Healthy Home Design Center: Breathing Easy
The Importance of Proper Ventilation for Clean Indoor Air
Ventilation: the key to fresh, healthy indoor air
Fresh air is the key to having healthy indoor air quality in your home. And the only real way to get fresh air into your home on a regular basis is with a balanced mechanical ventilation system. Last month I talked about how important it is to have a really air-tight, well-insulated home. But you can't have an air-tight home without proper ventilation. The mechanical ventilation system is the lungs of your home and keeps you healthy and safe. It also keeps mold out of your house by expelling moisture and bringing in dry, conditioned air.
Why do you need balanced mechanical ventilation?
Relying on natural ventilation like opening a window is not nearly enough. Most climates and locations don't allow for windows to be opened on a regular basis, and there's no way of filtering the outside air that's coming in. So you might be bringing in more unhealthy air. Most homes rely on exhaust only ventilation. This means using bathroom fans and kitchen exhaust fans to remove toxins and moisture from the air. These are not nearly enough to maintain healthy air quality in a home. The main problems with exhaust-only ventilation are that you aren't bringing in fresh air from anywhere and you're creating unbalanced air pressure in the house which means you'll be pulling air from places you don't want to be pulling air, like cracks in the basement, attic and wall cavities. You want the air in your home to constantly be replaced with fresh, filtered air, and a balanced ventilation system is how you'll achieve this.
What is balanced mechanical ventilation?
This is a mechanical ventilation system that brings in fresh, filtered air at the same time that it removes toxic, stale air. And the best kind of balanced ventilation system is called an ERV (Energy recovery ventilator). It might also be called an HRV (heat recovery ventilator), which is very similar, but it will depend on your climate as to which system you install. A local expert will be able to determine which system is best for you. An ERV brings in fresh, filtered air through an opening in the exterior wall and immediately enters a box and passes by the outgoing indoor air. The air never mixes (so you aren't contaminating your lovely fresh outside air) and the benefit is that the air coming in captures the heat of the outgoing air (in the winter, and vice versa in the summer). The ERV system will have its own set of ductwork. It doesn't use the same duct work as your heating/ cooling system. But the ERV ductwork is much smaller and can usually fit within wall cavities. The most important place for fresh air are the bedrooms. So the fresh air ductwork will lead to bedrooms and other well-used spaces.
Final Thoughts: If you're building a new home or doing a major renovation, you'll definitely want to plan for an ERV/ HRV system. But you can add an ERV system to your house at any time, so you don't need to wait until you build new or renovate to add one. If you can't install a fully ducted ERV system for financial or space reasons, you can look at a ductless HRV unit like the Lunos e2. With proper ventilation, your air-tight house will be the healthiest possible scenario. Contaminates can't sneak into the house through cracks, and moisture is controlled through ventilation. Even if you don't have a super air-tight, insulated house, it is always encouraged to have a balanced ventilation system. Having fresh, filtered air in your home leads to better cognitive function (less brain fog), better sleep, fewer allergies, less exposure to toxins, and fewer long-term health problems. The health benefits far exceed the upfront cost of the unit.
By, Kate Hamblet The Wellness Architect Balanced Architecture Kate helps health-conscious families create homes that support and promote health, happiness and longevity. You'll find her at www.balancedarchitecture.com