Why Designers Should Invest in Indoor Air Quality

Published: June 15, 2020

Clients are more health conscious than ever, and in future remodels they will be looking for easy ways to keep their homes clean. With the spread of COVID-19, air quality is a top priority for this post-pandemic consumer.

Before spring of 2020, American society spent about 90 percent of their time indoors. That time might have been split between home and public spaces like an office, restaurants or shops, but now the majority is spent in our own houses – where we are cooking and cleaning more than ever. Both of these activities can release harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that aggravate respiratory and immune systems.

“I think many people during the health emergency have become more aware of the issue of air treatment. It has compelled them to adopt solutions that can improve the air quality inside their homes,” said Lorenzo Poser, sales and marketing director at Falmec during an interview with KBB. “In our homes, we should equip ourselves with solutions that promote the healthiest environment as much as possible.”

Causes and Effects of Bad Indoor Air Quality

According to the EPA, pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air are the main cause of indoor air-quality problems. These might include harsh cleaning chemicals like bleach, fumes from non-stick cookery and gas from natural gas stoves. Formaldehyde from new furniture and VOCs from certain paints and types of wood can also be irritants. Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels by not bringing in enough outside air to dilute indoor emissions and by not carrying enough indoor air pollutants out of the space.

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With inadequate ventilation and too many emissions, homeowners can get VOC-induced illnesses like Sick Building Syndrome, which includes eye irritations, headache, nausea, numbness and drowsiness. Then there is Building-Related Illness (BRI), which causes discomfort related to contaminants present in indoor environments; and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) – the inability to tolerate a chemical environment or a class of chemical substances.

Awareness of these issues is growing in light of recent events, and designers should be prepared for questions and concerns about how to keep the air clear – from both coronavirus and harmful fumes – in the future.

How to Lower Harmful Emissions Inside

The easiest way to help clients breathe cleaner air is by choosing products that have less emissions, such as non-toxic paints, surface materials like quartzite that do not need harmful sealants and furniture made without particleboard or plywood, which contain formaldehyde.

harmonyHarmony Interior Acrylic Latex wall paint from Sherwin-Williams has technology that reduces VOCs from sources such as cabinets, carpets and fabrics while providing a durable, washable finish. The length of time Harmony actively reduces formaldehyde depends on the concentration, the frequency of exposure and the amount of painted surface area.

However, if a product with potential emissions is necessary, place a barrier around the source upon installation so that it releases less contaminants into the air. For example, cover pressed wood cabinetry with plastic sheets for several days – especially if a renovation is done in the warmer months – to keep emissions down. Or schedule a procedure like floor waxing to happen while the client is away, so no one encounters the fumes while they are releasing.

Air purifiers have recently seen an uptick as well and can be a useful option for the right client. Most filters are designed to capture particles like dust, smoke and pollen and would be helpful for allergy-prone homeowners. However, ventilation is still necessary to rid the home of VOCs.

bellariaBellaria from Falmec is an air ionizer, which is used to pull pollutants out of the air and inject negative ions that can enhance mood into a room. Tests also show a reduction of 85 percent of bacteria in the air when the unit is operating.

A designer can implement several simple elements to make ventilation better for years to come. Include easy-to-open windows homeowners can unlatch to let outside air in and indoor air out. Windows that are at least 3.6 feet in vertical height and can promote indoor air movement and also reduce the heat load on ceilings; windows placed on the north and south areas offer optimum cross ventilation.

In the kitchen, always ensure there is a powerful rangehood to draw the noxious gases out – particularly if a gas range was installed. Bathrooms produce a large amount of humidity, so installing spot ventilation – such as localized exhaust fans – can draw out the moisture before it circulates throughout the rest of the home. And don’t leave out the outdoor spaces; with social distancing measures likely to continue, create safe places to entertain outside with seating that is easy to move 6 feet apart and fans that quickly move air out of the space rather than circulating it.

team7Team7’s furniture systems feature solid wood using all green materials and sustainable, non-toxic sealants. Finished exclusively with natural oil, the wood retains anti-bacterial properties for hygienic food storage and has anti-static properties that reduce household dust.

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