Another Look at Indoor Air Quality and "The Indoor Generation"

Screen capture. Velux Canada

Skylight manufacturer Velux says we need more light and fresh air.

The 7th Active House Symposium was held in Toronto recently, and I attended it with an open mind, having expressed some skepticism about the concept in the past. I will get that out of the way sign now by noting that the Passive House concept has severe limits on energy consumption that usually limit the amount of windows, which is a problem if you are a skylight manufacturer. So years ago, Velux, the big Danish skylight company, developed Active House, whichI described earlier as focusing on "energy saving, healthy indoor conditions with lots of fresh air and – you guessed it – lots of natural light and ventilation from lots of windows and skylights."


© Great GulfActive House has moved way beyond being a just a Velux thing, with the involvement of universities, architects, corporations and Active House groups around the world. In North America, the leading proponent is Great Gulf Homes, which has build two gorgeous Active Houses designed by Superkül that show it at its best. It is easy to understand the attraction; most Active house designs are bright, beautiful, healthy and full of light. It promotes energy conservation, but the environment and comfort (daylight, thermal and air quality) are also on their radar.

Tad Ptyra at Active House Symposium/ Lloyd Alter

© Tad Ptyra at Active House Symposium/ Lloyd Alter

Almost anything you read about Active House stresses the fact that we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, and that Active House focuses on indoor air quality. Velux has picked up on this with some gorgeous videos that demonstrate the problems in the way we live today, trapped inside.

Their solution is to open the windows, which might work in some places for part of the year, when the outdoor air is not too polluted. I suspect it is more complicated than that, but if I am not convinced about their solution (let's chop a hole in the roof and put in a skylight!), they certainly nail the problem. Here is another about connecting with nature:

Velux Canada also has some great suggestions for everyone, whether or not you have skylights, for those in more northern climates. They offer suggestions, including:

  1. Airing out your home, no matter what the season, which seems a bit over the top in the middle of winter: "The contents of indoor air include gases, particles, biological waste and water vapour, which are all potential health hazards. It is recommended that you air out your home three to four times a day for at least 10 minutes at a time, with more than one window open. Also, air out your bedroom before you go to bed and when you get up in the morning."
  2. Follow the natural light: "Artificial light can’t replicate the qualities of sunlight, which is a natural anti-depressant."
  3. Get in rhythm: "Our bodies can only synchronise with the so-called 'sleep, work, live' 24-hour rhythm through the correct exposure to light and darkness."
  4. Clean and air your carpets (or get rid of them)
  5. .
  6. Limit damp and moisture
  7. .
  8. Don't smoke and go easy on candles
  9. .
  10. Turn things off: "Electrical appliances like the TV and computer hard disks emit chemicals that contribute to a poor indoor climate."
  11. Avoid chemicals: "There are potentially harmful chemicals in most cleaning products. Wherever possible, use microfiber cloths and natural materials such as white vinegar and soap flakes."
  12. Avoid plastics: "When plastics are warmed up they can give off toxic fumes. If you have children, make sure their plastic toys are not in the way of direct sunlight. Also, don’t leave plastic objects on the floor if you have floor heating installed."

These are all good suggestions, no matter where you live. More at Velux Canada.

There are many, including me, who would argue about the details of Active House and question whether outdoor air is really better, whether you can properly control it year round, and suggest that while windows and skylights are wonderful, you can have too much of a good thing. I approached this with an open mind and met people who were committed to building better, healthier, more efficient houses and buildings, and I can't argue with that.