Category Archives: Carbon Monoxide

Indoor Air Quality Indicators and Measuring Them

The issue of Indoor Air Quality in a home comes up very regularly for a Home Energy Auditor.

People work hard to keep their homes clean and to serve healthy food from their kitchens. We also want to know the air we breathe in our homes is healthy. There are a lot of things out there to spend our money on like, air cleaners, fancy filters, ozone and UV lights to start with.

What types of things cause a home to have un-healthy air?  A recent presentation to the Indoor Air Quality Committee at the EPA used this slide from a researcher at the University of Pittsburg.

Approaches

What I see as important about this list is that these are measurable. A Thermometer and a Humidity meters are commonly found in many homes. Most homes have a CO Detector for Carbon Monoxide and a lot will have a CO2 detector for Carbon Dioxide.  That covers 50 percent of the items in this list.

What is left are things like small particles, Ozone, volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde. Small particles can be a tough one because we are talking really small.  The standard size we look at is 2.5 microns.  A human hair at 50+ microns gives one a size comparison.

The others are gaseous in nature. Much of these gases can come from materials in the home or the the furnishings and are released over time usually referred to as ‘off gassing’.

As a family lives in a home, things change.  You go in and out, opening doors, windows, cooking, living, enjoying your home. How do you keep track of the air in your home? How do you know it is good, or that you may need to do something to fix a problem?

For years homes have had thermometers and humidity meters available.  Now there is a whole new series of measuring instruments to monitor these various indicators. The simple detector technology for Carbon Monoxide has been improved to respond to a range of levels and actually measure the gas. The other gasses have the same technology.

NOTE:  This measurement technology has been available for professionals at a significant price. Now the progress has made the units smaller and more affordable.

My friend Nate Adams has been doing some major work in existing homes. Nate works in the Akron Ohio area.  He has moved his business from an Insulation Contractor to a full service home performance contractor.  Recently, he has been exploring how the energy efficient features he is installing also improve the quality of the air inside those homes.

Nate has written a blog post reviewing some of these newest monitors to provide homeowners with a comparison of the available offerings.

I was challenged to write this post explaining my reaction to Nate’s Review.  My initial reaction was ‘disappointing’.  Nate’s challenge was ‘Why”.  So here is the why.

First:  While the technology for detecting has moved to measuring, it still has a ways to go.  Partly technology and partly continuing to reduce the cost.

Second: There is a very limited offering. Seven Products were reviewed and three more were mentioned, but lacking the data logging feature. I was hoping for a few more.

Third: Each entry reviewed had pros and cons.  I do not feel that any single item is a comprehensive monitoring solution.

Because I chose to wade through my reactions and thoughts, it has been a good exercise for me. Writing down my thoughts and reasons really helped me look at my initial response of disappointment and why my reaction should be more then that.

My second reaction after working through the above is ‘hopeful excitement’.  While we may be disappointed in the number of monitors and the comprehensive coverage;  we should be looking forward to the future developments and monitors that measure more.

The challenge of these developments and the potential they hold are very interesting.  What can we do?  What should we do?  I suggest that realizing the potential is in many ways up to us. Those in contact with the public, the home owners, or renters. We need to advocate for measurement and then taking action based on what the monitors reveal.

Indoor Air Quality – Guideline Revision Public Comments Requested

imagesATLANTA – Public input is being sought into a proposed revision of ASHRAE’s residential indoor air quality guideline.

ASHRAE Guideline 24-2008, Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality in Low-Rise Residential Buildings, is the companion guideline to ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62.2-2007, Ventilation and Acceptable Indoor Air Quality in Low-Rise Residential Buildings.  Guideline 24 provides information on achieving good IAQ that goes beyond the requirements contained in Standard 62.2 by providing explanatory and educational material not included in the code-intended standard.

Read Entire Article

 

A New Generation of Smart Sensors Aim to Track the Air You Breathe

AQM bitfinder

HARDWARE STARTUPS WANT TO TELL YOU ABOUT YOUR ENVIRONMENT, IN A WAY YOU CAN ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND.

