Indoor Environmental Quality And Health

Elements in many building products, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), mold, and dust, contribute to respiratory ailments and asthma. This is of particular concern because studies have shown that up to 26 percent of all emergency room visits are asthma related.7 Young children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to indoor air pollution. Children have higher respiratory rates and are closer to pollutant sources, such as carpeting and furniture. VOCs such as formaldehyde, acetone, benzene, xylene, and toluene are emitted by many kinds of carpet, paint, adhesives, solvents, insulation, and furniture. Unsafe levels of these chemicals in indoor air are often signaled by strong odors and health problems such as headaches, dizziness, skin irritation, nose and throat discomfort, fatigue, or nausea. Flooring materials made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) can also leach phalates over time, which can mix with household dust and enter the respiratory system.

An equally serious indoor air quality (IAQ) problem is leaks and condensation on pipes or inside HVAC systems, which can create environments in which mold, mildew, dust mites, and insects can thrive. Damp drywall inside a kitchen or bathroom wall is an ideal location for mold growth, so keeping moisture out of kitchens and bathrooms is a high priority.

To prevent IAQ problems, first reduce the sources of pollution by keeping construction materials dry and by flushing out a building with fresh air for at least a week prior to occupancy. Second, provide natural or mechanical ventilation to remove pollutants and introduce fresh air into living spaces. Finally, maintenance procedures should keep systems operating to the design specifications and prevent the use of new pollutants in maintenance or cleaning. The ENERGY STAR® Indoor Air Quality Package provides a comprehensive approach to improving air quality in residential buildings.

In addition to air quality issues, factors that impact the quality of the living environment are thermal comfort, acoustics, the presence of natural daylight, and access to views (especially views of trees or landscaped areas).

Recommended strategies for improving indoor environmental quality include the following:

• Specify low-VOC interior paint consistent with Green Seal (65-11) standards.

• Use formaldehyde-free insulation.

• Use natural linoleum, rubber, or concrete instead of vinyl composite tile or sheet goods.

• Specify composite wood products (particleboard, melamine, medium-density fiberboard) for cabinets and countertops that are free of added urea formaldehyde.

• If using carpet, select a low-looped pile that meets the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) Green Label standards for both carpet and pad.

• Minimize the amount of dirt and other pollutants that are tracked indoors by providing entry mats or grills at doorways.

• Use low-VOC caulks and adhesives.

• Vent all kitchen range hoods directly to the outside. Recirculating range models are ineffective in removing odors, smoke, combustion by-products, and moisture.

• Direct-vent and provide either a humidistat or hard-wired timer for bathroom fans.

• Provide at least 15 cubic feet of fresh air per minute (cfm) per occupant, consistent with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standard 62.2 to ensure that adequate fresh air is brought into the space to dilute pollutants and prevent moisture buildup within the building envelope.

• Install at least one carbon monoxide monitor per dwelling unit.

• Place ventilation intakes away from exhaust fans.

• Install MERV 8 or better air filters in ducted ventilation systems

• Provide sealed-combustion, power-vented furnaces and hot-water heaters.

• Provide constant exhaust through rooftop "scavenger fans" or an "always-on" low-speed fan in each unit with dedicated exhaust to the roof or exterior.

• Provide natural daylight in bedrooms, kitchens, and other frequently used rooms.

• Improve acoustic performance by using blown cellulose or cotton batt insulation and sealing around all plumbing and electrical penetrations.


229 East Third Street project (New York, NY) Lower East Side Mutual People's Housing Association

New York-based architect Chris Benedict has designed a unique ventilation system for multifamily buildings. This system was recently used in the 229 East Third Street project, a new building designed by Benedict and developed and owned by the Lower East Side Mutual People's Housing Association. The system works by treating each unit as its own independent "vessel" that is air sealed from all other units and public spaces.

Careful attention to air tightening is critical to good results. The architect identified where incoming fresh air should come from, and then did air sealing to prevent leaks from other places. The system reduces an unwanted stack effect (warm air rising up through a tall building, pulling cold air in at the bottom of the building), which makes residents of lower floors cold and overheats residents near the top.

Specially designed "trickle vents" in the bedroom windows pull in fresh air, which is then drawn out through small, quiet, always-on fans in the kitchen and bathroom. The air moves through each apartment slowly and steadily, which helps maintain a constant humidity level and temperature. Besides providing healthy indoor environmental quality, the ventilation system offers additional benefits: it increases soundproofing and fireproofing between units, improves air quality because air isn't shared among units, and saves energy by not leaking air.


1. Locate close to transit and services

2. Reduce parking and provide secure bicycle storage

3. Design for natural ventilation and passive heating and cooling

4. Design for natural daylight

5. HVAC sizing

6. Permeable surfaces on site

7. Trees to shade east and west elevation

8. Low-water use plants

9. Flyash or slagash in concrete

10. Advanced framing (OVE)

11. Light-colored roof

12. Seal all plumbing and electrical penetrations

13. Proper flashing around windows and doors

14. ENERGY STAR® ceiling fans in living room and bedrooms

15. Timer delay or humidistat on bathroom fan

16. Formaldehyde-free insulation

17. ENERGY STAR or pin-type fluorescent lighting

18. ENERGY STAR appliances

19. Low-water use plumbing fixtures

20. Recycled-content insulation, carpet, drywall, etc.

21. Formaldehyde-free cabinets or fully sealed cabinets and counters

22. Low-VOC paint

23. CRI carpet

24. Carbon monoxide detector

25. Provide owners or tenants with information on green features

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