Indoor Air Quality Considerations for New Builds and Renovations

Published: December 19, 2023

This article was originally published on December 19, 2023; it was updated on December 29, 2023.

Indoor Air Quality Considerations for New Builds and Renovations

Events of the past few years, including the Covid-19 pandemic and widespread pollution from Canadian wildfire smoke, have exponentially increased awareness of the importance of indoor air quality (IAQ). While the focus was initially on public spaces, that focus has steadily expanded to include air quality in the home, and for good reason. People spend more than 90% of their time indoors, with a majority of that at home. When you consider that IAQ can be two to five times worse than outdoor air quality, it becomes vitally important to ensure measures are taken to improve the quality of air in the home.

Factors That Impact IAQ in the Home

Most people would be surprised to know the impact of day-to-day activities on their home’s IAQ. Cooking is one of the most significant sources of indoor pollution. Smoke, oil fumes, and using a gas stove generate particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO). A good range hood can definitely help to reduce pollutants, but it cannot eliminate them entirely. The winter season may exacerbate impacts on IAQ, with increased holiday season cooking and limitations in natural ventilation options.

Other activities that generate pollutants indoors include smoking and vaping, use of chemicals when cleaning, candle and incense burning, use of air fresheners, and fireplace burning, among others.

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Building materials and finishes, as well as furniture, can also be a source of indoor air pollution through a process called chemical off-gassing. Chemicals used in paint, glue, furnishings and other household products may off-gas in the form of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and accumulate in indoor spaces. Although not all VOCs are harmful, some can be very dangerous, such as formaldehyde and benzene.

Benefits of Better Indoor Air Quality

Improving the quality of a home’s indoor environment can influence almost every aspect of people’s lives – from how well they sleep, to energy levels, mood and productivity. The vast majority of exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) occurs indoors. According to the Global Burden of Disease Study – the most comprehensive public health database in the world – PM2.5 is the second leading risk factor for illness and mortality globally.

Beyond the extensive health benefits, studies also show that cleaner air can increase property value with homebuyers demonstrating a willingness to pay more for spaces that can improve their health and wellness. Seventy-five percent believe housing plays a key role in their health and well-being and nearly one in four households in the U.S. expressed concerns over their home negatively impacting their health, with air and water quality cited as top concerns.

How to Improve IAQ

There are numerous ways to improve IAQ in residential properties, ranging from design and building choices, to major system upgrades and plug-and-play solutions.

For a new build, the options include:

● Make the building envelope as air tight as possible. Ensure there are no cracks or gaps between windows, doors and vents to the outdoors. This will minimize the amount of outdoor pollutants (including allergens) coming indoors, and help protect the quality of IAQ during events such as wildfires.
● Select non-toxic building materials to minimize pollution from chemical off-gassing.
● Install a central air system with outdoor air intake and MERV-13 filters. When choosing a central air system, make sure it is capable of mixing filtered outdoor air with recirculated air and ensure you can control the proportion of filtered outdoor air in the overall air mix.

For an existing home, there are still multiple options:

● If there is a central air system, consider upgrading to include MERV-13 filtration to provide whole-house air purification. It’s important to note that not all HVAC systems can handle MERV-13 so you need to evaluate the maximum filtration the existing system can handle or consider installing a fully upgraded system.
● If there is not a central air system, you can improve ventilation with a dedicated outdoor air system. A common type is an energy recovery ventilator, or ERV. It supplies the home with cooled or heated air through ducts, using the heat from returned air to save energy.
● Regardless of existing ventilation systems, localized HEPA air purifiers are a top solution for improving indoor air quality. They are a plug-and-play, affordable option, typically ranging from around $100 to $1,000. Portable air purifiers can effectively remove particulate matter and those with an added carbon filter can also tackle VOCs. Key factors to consider when buying an air purifier include filtration efficiency, noise, clean air delivery rate (CADR), ease of use/control method and filter replacement cost. Ideally, you should place the air purifiers in areas where most indoor pollution is generated and where you spend a significant amount of time, such as the kitchen, living room and bedroom.

Home ventilation features that once started as luxury amenities are becoming valuable selling points that draw homebuyers in. Studies show that upgrades designed to deliver better indoor air quality can increase property value, and homebuyers are demonstrating a willingness to pay more for spaces that can improve their health and wellness. In fact, 59% of consumers will pay a premium for a wellness-oriented solution versus a non-wellness offering. Forward-looking kitchen and bathroom professionals can see the writing on the walls – prioritizing ventilation is no longer a commodity for both new builds and renovations. It’s an imperative.

—By Peter Scialla, president and COO, Delos 

Photo credit: Delos

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