New gadgets are arriving that are designed to show you in real time just what you’re breathing in, with Internet-enabled indoor and outdoor air-quality sensors.

But one of these devices’ biggest challenges, their makers say, is keeping customers engaged by making sure they understand what the readings mean and how to act on them.

“What we think is really important with this kind of product and services, is that we really need to connect on the human level,” says Ronald Ro, cofounder of Bitfinder.

Having participated in the most recent round of the Internet of Things-focused R/GA Accelerator, Ro’s company plans to release its Awair indoor air-quality monitor this summer. The speaker-sized units will share the market with existing smart indoor-outdoor weather stations from French firm Netatmo, and ultimately with wearable environmental trackers from Vancouver-based TZOA, also slated for release later this year.

The Awair will monitor air temperature and humidity, along with levels of dust particles, carbon dioxide, and a class of chemicals called volatile organic compounds, which includes solvents like acetone and benzene and a range of various other substances of varying toxicity.

(Read More – Take the link below)

I found this article on Fast Company written by Steven Melendez The link will get you to the full story.

Indoor Air Quality Evaluations

The quality of the Indoor Air of our homes and offices is an important part of our health and comfort.

There is not much sense in putting a lot of good insulation into a building if it is:

  • Not Structurally Sound
  • Not Healthy

What types of things can be done to improve the Indoor Air Quality of any home or property?

  1. The immediate environment of the structure must be kept separate from the inside.
  2. The required fresh air that is needed, in every one of our buildings, should be filtered and otherwise treated for comfort and to remove pollutants.
  3. The pollutants that are created during the normal operation of our building must be eliminated, removed, replaced, diluted or neutralized.
  4. Moisture in any form must be controlled , and then removed avoiding any accumulation.
  5. Any and all accumulations of moisture damage or animal infestation must be cleaned up and damaged building components replaced.
  • A Full Indoor Air Quality evaluation must address all of those concerns.
  • Full interior visual inspection
  • Full exterior visual inspection
  • Testing of the building enclosure to ensure the outside stays outside
    • Infrared Evaluation as part of the above testing
  • Inspection of HVAC Duct Work and systems that move air.
  • Combustion Safety Inspection on open combustion appliances
    • Moisture, Carbon Monoxide, N02, SO2 and others
  • Infrared and other testing for moisture accumulations.
  • Sample Collection of suspended and/or deposited material that are potential pollutants or irritants.
    • Examination and Evaluation by a certified Microbiological Laboratory of these samples.

This evaluation is typically completed in two visits to the home or business. Level I Evaluation and Testing is non-destructive and not invasive.

Level II Evaluation and Testing involves invasive inspections. These may be as simple as drilling a few holes for visual inspection or sampling. It may involve removing obviously damaged building material, that requires replacement, for example wet drywall.

Contact The Energy Guy for further information about an Indoor Air Quality Evaluation.

The Energy Guy Gets a New Ride …

EG 4

 

OK!  Why a new car?  200K miles on the old one maybe?  Then being able to carry most if not all the equipment I need in one trip?  A moving billboard?

Yes to all of those!  So I had a Party.  Our Derby Chamber of Commerce hosts a Business to Business time once a month from 8 – 9.  Coffee and stuff that is guaranteed to add to my waist line.  They do a Ribbon Cutting when you join.  So I had mine this morning.  Here is the crew that came out for the Ribbon Cutting.EG 5Look closely, those are wooden scissors. Ceremony! So here is the next one with real scissors.EG 2Lots of wonderful people here.  Did they all come for my Ribbon Cutting?  I’d like to think so. This month the sponsor was Nova Care of Derby.

I’d like to thank the Derby Chamber, Mark and his staff Tim and Lindsi for helping out with this party.  I’d also like to thank my Ang’s  –  I had two guests today from Wichita.  Angie Tejeda and Angee MacMurray.  I posted a blog post a few weeks ago about a Twitter Conversation with Angee, take the link. I wrote about Igloo’s and my future plans.  No, I’m not building an Igloo.

