Whether you are a residential contractor who builds or remodels homes or a homeowner tackling your own project, you may want to consider some of the healthier alternatives that are available.
Over the last few years, I have been studying ways to improve building health during the building process. After 37 years in the construction industry and building a few of my own homes, there are certainly some things I would do differently now.
While this is a broad topic, let's focus specifically on indoor air quality. If you are like me and want to have a healthy environment, you will have to do some research.
Better Building Materials
More people these days are seeking out healthier options when choosing building materials. Building materials that outgas toxic emissions can be a source of indoor air pollution. With so much time spent indoors, you may want to reduce toxic emissions by choosing better, healthier building materials.
Paints with no or low VOCs (volatile organic compounds), such as milk paints, have gained popularity and are an alternative to solvent-based paints. Those with chemical sensitivities may want to research alternative building materials and finishes for insulation, cabinets, wood paneling, trim, flooring, carpets, and carpet pads as well.
My wife and I recently purchased a condo. Knowing there had been mice in the attic, we had a professional remediation contractor remove all the existing attic insulation using HEPA vacuums and equipment and sterilize the attic’s wood structure with an antimicrobial agent sprayed on all surface areas. This also gave me an opportunity to inspect the attic's framing, electrical wiring, duct work connections, and attic ventilation before installing a new formaldehyde-free blown-in insulation product.
The design of your HVAC system is critical to it working properly. Whether changing the size of the duct work, installing a new furnace, or changing the location of supplies and returns, work should be performed by a professional, insured HVAC contractor. When having duct work installed, I like to have the inside of any new metal ducts wiped cleaned to get rid of oil and dirt that may have accumulated in the fabrication process. I also cover floor registers with duct tape until construction is complete to prevent debris from falling into the ducts.
HVAC systems should always be leak tested to ensure they meet specified standards. Leakage can occur at the furnace and duct work at unsealed joints. Furnaces are designed to suck air in from the return side. Unsealed ducts passing through walls in attics and crawl spaces can suck fiberglass, fiberglass particles, mold spores, and pesticide-laden or dusty air back into the furnace system and blow it into the house.
I like to have the HVAC system cleaned by a professional, insured duct-cleaning contractor after completion of any construction work.
Your furnace filter is vital in keeping the supply ducts and the inside air of your home clean. I recently had a new furnace installed and duct work modified to accommodate a 25 x 25 x 4-inch filter rather than the existing 16 x 25 x 1-inch filter.
Furnace filters are rated by a MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) number. A higher MERV number means a tighter weave and better air filtration. With my new furnace and 4-inch filter, I was able to go with a MERV 11 filter rather than the previous MERV 8 with the 1-inch filter. The design of your HVAC system (furnace and duct work) will determine which filters you can use. If you install a filter with a MERV rating that is too high for the system, it will restrict air flow to your furnace, which could result in the furnace not working properly or even cause damage. Always consult with an HVAC professional to recommend the proper furnace filter for your system.