Category Archives: Improving Indoor Air Quality

Medical Study Shows Green Homes Decrease Illness

One of the benefits of buying and living in a green home has always been health related. Energy Efficient and sustainable builders have always taken care to keep water out and to seal up air leaks.  One of the effects is to lower your energy bills. Another is to improve the health of those living in the home.

No Flashing Window

The picture above is a window that was not flashed properly. Water was going into the wall. When you have water and wood together, you get mold.  Many new homes do not have this feature. Remember, there is no legal requirement to install insulation or other healthy features in a home in Wichita or Sedgwick County.

Now, US News and World Report’s Health Day column, written by Amy Norton covers a study in Boston.  She covered the research report in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Researchers found that children living in Boston’s newer, greener public housing had fewer asthma attacks, hospital visits and missed school days, compared with their peers in standard public housing. 

Adults, meanwhile, were less likely to report symptoms consistent with a condition called “sick building syndrome” — which include dizziness, headaches, nausea and eye irritation.”

Buying a home that has green features, such as Water Management Details, Air Sealing, and a Planned Fresh Air system is a big part of the Green Home that creates these benefits. You can find green homes, featuring these benefits, in and around Wichita. Some builder’s choose to have their homes certified to a Voluntary Standard such as Energy Star or Zero Energy Ready or or NAHB Green, or Eco Select.  A certified homes have these features verified by someone other than the builder.

So as the New Home market is growing in the Wichita Area, ask your builder about these features.  Don’t accept the answer that it is not needed, or this is what everyone else does. This is about the health of your family.

Read the entire article

 

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.

Passive House Verifier Training Part 1

PHIUSPHIUS (Passive House Institute United States) is one of two organizations in the US that promote and issue certificates for completion of a home that uses extremely small amounts of energy to heat and cool a home. The other organization is an affiliate of the German PassivHaus Institute.

This organization is based in Illinois. The goal is to make passive building principles the mainstream best building practice, and the mainstream market energy performance standard.

prosocoWhat is a Passive House? It is a home that people want to live in. It must be comfortable for the occupants and it must use very small amounts of energy to heat and cool; and for total energy use as well. RIGHT: A Passive House under construction.

Design for a Passive Home emphasizes energy efficient features that are installed during the construction of the home which do not have moving parts. The design relies on all parts to be installed to manufacturers specifications. These details are verified after they are installed.

Smith HouseThe idea is that insulation and air sealing are very cost effective compared to large and sometimes complex new technology in HVAC Systems. Instead of buying the expensive technology, use the money, that would usually spent on upgraded HVAC system, to increase the insulation levels. The details of how much insulation, what type and where are certainly of interested to  the builder and others involved in planning and construction. These details are less important to the home buyer, they just want things to work at a lower cost.

I am writing about Passive House construction since I just finished the training and testing to become a Passive House Verifier with PHIUS. You will hear more about the Passive House concept and how it might apply to any home.

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!

Who Is Building an Igloo in Wichita?

It all started on Twitter. @AIAWichita @moongodess316 and I had some fun over building an Igloo.

Igloo1

I saw this Tweet and immediately thought of a quote from Dr. Joseph Lstiburek: “The Igloo was the First Passive House.” Joe is an engineer by training and has been working with buildings, insulation and energy use for over 30 years. His Building Science Corporation, based in Massachusetts, conducts research and is one of the best sources of verified information on building energy efficiency in buildings.

So I tweeted back.

Igloo2

What is the difference between a Passive House and a regular house? What is the buzz all about?

Strawbale

When you build a home you can use lots of insulation to reduce the amount of electricity and gas to heat and cool the home.

GSHP Diagram

You can use a lot of high tech equipment to reduce the amount of electricity and gas to heat and cool the home. You can also do both.

PHIUSThe Passive House was developed in Germany, so you see it referred to at times as Passiv Haus.

We know that insulation works and that more insulation works better. As the cost of electric and gas goes up, it makes financial sense to add insulation to a home or business. In 2000, the local cost of Electricity was 8 – 9 cents, the recommended level of attic insulation was R-30. Today the cost of electricity is 12 – 13 cents and the recommended level of insulation is R-49.  Both have increased about 1/3 in 1 years. We also know that air movement, cold drafts, makes people uncomfortable and causes insulation to not work as effectively.

Round Metal TubeThe sources of air entering a home are usually related to corners. Since we like living in buildings that have square corners there are a lot of them in a home. Windows do not usually cause air leakage. How they are installed can cause air leakage. The age or the quality of the window does not seem to matter when installation mistakes occur.

PHIThe primary requirements for a passive ouse certification are based on Energy Usage and creating a structure that needs very little energy for heating and cooling. These standards are effectively summarized with these two limits.

  • Total primary energy (source energy for electricity, etc.) consumption (primary energy for heating, hot water and electricity) must not be more than 120 kWh/m² per year (37900 btu/ft² per year)
  • The building must not leak more air than 0.6 times the house volume per hour (n50 ≤ 0.6 / hour) at 50 Pa (N/m²) as tested by a blower door.

In our Twitter Conversation, Angee McBustee tweeted a question about how is building a igloo in Wichita. Then I responded with the offer to run the blower door test. As you can see from the primary requirements the Blower Door result is very important to a passive house.

