It’s officially spring, and that means spring cleaning. A good place to start is with the air inside your homes.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), air pollution levels inside a home are often even worse than outside—two to five times higher in fact. Poor indoor air quality is associated with health problems such as eye irritation, headaches, allergies and asthma. Who wants to live in a house that can cause asthma?
Spring is a good opportunity for builders to participate in the Energy Star Indoor Air Package. It gives homebuyers another reason to choose your business over others. They’ll be attracted to the lower utility costs. These homes are 15 percent more energy efficient than homes built to the 2003 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).
Farley Built, formerly Drew’s Cove Builders, has taken advantage of the Energy Star Indoor Air Package in eight or nine of the homes it built, but not entirely on purpose.
“With the blower door test, we are at one air exchange per hour or less,” says owner Farley Pedler. “So at that level of air tightness, we have to introduce makeup air. We have to provide fresh, filtered air to the occupants that are living inside to maintain indoor air quality. Somewhat by default, we just happened to be meeting the ASHRAE and Energy Star indoor air quality standard.”
And if you think implementing this package isn’t worth it, think again.
“We actually realize a cost savings since we are able to eliminate bathroom fans and replace them with the exhaust ducting of the ERV,” Pedler says. His company specializes in custom homes with an emphasis on energy efficiency. Farley Built is based out of West Tisbury, Mass., which is in the center of Martha’s Vineyard where celebrities like Meg Ryan, James Taylor and Carly Simon are known to have homes.
To qualify for the Energy Star Indoor Air Package certification, homes must include moisture control systems, heating, cooling and ventilation (HVAC) equipment, combustion venting systems, radon control, pest management, eco-friendly building materials and homeowner education.
7 Steps to IAQ Spring Cleaning
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Too much moisture can lead to mold and other biological pollutants that can negatively impact health. With the Indoor Air Package, builders use a variety of moisture control features designed to minimize these risks, including improved control of condensation and better roof, wall and foundation drainage.
Farley Built incorporates a mechanical air exchange, which provides filtered fresh air to the house. The air exchange is through an energy recovery ventilator. The company uses several brands depending on the customer’s budget. The two most common are Fantech and Zehnder.
“We supply fresh air to all of the bedrooms and the common living area and then we exhaust moisture in the air from the bathrooms and the kitchen,” Pedler says. “These systems run 24/7.”
Related: 12 New Ways to Sell Healthy Homes
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Heating, Ventilation and Cooling (HVAC) System
Proper HVAC is a must for adequate indoor air quality and overall comfort. Homes with the Indoor Air Package include engineered system sizing, improved duct installation and filtration and whole-house and spot ventilation to dilute and remove indoor pollutants. Builders also inspect air-handling equipment and ductwork to ensure they are clean and free of debris and provide adequate air-flow.
Pedler says that 99 percent of the time his company installs air-source heat pumps. Whether it is ducted or ductless using a wall mounted mini split depends on which is more efficient for the region, as the temperature ratings can vary.
He also cites reliability and serviceability as important factors to consider.
“In our particular region, Daikin, Fujitsu and Mitsubishi are the three most common and the three most serviceable,” he says.
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Residue from pests can trigger allergy and asthma episodes. With the Indoor Air Package, builders must provide a first-line defense against these problems by fully sealing, caulking or screening possible pest entry points.
For added protection, homebuilders can install an automatic pest control system.
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In homes with the Indoor Air Package, builders can help protect residents from potential exposure to combustion pollutants.
They should use fossil-fuel heating equipment that eliminates the risk of spilling combustion gases inside the home, install carbon monoxide alarms in each sleeping area and take steps to prevent pollutants in the garage from entering the house. Field Controls offers some solutions.
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Builders following the Indoor Air Package specifications reduce sources of pollutants by protecting materials stored on-site from weather damage, using materials with reduced chemical content and ventilating homes prior to move-in to help improve indoor air quality.
Pedler follows the package guidelines by using zero VOC finishes, formaldehyde free cabinetry, Energy Star certified insulation and minimizes the use of spray foam.
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Exposure to radon, a naturally occurring radioactive, invisible and odorless gas, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. In high-risk radon areas, homes with the Indoor Air Package are built with radon-resistant construction techniques.
Homebuyers in these areas are also provided with test kits to check radon levels after they move in. Builders may also include a radon detector.
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After purchasing a home with the ENERGY STAR Indoor Air Package, owners receive a manual explaining their home’s indoor air quality features and showing how to operate their home to continue minimizing the risk of indoor air quality problems.