IAQ Spells Opportunity

Before air conditioning became widespread in American homes, a common way to cool off was simply to open windows to a breeze. Insulation was an afterthought in many homes and buildings, so people generally fought off the coldest days by wearing sweaters indoors.

Fuel prices have skyrocketed since those times, which is why we live in an era accented by a quest toward energy efficiency. Today’s boilers and furnaces provide much more BTUs for the buck than in days of old, and homes are built tighter with plentiful insulation. For the most part this has been a good thing, but the trade-off has been a deterioration in the air we breathe inside our homes and commercial buildings – some of which are built with windows that don’t even open.

The result is greater accumulation of indoor pollution from dust mites, mold/mildew, fuel combustion and what’s known as VOC (volatile organic compounds) emanating from materials used in construction and furnishings. Studies have found that indoor air pollution typically is from two to five times worse than the surrounding outdoor environment. If that sounds high to you, keep in mind that most people spend between 70-90% of their time indoors breathing air that is largely stagnant. (One figure that staggered me during this research was that the average person inhales 31 pounds of air each day!) Medical studies have suggested that a widespread decline in indoor air quality (IAQ for short) is associated with rising rates of carbon monoxide poisoning, asthma, and other respiratory ailments.

The solution is not to go back to the bad old days of drafty, poorly insulated buildings that drain your budget while you try to keep a stable body temperature. Instead, the HVAC industry has devised a number of air purification, ventilation, humidification and monitoring strategies that involve few if any tradeoffs with energy efficiency. It is one more example of how the skilled trades are evolving along with technology and the very real need for greater energy efficiency.

If you are truly interested in protecting the health and well-being of our society, one way is to go into the medical profession. But if that is not compatible with your abilities and interests, a great second choice would be to enter a trade centered around protecting our indoor environment.