Indoor air quality influences respiratory health. One study found that being in buildings with mold or high humidity increased the risk of asthma and other respiratory symptoms. (1)Another study showed that adults living in social housing that is energy efficient are at higher risk for asthma. (2)
Energy efficient building looks to reduce heat or air conditioning loss. However, saving money on heat or cooling can come at the expense of air quality. (3) Poor ventilation can trap air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), “formaldehyde from furniture, solvents from carpet adhesives, chemicals from cleaning agents and others.” (4) Habits can also lead to humid indoor air: drying clothes indoors and keeping windows closed for energy efficiency or during showers. (2)
Research highlights, “the need for housing providers, residents and healthcare professionals to work together to assess the impact of housing interventions.” (3) New sensors are being created to help with this issue. (4) One such device monitors levels of VOCs and combines that data with usage of the room. Fresh air can be pumped in if a VOC is over a set limit. If the building is too ventilated, you have increase in energy usage. So, balancing energy consumption with proper ventilation is the goal of these systems.
The World Health Organization published guidelines regarding indoor air pollution standards. These can be utilized when building new homes and modifying existing homes’ exhaust or ventilation systems. (1) Educating the public on how and when to use exhaust fans and limiting other habits that contribute to indoor air pollution is also necessary to protect those with respiratory illnesses. The sensors discussed above can help with all these concerns.
Eric Coker, a doctoral student in environmental and occupational health and safety, summed up what needs to be done on this issue. “From a public policy standpoint, improving the infrastructure of homes is a necessary step. It’s more than behavior modification. We need to upgrade people’s ventilation systems [and] modify exhaust system.” (5)
- Medical News Today. World Health Organization publishes first indoor air quality guidelines on dampness and mould. [Online] Jul 19, 2009. http://www.medical newstoday.com/releases/157979.php.
- Medical News Today. Asthma risks may be boosted by energy efficient homes. [Online] Dec 15, 2014. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/286978.php.
- Medical News Today. Humid houses pose health hazards. [Online] Oct 14, 2014. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/283845.php.
- Medical News Today. New sensor system improves indoor air quality while making building ventilation more energy efficient. [Online] Feb 6, 2014. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/272231.php.
- McGill, N. Chronic respiratory illness, study says. [Online] 2015. http://thenationshealth.aphapublications.org/content/44/9/E46.full.
- Indoor air quality in green buildings: A case-study in a residential high-rise building in the northeastern United States. Xiong, Y, et al. 3, 2015, J Environ Sci Health A Tox Hazander Subst Environ Eng, Vol. 50, pp. 225-42.
Laurie M. DeChello, MPH, CPH
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