After decades of neglect by the homebuilding industry, indoor air quality is finally getting some much-deserved airtime. It even has its own nickname: IAQ. Building scientists and progressive architects and builders now focus on air quality as a standard design factor, planning for things like all-season ventilation, reduction of pollutants and safe use of combustion appliances. The same measures can help keep your IAQ in good shape in the winter and throughout the year.
Winter is Worst for Air Quality
If you have one of those smart-aleck dads who, upon finding a door left open in winter, would comment, “What’re you trying to do, heat the outdoors?” you already have an idea of why air quality suffers most in the winter. Most homes are built with no means for bringing in fresh air apart from open doors and windows. In older homes, window leaks and other openings supply a small but constant air exchange with the outdoors—perhaps the only advantage of a poorly weather-sealed home. In newer, more airtight, homes, bathroom and kitchen vent fans routinely send air out of the house, while nothing is letting fresh air in. This not only reduces the effectiveness of the fans, it also means that moisture and pollutants (not to mention odors) are trapped inside the house in higher concentrations during the winter. Compounding the problem is the fact that we seldom go outside during the wintertime.
“Eliminate, Isolate and Ventilate”
This phrase is commonly used by building pros to summarize the steps for improving IAQ. An expanded version goes something like this: Eliminate unnecessary chemicals and other pollutants in and around the home; Isolate any pollutants that you can’t eliminate to keep them out of your living space; Ventilate the home effectively to rid the living space of pollutants and excess moisture, and to bring fresh air inside. (Too much moisture is bad for you and your home because it promotes mold growth, among other problems.)