In Green Building, You Can't Separate Energy and Health

air handling houses

Image Credit: Green Building Advisor

From LEED towers to single family houses, the problem is the same; Some complain that the buildings don't save enough energy. Building envelope expert Joe Lstiburek complains that LEED wants buildings to be too ventilated. Why? "Because of activists on the LEED committee that say everything in a building is unhealthy and sick." Meanwhile, others complain that sealing up buildings and houses are a health disaster waiting to happen.

John Wargo at EHHI complains:

Although the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED certification program has effectively encouraged energy efficiency in buildings, tighter buildings often concentrate chemicals released from building materials, cleaning supplies, fuel combustion, pesticides and other hazardous substances.

The same thing is happening in houses. Richard Defendorf writes in Green Building Advisor that sealing up homes to save energy can lead to mould growth, related health issues and even structural damage. The problem is particularly bad in Alaska, where he quotes the Alaska Daily News:

"People are still too often addressing one side of the energy equation ... making walls thicker, increasing R-values and tightening homes. They are not addressing ventilation," Steve Shuttleworth, a building official for the city of Fairbanks, told the paper.

hrv photo

Image Credit: Lloyd Alter

I find it appalling that heat recovery ventilators are not required in colder parts of the United States, where houses can be sealed up tight for months on end. Martin Holladay calls them the "gold standard" of ventilation when they should be the minimum standard.

An HRV will suck air out of the bathrooms, transfer its heat to incoming fresh air, and ensure that people aren't soaking in toxins that build up in a tightly sealed house. It eliminates the buildup of moisture that can cause mold.

But the real message, both with LEED towers and single family houses, is that you cannot worry about energy savings without worrying about air quality, they go hand in hand. If you make a building energy efficient then you have to worry about VOCs, formaldehyde, fire retardants and every other chemical that can build up; an efficient house has to be a healthy house.

More at Green Building Advisor
More on air quality and heat recovery ventilators:
California Study Finds New Homes Are Toxic
Big Steps In Building: Ban Formaldehyde
Get a Heat Recovery Ventilator if You Seal Your House Up Tight
10 Mold Prevention Tips

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