers on topics related to climate change, the indoor environment, and health to provide information for the IOM expert committee that wrote the 2011 report, Climate Change, Indoor Environment and Health. These contractor reports are provided below and are also cited in the 2011 IOM report.
- Public Health Consequences and Cost of Climate Change Impacts on Indoor Environments (January 2010)
This report addresses climate change impacts on indoor environments. Buildings protect people from the elements and otherwise support human activity. Unless managed well, however, environmental conditions inside buildings have the potential to make people sick, cause them discomfort, or otherwise inhibit their ability to perform. This report presents a preliminary analysis of the changes in indoor environmental quality likely to result from changes in climate and assesses the potential public health consequences of those changes. This report also provides a preliminary analysis of the economic cost of these public health consequences.
- Contractor Report on Climate Change and Indoor Air Quality (PDF) (June 2010)
This report addresses climate change and indoor air quality. Topics in the report include residential ventilation patterns, changes in the built environment, occupant behavior and radon.
- Research Needed to Address the Impacts of Climate Change (July 2010)
This report addresses climate change and indoor air quality research needs. Topics addressed in the report include water/moisture intrusion and disease vectors.
- Climate Change, Indoor Air Quality and Health - Contractor Report (PDF) (August 2010)
This report addresses climate change, indoor air quality and health. Topics addressed include green buildings, public health, and consideration of the training needs of professional communities on buildings and health issues.
- Climate Change and Potential Effects on Microbial Air Quality in the Built Environment (PDF) (September 2010)
This report addresses climate change impacts on microbes, indoor environments, and related issues. Topics addressed in the report include Legionella and other geographically emerging pathogens, air-conditioning and climate change, outdoor air ventilation and climate change, and severe weather events and the built environment.
- Draft Report of the Opportunities for Green Building Rating Systems to Improve Indoor Air Quality Credits and to Address Changing Climatic Conditions (September 2010)
This draft report describes green-building rating systems, climate change, and indoor environmental quality. Green-building rating systems focus mostly on indoor environments, including moisture, ventilation rates, volatile organic compounds, thermal comfort, and particulate matter but are evaluated in a climate-change context. Two rating systems, those of BREEAM and LEED, are detailed in this report.
- National Programs to Assess Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Effects of Building Materials and Products (September 2010)
This report examines national building-materials and product-evaluation programs, which were developed often in response to indoor air quality concerns and vary in focus and scope. These include efforts in the United States, various countries in Europe, the European Union, Japan, and Korea.
- Building Codes and Indoor Air Quality (PDF) (September 2010)
This report examines energy-related building codes throughout the United States and how these codes affect ventilation, including air exchange, and indoor air pollution. Ventilation and moisture conditions in existing residential and commercial buildings may be altered because of an increase in extreme weather events due to climate change. Buildings constructed under a set of standards appropriate for the original climate may not be adequate in a different climate.
- The Impact of Increasing Severe Weather Events on Shelter (PDF) (December 2010)
This report addresses the impacts of severe weather events on indoor environments. The report includes material related to the use of buildings as shelters from weather extremes.
- Indoor Environmental Quality and Climate Change - Contractor Report (PDF) (December 2010)
This report contains information, diagrams, and maps related to indoor environmental quality and climate change.
Lawrence Berkeley Lab Indoor Air Quality Scientific Findings Resource Bank: Climate Change
The Lawrence Berkeley Lab Indoor Air Quality Scientific Findings Resource Bank: Climate Change, which is supported by the EPA, serves as a resource for public health professionals, building professionals, and others who seek scientific information about the effects of climate change on indoor environments and health.
EPA’s Office of Research and Development awarded grants to nine institutions for innovative research projects to improve understanding of the effects of climate change on indoor air quality and the resulting health effects. The study results are summarized below
This study used
This study aimed