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Indoor Air Quality Challenges in Energy Efficient Homes

Indoor Air Quality Challenges in Energy Efficient Homes
April 20, 2016 SNH Editorial Team

Homeowners who undertake construction or major home renovations today are focused on one key element – energy efficiency.  So are we in our latest building project, The Greenwich House.  But note, there are some new challenges regarding indoor air quality in super tight houses.  Here are some innovative products we recently installed at The Greenwich House to improve energy efficiency AND interior air quality.  BlueSkin from Henry Company, is an exterior air-and-water infiltration material, by using this material we can expect to cut energy loss in the home by 40%.  Because this material is breathable we were able to use open and closed cell spray foam insulation on the inside of foundation walls, exterior walls and the roof to further insulate and seal the home from potential energy loss.

With these two steps we are certain to maximize on energy efficiency for future homeowners. But there is one new issue that comes from super insulating houses, poor indoor air quality. The EPA has noted that indoor air quality is often 5 times more polluted than the air we breath outside and we needed to figure out a way to bring fresh outdoor air into the home and expel toxic air.

The solution? An energy recovery ventilation system in combination with Zero-VOC installation materials.  There are even new air filters on the market to help combat this problem.

Energy Recovery Ventilation Units

zehnder comfoair system

The standard in new home construction from our point of view is the energy recovery ventilation system. For The Greenwich House we turned to Zehnder America for their Comfoair Ventilation Unit. This system provides for a controlled exchange point for fresh air coming in from outside and the stale air being transferred out. The compact unit is usually installed in the attic.  Air passes through transferring heat and cold from one air stream to the other.  During the heating season this process ensures that heat stays in the home and is seamlessly transferred to the incoming outdoor fresh air.

But it doesn’t end there. The Zehnder America system comes packed with some additional benefits and technologies that you tend to expect from a century old company leveraging European engineering and quality standards. Worried about a vacuum of air pressure occurring in the home? No concern, this system automatically balances the air pressure with the outside air to prevent any air pressure changes – even when operating powerful vent hoods in the kitchen.  Worried about noise? Zehnder America’s unit is one of the quietest on the market.

To anyone suffering from allergies there is one more super important health effect. The system has a series of filters that remove pollen and other toxins from the outdoor air. This ensures that only fresh, clean, healthy air is coming into the home. And with hoses that directly reach every room in the house, you’ll never have to worry about a musty stale zone in your home. This system literally takes care of it all providing better than outdoor air quality inside the home.

Easy To Maintain Air Filters

We are sure you are very familiar with those filters you find in the HVAC systems.  The ones that you are encouraged to replace every 6 months and usually end up removing them with a cloud of who knows what when you change them out. Filters have come a long way and it’s important to invest in a filter that makes maintenance and cleaning a breeze.

With standard paper filters, like what we have in the ERV system at The Greenwich House – you can easily keep them running efficiently by giving them a quick vacuum once a month to remove a bulk of what is removed from the air.  The Miele vent hood in the kitchen has filters that you just pop in the dishwasher to clean. You can even find easy clean filters for HVAC systems and almost any filter need in the home. What does this amount to? Well, if you can simply remove the filter and rinse it out in the tub or drop it in the dishwasher it makes it much easier to keep them clean and working at peak efficiency all year.

Toxin Absorbing Finishes

This may sound like voodoo science, but many paint finishes today help to eliminate formaldehyde off-gassing and other toxins that are found in carpet, cabinets and some fabrics. In particular the Harmony line of paint from Sherwin-Williams (which we have noted before) deploys technologies that allow the paint to not only be zero-VOC (volatile organic compounds) itself, but also absorb toxins.  It even eliminates odors that come from cooking, pets, etc. over time so the space stays fresher, longer.  Another added benefit is anti-microbial agents that prevent growth of mold and mildew.