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Details: Indoor Air Quality Tech Set

Low-VOC Paints and Finishes and Other Building Materials
Many conventional paints, finishes and glues contain high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that produce potentially harmful gasses when applied. Finishes that can give of VOCs include both stains and sealers as well as carpeting. Some building materials, like plywood and OSB sheathing and plastic-based products, also have high levels of VOCs. The VOCs diminish air quality, and may be detrimental to your health. Today, low- and no-VOC paints and finishes are available almost anywhere, as are low VOC building products. They release no or minimal VOC pollutants, and are virtually odor free. This improves the indoor air quality of the home, making it particularly safer for people with chemical sensitivity. Also, latex paints use water as their solvent and carrier, allowing both easier cleanup and generally lower toxicity.

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Systems Custom Designed for the Home
Which system is best for controlling the indoor air quality in your house? It may be as simple as good, well-placed spot ventilation fans providing several areas with local ventilation that augments the space heating system, or as complex as whole-house ventilators and humidity control integrated with an HVAC system that provides a measured amount of outdoor air to the inside unit for conditioning at regular intervals. It is important to not rely on air leaks in the home to deliver outdoor air.

All HVAC systems contain some method for filtering the room air that is returned to the unit for re-conditioning. Filters vary by the size of particulates that can be trapped, ability to filter out moisture, and ability to sterilize micro-organisms (usually with ultra-violet light). Some filtration methods can be implemented by switching to a different filter medium whereas others require an additional unit. Stand-alone room units can accomplish some spot filtration, as well.

Remember that all outdoors air intakes should be at least 10 feet away from exhaust outlets or areas where vehicles idle.

Radon can cause lung cancer at high exposures, however radon test kits can be purchased for as little as $9.95. Where radon is detected or is likely to be present there are reliable, simple construction techniques that will mitigate the gas within the home.

Durable Building Envelope Details
A well built home repels moisture and air with good design features like covered entries, redundant weather barriers, and grading that moves water away from the structure. Follow the steps outlined in Tech Set #2, Durable Building Envelope, to eliminate moisture intrusion.

In homes with attached garages, it is particularly important to completely seal the boundary between the home and garage. One study found that 75 percent of the benzene in the home environment is introduced from the garage. Connecting doors between the garage and living space should be gasketed and made substantially airtight with weatherstripping, and attached garages should have a 100 cfm (cubic feet per minute) exhaust fan continuously venting outdoors.

Sealed Combustion Appliances
Heating equipment that burns natural gas, oil, wood or any other fuel that relies on an open flame within the home, should be vented to the outside by a sealed vent so that burning byproducts cannot vent back into the home (backdraft). Backdrafting, which can be caused by wind currents or unbalanced ventilation, deposits chemical toxins like carbon monoxide as well as dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and unburned fuel.

Occupant Vigilance
The occupants of the home ultimately control the quality of indoor air long after good material specification and construction practices were employed in its construction. Without due care, occupants may introduce chemical contaminants with their selection of cleaning products, furnishings, and finishes. Particulate control starts with keeping outdoor contaminants out -- practices like closing the windows while mowing the lawn, regular (out-of-home) washing and brushing of pets, insect and pest control, and wiping or removing shoes worn outdoors upon entering a home. Regular particulate removal via dusting, damp mopping and vacuuming is required to maintain a healthy indoor environment.

HVAC system maintenance and filter replacement should be performed at regular intervals. Smoking, using aerosol sprays and room fresheners, and candle burning should not be done inside.

Content updated on 7/10/2007

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