What’s in my air and how did it get there? Confusion about indoor air quality, carbon monoxide and VOCs

What’s in my air and how did it get there? Confusion about indoor air quality, carbon monoxide and VOCs

There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about carbon monoxide poisoning – from a death and 19 people hospitalized at a Long Island restaurant, to a close call with a little girl here in Tennessee – and it has a lot of people worried about the air quality in their own homes.

The problem is that most consumers don’t understand what really affects the quality of the air inside their houses. We heard in Eco Pulse™ 2013 that almost half of Americans are concerned about the indoor air quality of their homes, but they’re generally less concerned with the products they bring into their homes and more concerned with ventilation.

Ventilation is complicated. It’s affected by how much insulation is in a home, where it’s placed and how the air is moved throughout a home, and the debate about best practices for ventilation is fierce. Take a minute to read the comments section of articles like this one on GreenBuildingAdvisor.com and you’ll see what I mean.

We insulate buildings primarily to regulate temperatures and make them more energy efficient, but also, in part, to keep allergens and pollutants out. But is trapping carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) inside buildings an unintended consequence of creating an airtight building envelope? Anyone with space heaters or gas, oil or coal-burning appliances should be educated about how their house is ventilated and have a working carbon monoxide detector.

The EPA’s home indoor air certification program, Indoor airPLUS, says most indoor air pollution comes from sources inside buildings – such as adhesives, carpeting and cleaning agents that may emit VOCs – it’s the things we bring into our homes.  But consumers are largely unaware of VOC’s.  Only 13% of EcoPulse 2013 respondents mentioned things like choosing low-VOC paints or building products with no formaldehyde content when asked how to best improve indoor air quality.

This knowledge gap is an opportunity for builders, manufacturers, retailers and installers of appliances, furniture and insulation to educate and communicate. Consumers are becoming more aware that indoor air quality is something to worry about, but the topic is complicated, and even the experts are fighting.

When it comes to making purchase decisions for things like furniture, flooring and home cleaning products, shoppers need to know what they should avoid and how greener options will keep them safer/healthier. And they need to hear it in a language they can understand.

And new tightly sealed, energy-efficient homes need to come with some extra instructions about indoor air quality and ventilation.

We know you can’t educate people into action, so maybe a good promo would be a good place to start. It seems there might be a great partnership opportunity for green cleaning product manufacturers, makers of carbon monoxide detectors, green home builders and insulation contractors to offer free trials or new home welcome kits, for example.  Home improvement retailers could also get in on the act (and potentially sell new monitors, air filters and green products) with indoor air quality “clinics”.

This would be a great way to meet the problem head-on so you can be seen as part of the solution, not the cause of the problem.

About the Author

Bartie Scott

Bartie is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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