Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a term coined in the 1980s for symptoms of un-wellness that appear to be linked to time spent inside a building. With widespread concern over energy conservation in the 70s, we intentionally began building homes to be more and more airtight in the interest of keeping heat in and cold out (or vice versa).
This, unfortunately, is the antithesis of ventilation! Without adequate fresh air being brought in, the interior becomes moist and stale, creating a fertile breeding ground for mold, bacteria and viruses, and allowing dust and allergens to accumulate. All these are associated with a plethora of health problems.
The good news: the obvious need for ventilation in an airtight house is also an opportunity to take control of your indoor air quality for better health and comfort.
Clean Ductwork and Filtration
It’s a good idea to get your ducts cleaned at least every 3–5 years, and before installation of any new air handling equipment, like a furnace or air conditioner. This is especially true if you have pets.
The linchpin of your air handling system is a clean, effective air filter. There are a lot of options in this regard, from hospital-grade HEPA filtration, to “capture and kill” active in-duct air purification systems from Lennox and Bryant.
Even without a high-tech filter, you’ll do better than most if you just regularly check the filter you have and keep it clean. So many people forget to do this, and it not only affects your health, but the longevity of your furnace as well.
If you have air conditioning, the lower temperature of the A-coil creates condensation from the air passing through it. Even though this water drains away, the coil tends to be a damp surface ideal for the growth of mold and bacteria, and these can become airborne. To address this problem, ultraviolet lamps can be installed above the A-coil to keep it and the air passing through it relatively sterile.
Even if you don’t have central air conditioning, UVA lamps can be placed in the main duct and air return to neutralize airborne bacteria from other sources.
HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilation)
When the home is airtight, it’s not enough to just heat the interior air with safety and efficiency; you have to engineer a way for the house itself to breathe without wasting energy. The stale air leaving the house contains heat, moisture, dust and allergens. Meanwhile, the fresh air entering can be frigid, and we all pay dearly to heat that air up.
Put simply, Heat Recovery Ventilation is a method for ventilating the home that warms incoming fresh air with heat recovered from the stale outgoing air. This not only improves climate control, but saves energy by retaining about 80% of this heat inside the home.
This can be done passively with an air-to-air heat exchanger (a balanced ventilator in which heat is transferred from one airstream to another). Passive HRV works best when there’s a large difference in temperature from inside to outside, and it’s the most common type. However, active HRV using a powered fan system is even more effective, and has the added benefit of enabling tuning and balancing of the system to suit the particular needs of your home.
Call for a Free Consultation
Some people are very sensitive to air quality issues, and we have seen some dramatically positive results in the decades we’ve spent in this field. Since there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution, give us a call for a free consultation to find out what steps you can take to let you and your home breathe easier.