Jen and Rick Brown showed up also.  I teach Sunday School with them. Thank You, Jen for the fine photography here.  And Thank You to everyone that came out to my party.  I must also acknowledge the the great folks at Mighty Wraps in Wichita.  Justin and Lori were great to work with during the design and application of the wrap.

If you see my ride around town – please Wave!

A Healthy Home Part 4 – Free of Combustion By-Products

This post is written as a conversation between a homeowner and myself as it could have occurred during a Home Energy Audit. It is actually the gathering together of several conversations on different audits over the past few years.

smoky fires

 

A Healthy Home is Free of Combustion By-Products

Homeowner: Oh!  You mean no Carbon Monoxide!  I have a  Carbon Monoxide Detector.  It has had some false alarms, but it has never found a problem.

The Energy Guy: OK!  Carbon Monoxide (CO) is one by product of combustion.  There are others.

Homeowner:   So, you mean the house must be all electric?

The Energy Guy: No, not necessarily.  An all electric home, might have a fire place, and an attached garage. Both are sources of CO and other byproducts of combustion. A healthy home will deal with all of these in some fashion.

Homeowner: What other things are you talking about besides CO?

rustDHWThe Energy Guy: The one I see the most of is moisture.  Many of the flue pipes I’ve seen have rusted from the moisture.  If you have a gas hot water heater, look at the top.  Is the top rusting, what about the flue pipe or the draft diverter? Moisture from open combustion appliances also increases the humidity in the home and adds unneeded work to your air conditioning unit, increasing the bill.

There are others, such as Nitrogen  Dioxide, and Sulphur Dioxide, and various particles of all sorts.

Homeowner:  So, those are like Carbon Dioxide?  Something that is just there?

The Energy Guy:  Yes!  They are just there, with two concerns.  First the Lung Association points out the health effects of Sulphur Dioxide include:

  • Wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness and other problems, especially during exercise or physical activity.
  • Continued exposure at high levels increases respiratory symptoms and reduces the ability of the lungs to function.
  • Short exposures to peak levels of SO2 in the air can make it difficult for people with asthma to breathe when they are active outdoors.

Health effects of Nitrogen dioxide include:

  • Increased inflammation of the airways
  • Worsened cough and wheezing
  • Reduced lung function
  • Increased asthma attacks
  • Greater likelihood of emergency department and hospital admissions
  • Increased susceptibility to respiratory infection, such as influenza

Homeowner: I’m pretty healthy, but you said ‘First!’

The Energy Guy:  The second is moisture. Moisture could be a high humidity situation, or moisture from the combustion that produced these dioxides and if you inhale some of them, or moisture in your nose and lungs. Here are the basic chemical equations for those interested.

Sulphur Dioxide plus Water ends up as Sulphuric Acid [SO2 + H20 ===> H2SO3 (sulphurous acid) SO3 + H20 ===> H2SO4 (sulphuric acid)]

acid_storageNitrogen Dioxide plus Water ends up as Nitric Acid [NO2 + H2O ===> HNO3 + NO]

Homeowner: But acid eats things up!

The Energy Guy:  Yes, it does. These acids start the rust process, I mentioned earlier. The other place you can look for rust is to look at the flue on the roof of some homes. If the coating is attacked by the acids, then rust occurs.

So How do I keep this stuff out of my home and away from my family?

co detectorThe Energy Guy:  First install some Carbon Monoxide Detectors.  If your furnace and water heater are in the basement, you need one down there.  You also need one near bedrooms.

Homeowner: OK!  I’ll get that one that works with my Nest!

The Energy Guy:  That will work for one.   The Nest Protect is like most CO detectors, it will alarm at the higher amounts of CO as required by the Underwriters Laboratory requirements.   These start at 70ppm of CO for an hour. Professional organizations such as ASHRAE and NIOSH list 35ppm as the level for technicians and others to stop work, turn off equipment and evacuate the building. A low level detector is important.