Igloo4

How good is a Blower Door Test of 0.6, as required by Passive House? Energy Star New Homes require a Blower Door Test of 5.0 or less. New homes in Wichita routinely test around 4.0. In the blower door testing, lower is better.

For standard construction, I have tested several homes at 1.0. There is one home that I have tested with a lower result. A custom home in Butler County is under construction. They had me do a Blower Door test after it was sheathed. No insulation, no drywall. The test result was 0.62. We were able to find several leaks using biometrics and the infrared camera. That was last September. I returned in December to test it a 2nd time, the results were so low, that I didn’t have the right test equipment to measure the result. I would estimate it to be in the 0.30 range. I now have the equipment to test a home like that.

In February, I have been accepted for training and certification as a Passive House Rater/Verifier. Christine is building the home in Butler County, I want to thank her for the push to obtain this certification.

In the Twitter Conversation, AIA Wichita came back and said they were posting an information tweet.

Thanks to Angee and AIA Wichita for a nice idea for a Blog Post.

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 House Part 1c: How Dry is Dry

rainIn Part 1a, we have looked at how your builder builds your home to keep water from the outside from damaging your home.  He used materials to shed the water and he lapped them over each other, from the roof peak and the shingles all the way down to the ground. And then directed the water away from the house, using gutters and sloping the landscape away from the house. Easy, quick and it looks nice.

In Part 1b, we looked at how your builder builds your home on the inside to keep water where you want it, and provide easy clean up when it does get out of the pipes, the sink, tub or shower.

BucketYou can think of this as bulk water.  You can see it, this is water that is usually measured in quarts or gallons, and it is responsible for 50 – 60 % of the water damage that occurs over time. The exact percentage depends on the source doing the figuring.  So why is there a Part 1c?   There is one remaining source of moisture in most homes.  Water Vapor.  Hard to see it, hard to measure it.  The damage water vapor causes is usually found to be very extensive.

If you have a roof leak, it usually ends up inside and you find it while it is relatively small. When it is fixed the damage is limited and fairly easy to fix.  Leaks from plumbing and over flowing sinks and tubs, is usually caught very fast. The surface is easy to clean up and many times contains the water.  Damage from these sources doesn’t really occur unless the water continues over time to get there.  It stays wet and is not allowed to dry out.

Flood type events are not really of concern here. When they happen, the homeowner is aware, his insurance may cover repairs and there are lots of contractors that will do the work. Generally, they have little to do with how the house was built.

teapotWater vapor is present in varying amounts in every home.  What is the relative humidity in the home?  40% – 25% – 65%?  That is water vapor in the air. We add to that from breathing, cooking, and hygiene activities, like showers and running hot water for various purposes.

How do we control this water vapor?

Spot ventilation.  This may be as simple as opening a window next to the stove where the pasta is boiling, or the tea pot is ready to pour. It may be using an exhaust fan over the stove to actually remove the water vapor from cooking out of the house. Same in the shower.

acWhen the heat and humidity arrive around here, in the summer, it is air-conditioning season. Most air conditioners will lower the temperature of the air and remove some of the humidity at the same time.  Somedays they do a great job, somedays the ac unit really has to work and it.  Occasionally, you will find a unit that makes the room fairly cold, and you just feel clammy.  Like you just walked in from 100° outside and you are wet all over. The trouble is, it doesn’t go away.  You keep feeling cold and clammy.

That is the first way that water vapor causes a problem with our homes, it makes us uncomfortable.

How does the water vapor move into the walls and attic to cause problems like the liquid or bulk water we looked at?  It has two ways to move.  Air Movement and Vapor Diffusion.

Vapor Diffusion involves moving a vapor, in this case water.  It involves temperature and pressure.  It also involves Math, lots of fancy math.  I know some math teachers that can run these numbers, and a couple of physicists here in Kansas.  I’m sure the characters on TV’s ‘Big Bang Theory’ could run the numbers.

Adding MachineThe good news is, we don’t have to run the numbers.  If you take a room in your home with the humidity at 40% and 70° –  you will find less than a gallon of actual water.  By the time all the numbers are done, the answer is:  Yes – Vapor Diffusion put some of that water vapor into the wall.  And we can test that the 7% moisture content of the drywall, studs and other parts of the wall, is now 7.5 or 8%.  Not much change.   If you have read much on this blog, you know I lower my blood pressure by turning wood, into bowls.  Anything less than 12% moisture content in wood is considered dry.

If the builder bought kiln dried lumber, and kept the rain off it, while the house was built, the wood is probably 8 – 9 % moisture content when the home is finished.  Kiln dried lumber is typically 6 – 8 %.  Moving from an enclosed type shed to the job site, wood will pick up a little moisture.

What about air movement and water vapor?  That is the one to take care of.  Uncontrolled air movement takes the water vapor right along with it. When that vapor comes in contact with a surface that is below the current dew point, it will condense and the liquid wets the material.  We know that energy savings is easy to obtain with air sealing.  So fixing the air leaks is good for stopping the water vapor from making our house wet also.   How much?  This graphic from the guys at Building Science Corporation shows how much.

Air_Vapor

This post is part of a series of posts on A Healthy Home.