Imagine what it would be like to have to breath through a straw. That is how one of my clients’ daughters, who has severe asthma, describes how she feels when she is exposed to even the slightest bit of toxins in the air…including the ingredients in popular air fresheners and scented candles. While I was recently showing her family some Lake Norman waterfront homes, she had two serious asthma attacks triggered by just that. Each time it took her over a day to recover from just seconds of exposure to an air freshener or lingering cigarette smoke.
I must admit, despite my avid focus on “green” or “high performance” housing in Lake Norman I don’t think I totally grasped the seriousness of indoor air quality until I met this family. It is one thing to learn about the latest low or no VOC (Volatile Organic compounds) paint products and the amount of organic gases like Formaldehyde that are emitted from such solid and liquids as hardwood floors, cabinets, sealers, paints, pressed wood products…the list goes on and on. It is quite another to watch this young woman gasping for air.
The good news is that indoor air quality is an important part of the “green” housing movement nationally and right here in Lake Norman. So much so, that the US Environmental Protection Agency recently created Indoor airPLUS which is designed to work in partnership with their more well known ENERGY STAR program. Just as ENERGY STAR is an accreditation program for energy efficiency, Indoor airPLUS is a program designed to encourage home builders to “employ a variety of construction practices and technologies in their new homes to help address” such air quality issues as:
- Moisture Control
- Radon Control
- Pest Management
- Ventilation and Filtration
- Combustion Venting
- Building Materials
At the Indoor airPLUS’s first outreach webinar they explained that 19% of US households have a member with Asthma, 40% of households have a member with a respiratory problem and that they have found that typical indoor air chemical pollution levels may be 2-5 times higher than what is considered “safe” levels.
Including these pollutants and sources of indoor air pollution:
- Biological Pollutants
- Carbon Monoxide
- Formaldehyde/Pressed Wood Products
- Household Cleaning and Maintenance, Personal Care, or Hobbies
- Nitrogen Dioxide
- Respirable Particles
- Secondhand Smoke/Environmental Tobacco Smoke
- Stoves, Heaters, Fireplaces, and Chimneys
So, how does a home in our Lake Norman area earn the Indoor AirPlus label? “A home must first be designed to earn the ENERGY STAR label, the government-backed symbol for energy efficiency. By adding up to 30 additional home design and construction features, an Indoor airPLUS qualified home helps protects residents…” from indoor air pollution. During the Lake Norman home-building process testers or “HERS” raters will visit the build site and verify the required construction specifications. The Indoor airPLUS label will be placed on the electrical panel along with the ENERGY STAR label when it has passed the certification process.
Knowledgeable Lake Norman “green” home builders view ENERGY STAR ratings as the lowest/less stringent when compared to such “green” rating systems as North Carolina’s Healthy Built Homes, the National Association of Home Builders Green Home Building Guidelines and the very toughest LEED certified homes. However, while ENERGY STAR and Indoor airPLUS may not be as comprehensive as these, I am excited to be an early Lake Norman supporter or “ally” of the new Indoor airPLUS program in hopes that it will lead to an increased focus on indoor air quality throughout the building industry and by consumers both here in the Lake Norman area and throughout the country. For more information “The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality”.