Low Level CO detectors do not meet the UL requirement because they alarm at lower levels, typically 20ppm.    15-20ppm CO levels have been found to impair judgement in people exposed for short periods of time.  The UL testing does not allow a CO detector to pass if it alarms below 30 ppm. Low level CO exposure can result in headaches and general malaise.  If you are exposed to low levels over a period of months or years the effect is unknown at this time.

Homeowner:  OK!  So I’ll get a low level detector also.  What else can I do.

The Energy Guy:  Do some careful air sealing between the garage and the house. You can add exhaust ventilation to your garage as recommended in the International Residential Code. Open the door before you start the car, and then immediately back out. More information about CO and the garage. Air sealing here and a simple closer on the door to the garage will help keep CO and other pollutants from the garage out of the house.

Inside the house, you can buy smart when you replace your water heater or furnace.  Buy sealed combustion units.  These are generally more efficient units, so they will save you some on your bill each month.

95Water Heaters can be sealed combustion, such as the demand models or a power vented unit. Either of these units can be identified with the use of PVC exhaust flue, instead of the metal flue needed by traditional units. They do not need the metal, because the exhaust is a lower temperature. This has a side effect of increased efficiency. The image to the right is the flue of at sealed combustion furnace.

Finally, think about your wood burning fireplace or your gas oven.  These also create the same problems.  Here a low level CO detector would be very valuable. Following the fireplace manufacturers instructions in keeping the glass door shut and having it checked regularly are important.  For a gas range, especially with a gas oven, install an exhaust fan that vents to the outside.

 

Some of this information came from the Maine Indoor Air Quality Council

Some of this information came from the American Lung Association

A Healthy Home — The first of this series

A Healthy Home Part 3 — Well Ventilated

Fresh AirA Healthy Home is well ventilated.  Everyone knows fresh air is important. This should be easy.  Well ventilated in more than just bringing in fresh air. The concepts are certainly easy, the details on the other hand take some thought and planning.  A new home ventilation strategy is fairly straight forward to design and implement. An existing home needs the input from the occupants and good analysis to address the problems. An effective ventilation strategy should address these issues in either new or existing homes.

  • Remove humidity, odors,, or significant problems from specific areas.
  • Remove stale, musty or other objectionable air.
  • Allow the occupants to choose fresh air sources that can be filtered or treated in other ways
  • Allow the occupants to choose to open windows when outside weather is appropriate
  • Allow the occupants to operate a system that can provide the amount of fresh air, to the appropriate places, in adequate amounts when needed
  • Provide fresh air when the outside air creates potential problems, such as Ragweed season or when other allergens are active
  • Provide air movement within the home, without the use of the expensive blower on the furnace or heat pump.
  • Allow minimal use of heating or cooling equipment during the shoulder seasons, when temperature changes are minimal, while keeping the home comfortable.

Billings QuoteHow much fresh air is needed?  Going back to the 1890’s, the number has been pegged at 30 CFM (cubic feet per minute) per person. This number was validated in a number of different studies and with the public health authorities in larger cities, dealing with large apartment buildings and recurring respiratory diseases.  I was pointed to the quote at the left by Allison Bailles. he located the original book on Google Books, page 20.

Beginning in the 1930s, research into changes in building techniques began to show the optimal number was closer to 15 CFM per person.  Some of the changes in construction included the increased use of forced air heating, moving from balloon framing to platform framing, increasing square footage, and the use of insulation in walls and attics. The formula changes from time to time and everyone has an opinion on details. The common point remains, fresh air is needed in every house.

