As our month long “Breathe GREEN & Easy” educational campaign about indoor air quality progresses, we thought it might be interesting to put a global perspective on the issue.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 2 million people (mostly women and children) die each year as a consequence of household air pollution levels that are typically 100 times greater than the WHO air quality guidelines. This stems from the fact that nearly half the world’s population cooks with solid fuels on poorly functioning stoves or open fires, primarily using wood or other biomass. (I don’t know about you, but I was pretty shocked to discover the number was still that high.)
Efforts to improve these conditions include creating and testing improved clean cookstoves, switching to higher-quality, lower emission fuels and improved household ventilation.
Most of us can count ourselves lucky that just by the chance of our birth country, we are not subject to such an extreme (and devastating) example of what poor indoor air quality can do. BUT, we are NOT immune from this issue.
If we look at the measures outlined to address this global issue – clean cookstoves, lower emission fuels, better ventilation – we find these measures are thematically similar and applicable to combating our ever day indoor air quality issues, even though they stem from different root causes. And, poor indoor air quality doesn’t care about geography – it equally has the potential to be fatal in our own homes, not just those in developing countries.
How do we see these similar issues in homes we perform energy audits on? First is overall poor ventilation. This is generally caused by the fact that homes are built or kept too ‘tight.’ We educate our clients to think of their home as a living thing, and it, too, needs good air (in and out) to ‘breathe’ properly. This is part of the ‘whole house’ approach advocated by the Department of Energy that all of our energy consultants are trained on. If your indoor air is just generally not great, you’re likely having headaches, allergy symptoms, prolonged coughs and colds, etc. While these have the potential to become serious over time, they usually initially manifest as annoyances.
The second major way we encounter these issues is by uncovering back drafting, where essentially the harmful byproducts of one system are being pulled back into the air flow of the home. This is the scenario where the threat to health and safety can be imminent. We’ve literally been brought into homes just in the knick of time to identify and recommend remedial action for such circumstances.
So why are “The Energy Experts” spending so much time on indoor air quality? Many people don’t initially draw the correlation between a home energy audit and indoor air quality – that’s why we’re out raising awareness. Because we examine all the systems, how those systems interact with each other and how all the systems interact with the building envelope, we are essentially testing air flow. We test air flow to see if too much, or too little, is moving in and out – and we can often identify problematic instances of indoor air exchange. You might also find our whitepaper on Space Heaters, the Stack Effect and Back Drafting very helpful in further illustrating this (especially for those in the colder regions right now).
We hope you participate in our month long Breathe GREEN & Easy campaign, in whatever way you see fit – make improvements at home for the safety and well-being of your family, pass the information along to a friend, or tell us a story on our Facebook page for a chance to win a $250 gift card. We hope to use the power of the internet to really bring this topic to the forefront, and potentially save a harmful situation from even happening.