Indoor environment quality
The modern human spends approximately 90% of his/her time indoors.8 This puts the health qualities of the indoor environment at a premium, as most of us receive nearly all of our air, light, and water from indoor sources. And yet, this aspect of building design is rarely given much serious consideration. Building codes barely address the issue, and do little to enforce what standards they espouse (except in the cases of well-documented pollutants like asbestos and lead), so it is up to homeowners and designers to ensure that a building is a safe and healthy place for all occupants.
Despite its obvious importance, the pursuit of a healthy indoor environment is among the least considered goals even in green building projects and one of the most difficult to quantify to ensure that targets are being met.
The US Environmental Protection Agency claims that the indoor air of the average American home is five times more polluted than the outdoor air,9 and they rate breathing inside a building as one of the top five environmental risks to public health! This should be alarming, and provide ample reason to make this an important consideration for your building.
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In addition to a wide range of naturally occurring contaminants (including shoes and outdoor clothing, cooking, bathroom use, and pervasive mold spores, dust, bacteria, and viruses), indoor air is in constant contact with building materials, whether they are surface finishes, ductwork, or assembly materials. The effects of chemicals embedded in building materials have received little to no regulatory oversight or study, and many known toxins (including carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, and neurotoxins) are often included in common, off-the-shelf building materials. With all of this in mind, important questions to ask include:
What kind(s) of air exchange strategy will be used?
There should be no question about whether or not an air exchange strategy is needed, but it is important to consider what the strategy will be (see Building Science Basics home design).
What is the quality of the outdoor air around the building?
What type and quality of air filters will be used?
How will filter changes be made part of the regular maintenance schedule of the house?
What kind(s) of moisture regulation strategy will be used?
How might vapor retarders, moisture barriers, mechanical ventilation, and material choices.
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