Part of the Ventilation is removing air with a problem. Where is that?  Humidity is found in rooms that use hot water and basements.  Showers, tubs and cooking are the large sources of humidity.  The smells from food preparation and cooking can be very mouthwatering.  When the meal is finished and the refrigerator is full, the lingering smells become odors.  The answer is some spot ventilation in these areas. If your basement has a humidity problem, you can tackle that with a fitted sump pump cover to contain the humidity, and work to eliminate any water seepage.

vent fanSpot ventilation is a window that opens and an exhaust fan. The size of these fans is part of the formula that is specific to each home. The features of the fan are common to all homes.  It must be quiet. Builder grade fans are noisy. Noise in fans is measured in ‘Sones’. The Sone is a linear measurement of noise, compared to the decibels used by OSHA and others which is an exponential measurement.  Linear is better for quiet sounds, and decibels is better for loud noises. Fans should be less than 3 sones, and preferably less than 1 sone.  Reasonably priced fans are available that rate a 0.3 sones. A 1 sone fan is very quiet.

UnknownFans are certified for air flow and noise levels by the Home Ventilation Institute. HVI certification is very common and includes both the Sone rating and CFM rating.  When installing a fan, you must consider the duct losses that will occur in meeting the required air flow.   The rates for bathroom air flow  are 50 CFM, and 100 CFM for a kitchen.  Do not expect to buy a 50 CFM fan for a bathroom and connect it to 6 or 8 feet of duct work, and obtain 50 CFM.  I have measured 30 CFM routinely in these set ups.

Most people understand that various parts of their body are just a part of the whole.  If you start some type of therapy, there may be a side effect. Physical Therapy starts and you end up with some sore muscles, aha!  Side Effect!  Start a therapy for cancer and your hair may fall out, aha! Side Effect!  Your home works the same way.  Each part is just part of the whole. Change something, aha! What is the side effect?

House-System-imgAll of the items in the list above are part of the whole. For an existing home, some specifics of that house may indicate concentration on one or another of those areas.  A home built in the 1920’s will benefit from a different approach then a house built in the 1980’s.

A new home should have the ventilation system that meets the general points above.  The natural ventilation provided when windows and doors are opened, or the mechanical ventilation system that allows filtered and perhaps treated fresh air brought in from specific places and in specific amounts, allow the occupants to make the system work as they need.

 

This post is part of a Series on A Healthy Home

 

 

A Healthy Home

Healthy HomeBuilding a new home, gives the homebuyer an opportunity to build in all the things they want. The floor plan, bedroom arrangement, windows are all important.

Also right up there is a house that is healthy. Everywhere you look, someone is pitching, this is healthy for you.  We have lots of buzz words for healthy.  Organic, whole grain, anti-oxidant, reduced fat, low sugar, wellness, all-natural are but a few. How do you make a house into a healthy home?  It starts with design and a few simple objectives.   Ideally, a healthy home is:

  • Dry
  • Clean
  • Well Ventilated
  • Combustion by-product free
  • Pest Free
  • Chemical Care
  • Comfortable
  • Safe

read beforeIt seems fairly simple.  We want a roof over our head to keep the elements out.  Hot or cold, rain or snow, we don’t want them in our home.  The dry home starts with a well constructed roof.  That keeps the weather related water like rain or snow out. Then the walls, and the foundation.

Clean may be obvious, or not. Well Ventilated and Combustion by-product free, along with pest free, no toxic chemicals, comfortable and safe seem also to be obvious.  There is a saying about the Devil being in the details.  It is certainly that way in building a home. So a few details on these topics that make up a Healthy Home are important.

I will be posting a series based on the Healthy Home. We will take a look at each of the points listed above and what they mean to the home owner.

Part Ia   How Dry is Dry       Bulk Water from Precipitation

Part 1b  How Dry is Dry       Bulk Water From other Sources

Part 1c  How Dry is Dry       Water Vapor

Part II    The Home Starts Out Clean

Part 3    Well Ventilated

Part 4     Free of Combustion Byproducts

Part 5     Pest Free

Part 6     Chemical Care

Private HERS Rated Homes

During 2013, New Home Builders in the US placed a HERS Rating on over 50% of the new homes built. Builders in most large housing markets have found that a HERS Rated Home sells faster than one that is not Rated.

