Monday, December 13, 2010

Energy and indoor air quality

Until the last three decades most houses and other buildings leaked so much that air quality was not a concern. As we have attempted to save energy by sealing them up we have begun to create other problems associated with poor indoor air quality. Indoor air quality is very important, since we now spend nearly 90% of our lives indoors!

What most of us fail to understand is that indoor air quality is almost always worse indoors than it is out. Health Canada calculates that our indoor air can be 6 to ten times worse than it is outside.

Likely due to the fact we (including children) spend most of our time indoors, we are seeing huge increases in asthma. Asthma prevalence from birth to 19 years in Canada has increased 4-fold in the last 2-3 decades. It continues to rise, particularly in kids ages 8-11 years. It’s estimated that 1 out of 6 children in Canada suffers from asthma.

What is so ailing us? The list of pollutants in our homes is lengthy.
1) Man-made: Over 80 various chemicals are found in most of our homes. These chemicals are not only from cigarettes (that list alone is impressive with its toxicity). Chemicals are being released from most carpets, upholstery, beds, flooring, finishes, paints, most cleansers, and a host of other sources.
2) Natural: while we on Vancouver Island don't have to worry much about radon gas, mould, dust (1.1 billion particles breathed in each day) and especially dust-mite feces are toxic.

The solutions are several. Get rid of toxic cleansers (see these suggestions). We can waste energy and feel uncomfortable by opening windows and doors or run bathroom fans all the time, adding fresh air intakes to our furnaces and heat pumps, adding a heat recovery ventilator, or invest in equipment that truly cleans the air and surfaces.

Opening doors and windows certainly helps, but isn't very practical in the winter. Running fans is rather wasteful of energy. Fresh-air ducts work, but only when the furnace is running. Only the last two are truly effective, especially if a high-quality vacuum cleaner is used, one that captures all of the dust. (Most vacuum cleaners spew over 90% of the dust right back into the air.)

The most important surfaces that require cleaning are where dust and the associated dust-mite feces live: our beds, upholstery, and carpets. High-quality air filters are also vital.

It is no surprise that we usually feel better when we go for a walk in nature. This is our body's way of telling us that we need time for reflection and exercise. It may very well also be its way to tell us that we need more fresh air.

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