Indoor Air Pollution: New Threats and New Tools
Indoor air pollutants can now be measured inexpensively, and consumers want full transparency.
Indoor air quality (IAQ) has historically been the equivalent to the hypothetical monster lurking under the bed. No one quite understood it, and, even though people had an inkling that it was scary and worth paying attention to, they hoped that by ignoring it, they could simply wish it away.
But that’s not the case anymore. The concept of healthy homes, driven primarily by IAQ, has evolved substantially over the past few years and can no longer be overlooked. Indeed, IAQ has evolved beyond the realm of early adopters and is firmly situated in the mainstream.
There’s a good reason: Americans, according to researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, spend 87 percent of their time indoors, with 70 percent of that time spent at home. With that kind of devotion to the pleasures of their homes, LBNL notes, “it’s only a matter of time before people want to feel as good being indoors as they do about being there.”
Green Builder Media recently conducted a survey of housing market trends, polling consumers and construction industry professionals. There are some compelling insights.
People Know What They Want
Within the healthy home space, more than 90 percent of consumers consider IAQ to be “extremely important” or “very important.” It’s also the leading category that consumers associate with green building—more so than performance, renewable energy and building science.
Nearly 70 percent of consumers interested in IAQ want to keep themselves and their families healthy. Close to 20 percent of consumers interested in IAQ struggle with allergies.
Twenty-five percent of consumers (so far) ask about IAQ often or very often, and nearly 25 percent are purchasing products that proactively address IAQ-related issues. Given that those numbers were in the single figures only a short while ago, the sector is clearly experiencing considerable growth on an annualized basis.
Homeowners have become quite savvy about green products and smart home devices, and they’re demanding proof points to show that IAQ products can back up manufacturer claims. So, it’s important for manufacturers and builders to provide certifications, case studies, research and data that demonstrate clear performance results.
All The Comforts of Home
Comfort is the leading purchase driver behind IAQ considerations across all consumer audience segments, followed by (in order) security, sustainability, quality and wellness.
Do-it-yourself (DIY) consumers are the most active with respect to IAQ content on the web and social media, so for elevated engagement, manufacturers may want to target DIYers for enhanced exposure, pickup and earned public relations (PR).
There is subtle difference in consumers’ perception about sustainability versus health and wellness. While consumers perceive energy efficiency, water conservation and resiliency as part of the sustainability equation, they associate indoor air quality with health and wellness rather than sustainability. It’s a delicate nuance for sure, but an important one for any manufacturer or builder wanting to create effective, targeted messaging for customers.
One of the hottest trends in the IAQ category is a proliferating interest in sensors and monitoring systems that provide real-time observation and reporting. This is resulting in a mushrooming demand for proactive, intuitive systems that can provide alerts and notifications, and can interconnect devices, mechanical systems, ventilation fans and other products in the home (such as windows) to manage IAQ in an automated and streamlined manner.
The surging interest in healthy homes, as well as the adoption of IAQ sensors and monitors, is placing new demands on manufacturers and building professionals. To achieve optimal success in today’s marketplace, manufacturers and building professionals need to become invaluable resources for homeowners in their journey towards understanding the impact of indoor air quality on their family’s health and productivity.
To do that, it’s important to emphasize situational awareness, enabling homeowners accurately measure and manage IAQ through real-time data and develop a deeper understanding of how to solve any IAQ issues (for example, specifying low VOC/non-toxic products, proper ventilation, fresh air exchange and regularly changing filters).
As the market continues to evolve, look for ongoing innovation with respect to demand-controlled, intelligent systems that integrate mechanical systems with sensors, windows and other IAQ devices.
Correspondingly, as research on the health impacts of pollutants in homes and buildings progresses, expect enhanced codes, regulations and mandates that address IAQ issues in a comprehensive and methodical manner. There are changes that may be implemented as early as the 2021 code cycle (underway now) in the single-family and multi-family sectors that address ventilation and exhaust systems, proper airflow and air exchange, and range hoods. Stay tuned.
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Research: Poor Air Quality Makes It Hard to Think
In the 1700s, Ben Franklin professed, “I am persuaded that no common air from outside is so unwholesome as the air inside a closed room that has been often breathed and not changed.”
Franklin appears to have been more than 250 years ahead of his time when it comes to poor indoor air quality (IAQ). This has been proven once again in a study conducted by researchers at Harvard and Syracuse universities.
In this study, the researchers enrolled 24 “knowledge workers,” people who were corporate managers, architects and designers. The workers spent six days in a controlled work environment, working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.
During this time, the indoor air quality conditions fluctuated without their knowledge, shifting from:
- An optimized environment, where ventilation was increased; chemicals and products—including cleaning products—that released volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were minimized or eliminated; and carbon dioxide levels in the air were reduced.
- The other work environment was a more conventional setting which met minimally accepted IAQ standards.
Each day, the participants took tests measuring their cognitive (thinking) functions. Test scores were higher across nine cognitive function domains when workers were exposed to increased ventilation rates, lower levels of chemicals and lower carbon dioxide, according to the study.
“The results showed the biggest improvements in areas that tested how workers used the information to make strategic decisions and how they plan, stay prepared, and strategize during crises,” the researchers noted. “These are exactly the skills needed to be productive in the knowledge economy.”
The researchers then conducted a second test involving 100 knowledge workers. This one test evaluated the influence of using green-certified cleaning solutions. Green cleaning solutions are designed to protect IAQ.
“We found that workers in buildings that used green certified [cleaning solutions] scored higher on the tests,” the scientists reported.
The takeaway is simple: Better indoor air quality results in better [worker] performance—something the professional cleaning industry has known for years.
Article is courtesy of Mike Watt, director of training and new product development at Avmor, a leading North American manufacturer of professional cleaning solutions. He can be reached at email@example.com