From The Builder: Mike Ferraro Speaks on the Importance of IAQ (Indoor Air Quality)

One often overlooked aspect of a home, especially with new construction or renovation, is
what I call the building sciences. Your home is a complex array of organic and inorganic
interdependent systems which ultimately will affect your physical and psychological health.
Sounds a bit technical? Well, yes. And we find almost all homeowners don’t give much thought
to the sciences of the building; rather, being more concerned with the aesthetics such as
flooring, cabinetry, colors and countertops.


Of all the systems in your home, the most important is indoor air quality (IAQ). IAQ is part of
the bigger picture called indoor environmental quality (IEQ), which includes IAQ as well as other
physical and psychological aspects of life indoors (e.g., lighting, visual quality, acoustics, and
thermal and respiratory comfort).


So, what affects your IAQ? Well, things like flooring, cabinetry, colors and countertops because
these items can create offgasing. But wait; there’s more such as a poor performing HVAC
system, air leaks in the home (very common), water leaks, poor housekeeping and uncontrolled
ventilation and air humidity. I would venture to say that some of those allergies you
experience, may be a result of poor indoor air quality.


Your HVAC (heating, cooling and ventilation) system has a major influence on IAQ. Most homes
have a forced-air system and if it is not functioning at optimal levels, not only will you spend
more energy dollars, you will not be receiving the full benefits of properly conditioned air.
Air leaks are common in older homes and new homes where care was not taken to properly
seal the home. Air leaks are the opposite of controlled ventilation. The former being bad. And,
of course, water leaks. Continuing water leaks are likely to cause mildew and mold.
Insufficient housekeeping has an adverse impact on the air you breathe. All those dust mites,
dead skin (yuck!), pet dander and pollen help deteriorate the quality of air.


And, last but not least, is uncontrolled ventilation, such as carbon monoxide not being properly
exhausted from the house from gas appliances like your furnace, dryer, stove and range hood
assembly. Radon is also a culprit. It is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is the second
leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. You cannot smell or see it and it is not specific to any
particular soils or geographic location.


You can learn very quickly how your home’s IAQ is rated by doing several relatively inexpensive
tests. Most store carry radon detection kits. Some companies do not charge for the lab results
and the test is very simple, taking about 48 hours.


Consider purchasing an electronic indoor air quality monitor. It consistently tests and reports
on the levels of pollution inside your home. On average, a good unit may cost $100-$300.
Install carbon monoxide detectors inside each bedroom and mechanical room. These are
available at most stores. Remember that CO is a heavy gas, so install them about 2 feet off of
your floor. Most can be plugged into your household outlets.

Have your HVAC system serviced annually. Add a HEPA filter to the system. It’s about a 5” thick
media filter; not the thin ones that look like fiberglass. And change the filter at least every 6
months. If you do not have a humidifier on the furnace, add that too. A properly sized and
performing HVAC system will have an enormous favorable impact on IAQ. A forced-air furnace
system will add the appropriate humidity and heat in the winter and will remove excess
moisture in the air in the summer, as well as using a HEPA filter to filter the air year-round.
Consider turning on the furnace fan in the “on” or “circulation” setting of the thermostat. Yes, it
will run constantly, but it actually helps extend the life of the furnace as well as provides
continuous air circulation.


You may want to consider having your ductwork cleaned out by a local professional. And while
you’re at it, get your carpets professionally cleaned on a regular basis and practice regular,
thorough housekeeping.


If you think you have mold (sometimes you cannot see it if water leaks are behind some
structural elements or inside walls) you can purchase air check mold test kits.
There are also many certified professionals in your area that can assist you with evaluation and
remediation services for many of the causes of poor IAQ.