Put simply, indoor air quality (IAQ) has to do with the content and the quality of the air within our homes that we breathe on a daily basis, says NARI member Laurence Carolan, GCP, president, House of Laurence, Merrick, N.Y.
IAQ, however, is not an isolated discipline. It has close ties to green building and energy efficiency and, ultimately, to the concept of building science. “You can’t have one without the other; it’s all part of the new building science,” Carolan says.
IAQ is important because as the industry has made homes more energy efficient, it has been closing up the common sources of leakage, Carolan explains. “These included single-pane glass windows and openings in the components of the house structure. There were no housewraps, and we had little or no insulation in our walls and attics. We also left the doors and windows open more often,” he says.
The idea of IAQ, along with such concepts as building science, is fairly new, and Carolan finds the public is not generally well-informed. “I find as a professional I have to educate my clients. I do believe it is my responsibility, and that of my peers, to inform our clients,” he says.
Like the public, not everyone in the building industry is knowledgeable. “I run into contractors who are skilled professionals, but who insist on using oil-based products because they feel they are stronger and last longer,” Carolan says. “They really haven’t been educated on how bad these are for themselves and for their customers.”
IAQ isn’t something a full-service remodeler generally offers as a stand-alone service. “I am a general home remodeler, and while I am green certified, I don’t sell energy retrofits, energy audits or IAQ tests on their own. I attempt to introduce aspects of green remodeling, including IAQ, into every project I do,” Carolan says.
Testing for IAQ can be done by outside professionals, or there is a variety of test kits available for use by the homeowner or contractor. Prices generally range from $50 to $150. Some of the air-quality issues that may be tested for include VOCs, carbon monoxide, mold, mildew and tobacco smoke.
A number of steps can be taken to improve IAQ, Carolan says. The first and most obvious is to provide sufficient ventilation to remove unwanted components from the indoor air. The second, and equally obvious, is to eliminate items within the home that contribute to poor air quality. Finally, as professionals, suggest and use materials and finishes that will provide a healthier indoor environment.
One of the specialized pieces of equipment used in IAQ work is the blower door test kit, which emphasizes the connection between energy efficiency and IAQ. “Using a blower door test shows you can accurately determine the number of exchanges occurring in a home.,” Carolan says. “One of the things we’re looking for is a certain amount of air exchanges. The industry standard is 0.35 air exchanges per hour. When the natural air exchanges are below 0.35, then we’re looking to introduce mechanical systems to vent the house,” he says.
Training in IAQ is available from a variety of online sources or from local colleges. NARI’s green certified professional (GCP) and certified remodeler (CR) courses offer insights into IAQ, as well.
“I think it’s important for remodelers to have full knowledge of the facts and science behind IAQ. Then, we can bring that knowledge to our clients, their families and the public at large,” he says.
“As in all aspects of our industry, the better remodelers have a passion for what they do. Green and IAQ should be no different,” he continues. “I don’t believe it is something that should be used simply as a marketing tool. This is real. As with other building practices, it’s a responsibility. Get the knowledge, teach your clients and they will appreciate it. In the long run, educating your clients raises your professional status and might just lead to more business.