Is the new home builder the only one that can place a rating on a home?  Actually anyone with an interest in the home can have a HERS Rating completed. The process is the same as when the builder completes the process.

Tonight a new home is on the page listing ‘Actual HERS Rated Homes’ .  This home is one the owner chose to have the HERS Rating completed.  It is being built in Derby, and is listed as Sold Projected. This home was planned to be lower than the standard new home. It is projected with an INDEX of 86.  It will come in lower.  The projected HERS process took into consideration the plan and the levels of insulation and equipment the owner and the builder have decided on.

HERS Rated Homes

HERS Rated Homes

The reports also show how much energy will be used in both heating seasons and cooling seasons by this home.  Several recommendations for cost effective improvements were made.  Several were based on simply lowering the annual utility bills of the home.  When the builder gets pricing for these improvements, the home buyer can make a good decision to proceed with that improvement or not.

Several of the additional insulation recommendations fall into this category. Several of these improvements were based on improving the comfort and Indoor air quality of the home. Again, when the builder has prices in hand the home buyer can make good decisions about these health and safety items. These items include improved equipment, and improved mechanical ventilation over the code required fresh air duct into the furnace.

Yes, there is no code adopted and enforced in the Wichita area requiring insulation in a new home. There is a code item that requires fresh air to be brought in. I have yet to see a new home without provision for a dryer and spot ventilation fans in the bathrooms. The fresh air is needed to compensate for these items.  If it is not provided, these fans will cause fresh air to come in where it can, not where you want.

When think of  a Heating and Air contractor, you have seen them referred to as HVAC Contractors.  The V is for Ventilation.

Remember to ask your Builder for the HERS Rating when you look at a new home. If the builder isn’t Rating his homes, you can obtain a HERS Rating for your favorite model.

Carbon Monoxide and Your Garage

I am studying ‘The Residential Ventilation Handbook’ by Paul Raymer. Mr Raymer has worked with residential ventilation, design, consulting, teaching for over 30 years.

I just reached the Chapter on Garages. I’ve known for several years the potential problems with an attached garage. Two years ago, I did some recommended work in my garage because of these issues. I carefully sealed the wall between the garage and the house, and I installed a mechanical ventilation fan.

lawnChemWhy is the attached garage important to the Indoor Air Quality in your home? OK! What is in your garage? Mostly stuff you don’t want in the house. Like fertilizer, bug spray, weed killer, gas for the lawn mower. Cars, and other vehicles are usually there also.

Mr Raymer includes a table of Carbon Monoxide levels and comments or the potential for harm to people. I knew some of these, and others I did not. Carbon Monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, like gasoline, natural gas, or propane. Carbon Monoxide (CO) is measured in parts per million (PPM)

Here are some entries from the table:

1-2 PPM Normal from gas range, traffic etc.

9 PPM Maximum Allowable Level for 8 hour period in any 12 month period. EPA and ASHRAE. Normal after using an unvented gas oven.

15 – 20 PPM Impaired performance in time discrimination and shorted time to angina response

30 PPM UL standard that detectors not sound an alarm unless exposure is continuous for 30 days.

35 PPM Maximum allowable outdoor concentration for any one-hour period within a 12 month period. EPA – ASHRAE

50 PPM Maximum allowable 8 hour work exposure (OSHA)

150 PPM UL Listed detectors must sound full alarm between 10 – 50 minutes of exposure.

500 PPM Car started from cold in garage with door open, and allowed to run for two minutes

800 PPM Dizziness, nausea, and convulsions within 45 minutes.

6400 PPM Death in 10 – 15 minutes

70,000 PPM Typical tailpipe exhaust concentrations after cold start during the first minute the engine runs.

NOTE: After running for 17 minutes, these concentrations finally drop to 2 PPM

tailpipeI think the above table is worth serious consideration from every home owner, every father and every mother.