Most of us simply don’t think enough about indoor air quality (IAQ), yet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ranks indoor air pollution among the top five risks to public health. Poor indoor air quality can lead to allergies, asthma and even cancer.
Proper ventilation strategies are also becoming paramount as new homes are constructed greener for energy efficiency, as tighter home construction and air sealing can trap unhealthy, stale air inside. In addition, high levels of humidity can cause unhealthy and unwanted mold growth, which can be expensive to remediate.
A good air conditioning system can go a long way toward controlling humidity in a home—and more and more we’re seeing humidity sensing devices that can control spot ventilation units like bathroom fans or are built into these units to help keep indoor air healthy.
Fans can also help cool a home by using less energy than air conditioning units. A guide provided by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory & Oak Ridge National Laboratory notes that fan ventilation strategies are among the least expensive and most energy-efficient ways to cool buildings.
Several companies at the TecHome Builder Summit March 4 to 6 in Austin, Texas, will show advanced and affordable ventilation, air filtration and humidity sensing products to homebuilders.
Broan-NuTone’s goal is to provide powerful, efficient products that also go with a home’s decor. The company offers range hoods, heaters, trash compactors and ventilation systems, and some of the company's most popular products are humidity sensing bathroom exhaust fans, two of which will be demonstrated during one-on-one meetings at the Summit.
Candace Wilkinson, construction sales manager of Broan-NuTone, says these two new products not only remove humidity and odors like traditional bath fans, but also constantly remove contaminants trapped throughout the home, such as pet dander and chemicals. This type of ventilation is increasingly required to meet building codes or the requirements of green building programs such as Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED), Energy Star or the National Green Building Standard.
These programs encourage a whole-systems approach through design and building techniques to minimize environmental impact and reduce the energy consumption of buildings, while contributing to the health of its occupants. Most of these programs have adopted the ASHRAE 62.2 ventilation standard, which requires whole-building ventilation to maintain acceptable air quality and local exhaust fans in each kitchen and bathroom to reduce the levels of contaminants and moisture in these spaces.
The two products Broan-NuTone will demonstrate combat mold by detecting rapid increases in moisture levels at the ceiling, where steam and humidity naturally rise, and automatically turn the fans on to vent excess humidity. They will also shut off automatically. “With a fan this quiet, we included automatic shutoff to save worry, and money,” Wilkinson said.
The noise level of the fans are less than 0.3 Sones, which is quieter than rustling leaves. Bath fans of yore typically produce about 4.0 Sones.
Bath fans can also work as bathroom heaters. The Broan QTX utilizes the PowerHeat design, which ensures that the energy converted to heat is efficiently delivered back to the user.
Both these products have motion and humidity sensors that are programmable. They are also Energy Star-qualified, which could help out this tax season. Energy Star offers tax credits to consumers on home improvement items as well as products purchased for new construction.
All this, with a retail cost starting at about $200 for each unit.
HVAC and Air Quality
Since 1982, Goodman has been building air conditioning and heating systems for customers far and wide. Goodman is also growing, having just joined with Daikin Group to be part of one of the largest HVAC companies in the world. At the TecHome Builder Summit, expect Goodman to demonstrate new HVAC air-quality products that are designed to meet and exceed new home builders’ needs.
Indoor air quality products, such as those that Goodman manufactures, can improve the air in your home and extend the life of your heating and cooling system. Air cleaners help keep your system operating efficiently by removing particles that may hinder the performance of the system that you have installed.
“We will have several pieces of equipment available at our booth, and will demonstrate the ease of installation and other features of the equipment,” said Edward Neumann, Goodman division builder sales manager.
Goodman is striving to meet the demand for products with better energy efficiency in their standard HVAC systems. Systems with additional features include upgraded filtration, enhanced humidity control and digital communicating controls. These are described as cost effective, which is always a plus for homebuyers.
Some of the latest features available include high seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) ratings and digital controls. Goodman says one of its more popular products for builders is its 16-SEER GSX16 condensing unit that comes in at a lower cost than in the past to meet price requirements of builders. The units also meet the minimum rating for Energy Star and LEED.
It is also worth noting that some cities, including San Marco, Texas, give rebates for installing certain HVAC systems. The higher the SEER rating, the higher the rebate.
Areas with mold can often be hidden behind walls. So how can homeowners know if there’s potentially hazardous mold growing inside their walls?
Mold Watch will be exhibiting its new MW1 Moisture Detector at the TechHome Builder Summit. The product is calibrated to sense excessive moisture levels where mold begins to grow in drywall and cellulose. The device turns on every four to five minutes to take a humidity reading of the interior wall cavity. If the humidity inside the wall cavity consistently registers at 60 percent or higher relative humidity for a period of 48 hours, it will alert the homeowner. If the MW1 detects water from any source inside the cavity, the alarm will sound immediately.
In the monitoring mode, the device is quiet. However, when it detects excessive moisture levels where mold begins to grow, a 75db alarm will sound.
The MW1 Moisture Detector can be offered as a mold/moisture protection system package for new homes. The product can be showcased in a design center and offered for purchase to customers during the home buying process.
Best Practices for Ventilation
- Size bath and other exhaust fans with the proper cubic feet per minute (CFM), per the ventilation space required
- To get the best performance, the new equipment must be properly installed
- Be sure dealers have proper training
- Look for warranties up to 10 years
- Include detailed instructions for operation
- To sell today’s quieter fans, compare them to noisier, old ones
- Look for humidity sensing and automatic shut-off