Breathing: The Good, The Bad, & The Funky / by Positive Energy

Greetings building science enthusiasts! 

Thanks for joining me out on the range here to visit the ole family blog and help me wrangle up a herd of thought cows... I seriously need to get better at opening lines. 

I'm here to do a bit of a recap of a fantastic article that was just posted on The Royal Society of Chemistry's site called Every Breath You Take. If you've got time, definitely give it a read. It's got some quality analysis and framework to help us think about and relate to indoor air quality in homes. For those who are less inclined to read an entire article, here's the Positive Energy's Digest version. 

Source: Sam Falconer/Debut Art

Source: Sam Falconer/Debut Art

Indoor Air Pollution 

Positive Energy has taken particular interest in the topic of indoor air quality as the scientific community is increasingly pointing to negative health outcomes deriving from indoor exposure to pollutants. This is particularly alarming as we've learned from The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): A Resource for Assessing Exposure to Environmental Pollutants that we spend 90% of our time indoors. Even more remarkably, 70% of your time is spent in your home. 

We need to be thinking about the kinds of exposure we're experiencing in homes! 

Indoor air is a dominant exposure for humans. More than half the body’s intake during a lifetime is air inhaled in the home. Thus, most illnesses related to environmental exposures stem from indoor air exposure.
— Sundell, J. (2004), On the history of indoor air quality and health. Indoor Air, 14: 51–58. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0668.2004.00273.x

How Do We Know?

The article takes a light touch approach to looking at how we know what we know about indoor air quality. It turns out that there are some really fascinating and meaningful studies and meta-studies that are going to seriously impact the way we think about indoor spaces. Scientists are studying how to measure the air and what's in it and they're studying how different exposures cause reactivity with other surfaces (including how pollutants get into our bodies, which isn't just through the lungs!). Why is that important? Well just take a look: 

The indoor environment has a lot more surface material per volume of air than an urban air basin and that translates to a much larger importance indoors of surface-associated processes.
— WILLIAM NAZAROFF, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY, US

With so much surface area for pollutants to react, there are serious health implications. There are pollutants and then there are pollutants that interact with other chemicals and become unknown and unstable pollutants... Seriously.  Add to this that each time we cook, we're creating a whole microscopic world of combustion particulates and it's a doozy! 

That's why it's so crucial that this is getting research attention. These data will literally support groups like ASHRAE as they endeavor to understand and recommend better ventilation standards, filtration standards, and deal with related thermal comfort potentiality. It's a big deal. 


The Takeaway

The time has come for us to pay attention to indoor air quality. Scientists and researchers already are. It's only a matter of time before these findings affect the laws that dictate what we're allowed to design and build, but we think we can do better already. Pay attention. Incorporate this into your practice! 

We can affect the quality of the air around us in a multitude of ways; from what products we clean with, to what fragrances we wear, to what and how we cook and whether or not we smoke or burn candles. ‘We want people to recognise that they are living in a box; any chemicals or combustion products that released into the box are in there with you. It doesn’t take a lot of mass emitted to make a high concentration in the air in your home,’ says Singer. ‘We recommend people start with the basics of using products that have less toxic chemicals, avoid excessive moisture and make sure their combustion appliances are vented.’
— WILLIAM NAZAROFF, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY, US

Thanks for reading! See you next time.