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Looking out over a Seattle marina in September 2020 during the wildfires. There's low smoke obscuring the view.

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Tips for Ensuring Your Home Has Good Air Quality

With wildfire season continuing into the late fall and a global pandemic still keeping millions of people indoors, there's a lot going on in the world. Both these natural disasters have brought to the forefront the importance of ventilation for your health: well-designed ventilation in buildings is important to address present and future pandemics, wildfires, and other airborne pollutants.

November 12, 2020

If you’ve been following along with our series on ventilation and indoor air quality, you know these topics have become increasingly common over the course of 2020, not just with builders and architects.

Unfortunately, almost all single-family homes (including townhouses and low-rise condos) and many multifamily apartment buildings have no mechanical means of bringing in outdoor air or exhausting indoor air without opening windows. And the average HVAC system does not allow for high levels of filtration, nor does it provide any means of bringing in outdoor air and exhausting indoor air.

What’s wrong with that?

If you haven’t read our previous posts, you might be asking yourself that question. Or, if you are reading this after September 2020, somewhere west of the Missouri River, you might also be asking, “Why doesn’t my house have a way to bring in filtered outdoor air and exhaust the stale indoor air since I’ve had my windows closed for days to keep the smoke and ash out?”

It comes down to this: we understand that wearing masks reduces the spread of aerosolized viral particles through filtration and physical blocking. We also understand that social distancing is important because staying six or more feet away from another person means that the particulates in their breath have had a chance to either drop out of the air or be diluted to a level of reduced risk. These concepts should be applied to how we plan for the design of new or renovated ventilation systems.

What can we do to ensure we have healthy ventilation systems in the future?

Earlier this fall, we bore witness to nearly 2,400 active wildfires in this country. So, not only has everyone been stuck inside their homes due to COVID-19 restrictions, many people had to keep their windows closed due to air quality and health warnings. Proper ventilation in living spaces and workplaces is an important tool to address health and safety concerns associated with illness, allergens, and irritants that can build up in indoor areas.

Here Are Some Things You Can Do

  • If you’re working with an architect, request they or your contractor provide and plan for installing an HRV system in your home or building.
  • Request a higher air-tightness standard for the construction of your home or building. You’ll spend less energy conditioning your space and will be able to control the air coming into the indoor environment.
  • Seek out and work with an architect who understands high-performance building design and HVAC systems.
  • Seek out an architect who is (or a firm that employs) a Certified Passive House Consultant. This certification requires an understanding of how to make a home healthy and comfortable by incorporating air sealing and properly designed ventilation systems.
  • If you live in an apartment building, talk to your landlord about changes to the building’s HVAC system to improve occupant health and comfort. (Why not direct them to this series of blog posts?)

In addition, everyone should support local initiatives to improve the building and energy codes. Speak with or write to members of your local, state, and federal government such as city council members, senators, and building officials. Tell them that you want healthy buildings to be a legal mandate and not only available to those who have the knowledge to ask and the means to afford it.

This post is part of a series discussing ventilation and indoor air quality in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and worsening air quality along the Pacific Coast due to wildfires.

More From This Series on Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality

Options for Updating Your HVAC System for Better Indoor Air Quality

There have been a lot of discussions and varied information on how the built environment affects the spread of COVID-19. Now we are also seeing more intense wildfires and smoke than we have seen in the past decade. With both these environmental issues keeping people indoors, healthy ventilation strategies are more important than ever. Read on in Options for Updating Your HVAC System for Better Indoor Air Quality.

How a Heat Recovery Ventilator Can Make Your Home Healthier

Indoor air quality has never been a more pressing or popular target than it is today. With smoke from wildfires all over the West and the continuing global pandemic of COVID-19, many of us are wondering whether our indoor air is safe. The good news is it can be with the right systems in place. Find out more in How a Heat Recovery Ventilator Can Make Your Home Healthier.

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