Enhancing Indoor Air Quality In Homes

Thu, 2012-10-18 13:34

With advancements in energy efficiency standards, many homeowners are deciding to remodel their homes to improve energy performance. Rising energy costs and old inefficient home systems have led to more pronounced efforts to ensure energy efficiency. However, one of the most important aspects of remodeling that is often overlooked involves the successful maintenance of good indoor air quality.

According to the EPA, indoor air quality is a vastly important component for homeowners to consider when remodeling. Their guide, The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality, provides a discussion on the fundamental principles of basic indoor air quality in homes as well as how it impacts occupant health. In general, the most effective means for ensuring adequate indoor air quality are to control or eliminate sources of pollution as well as prevent unwanted air flow in the home. Below is an overview of several areas homeowners should address during remodeling.

Moisture Control

One of the most significant issues that should be addressed involves moisture control. Instances of moisture in the home can occur as a result of leaks through roofs, walls, or plumbing; high relative humidity; and air moving from either the inside or the outside, and penetrating the walls. To prevent moisture issues, methods including fixing water leaks; air-sealing; installing vapor barriers in walls and roofs; providing mechanical ventilation; and ensuring basements and crawlspaces do not suffer from soil moisture, are effective in ensuring moisture control. If there is too much moisture in a home, biological growth (mold and mildew, for example) can significantly reduce the health of home occupants through a reduction in air quality. Health effects such as allergic reactions, asthma attacks, or even death can occur if uncontrolled.

Air Ducts

To reduce instances of air leakage, ducts should be tightly sealed throughout the home through duct seams and joints. Not only can air-sealing save energy, but it can also prevent harmful contaminants from entering ductwork and penetrating the thermal barrier. It is important to determine a ventilation strategy prior to remodeling in order to ensure that pollutants are properly expelled from the work area without entering other areas of the home. Generally speaking, remodeling should provide a systematic opportunity to seal ducts that may be difficult to access otherwise.

Air Sealing

Tightly sealed homes provide increased energy efficiency, enabling homeowners to save both energy and money. Ensuring proper sealing in a home can reduce the amount of air that enters the home through cracks, unsealed joints, and penetrations, which can also prevent condensation that leads to mold and mildew growth. However, while tightening a home is important, proper ventilation is necessary to prevent the home from becoming too stuffy. Tightly sealed homes that provide adequate ventilation, as found in ENERGY STAR certified homes, can maximize air quality and occupant comfort.


As aforementioned, ventilation, either natural or mechanical, is an important element to protecting the health of home occupants. Effective home ventilation prevents pollutants, odors, and dangerous gases from increasing in concentration, as they can create not only moisture problems, but also numerous health effects.


Due to its strong heat-resistant and durable qualities, asbestos was used in the construction of many older homes, creating problems for homeowners seeking to remodel existing structures. The EPA has a guide specifically for homeowners to learn more about asbestos, titled Asbestos in the Home: A Homeowner’s Guide, which provides significant information conducive to informed decisions about remodeling efforts.


In the same regard as asbestos, many older homes (built before 1978), used lead-based paint, which poses a significant health hazard when improperly removed from walls through sanding, scraping, or demolition. Lead chips or dust, when inhaled or swallowed are extremely dangerous and can cause sickness or even death. Before remodeling your home, determine the presence of lead-based paints to understand measures that need to be taken to prevent indoor air quality concerns.

Odorless Gases

As the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., the identification and control of radon gases is an important measure that homeowners should undertake. According to the EPA, you should implement radon-resistant construction techniques if your home exceeds a level of four picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). Moreover, you should monitor the amount of carbon monoxide in the home through the use of CO detectors. Both radon and carbon monoxide are odorless and invisible gases, and thus it is necessary to test for their presence in the home before, during, and after remodeling.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Volatile organic compounds are organic chemicals that are widely used as ingredients in both household products and building materials. Paints, sealants, varnishes, and adhesives often contain VOCs and can affect indoor air quality when using or storing them in a home. In general, preventing high concentrations of VOCs in the home is important to prevent various health effects such as headaches, dizziness, eye or respiratory tract irritations, memory impairments, and visual disorders. The most effective means of preventing VOC concentration in the home during remodeling involves eliminating or reducing the use of those products that contain said compounds. There are numerous products on the market that are low-emitting, greatly limiting the concentration of these pollutants in the home. In general, it is advised that you provide adequate ventilation in the home during and after application of products that contain VOCs.

Combustion Appliances

Combustion appliances are found throughout the home, including ranges, furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters, clothes dryers, and space heaters. While these appliances usually are safe within a home, under certain circumstances, they can produce and release several pollutants into the home, which can impact individual health and can even cause death. The use of various fuels, like oil, kerosene, coal, and wood can generate high concentrations of pollutants when improperly vented or installed. Therefore, it is important to ensure proper inspection and maintenance of existing appliances as well as proper sizing and installation of new appliances.

In all, there are many elements to the remodeling process that can negatively affect indoor air quality. Therefore, it is important for homeowners to understand the steps that need to be taken in order to prevent significant problems in the home, including high concentrations of pollutants and significant air leaks, as they can create problems for the health of home occupants. Properly accounting for indoor air quality is an important element for homeowners to understand, whether they choose to remodel themselves, or hire contractors to do the work.

By Peter J. Bock

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