Right now, the northern US is having an air quality crisis. Regardless of where you live, there are specific measures we should be taking to make homes safer during an air quality event or emergency.
Smoke from Canada’s wildfires is bearing down on northern states with little to no relief in sight. Anyone watching national news has seen the photos of New York, and many areas in the north, that are facing unprecedented air quality issues. No doubt many in fire prone areas like California are well aware of what is happening.
Certainly, smoke has greater impact on those with respiratory issues, but either way, you should limit your exposure to it. Wildfire smoke contains gaseous pollutants, as well as PM2.5. If you’re not aware of what PM2.5 is, these tiny particulates pass right through most filter systems, including getting past the lungs and into your circulatory system. These are microscopic bad actors that can cause serious health effects. The EPA has strong warnings about wildfire smoke and PM2.5.
From burning plants and train derailments to wildfires, this past year has presented many communities with air quality hazards and pollutants that would be better kept outside. Most of our older housing stock is filled with gaps, cracks, and pathways where dust, pollen and other pollutants leak in. I refer to them as “contaminant pathways”. A term I first heard building scientist Joe Medosch use and he is exactly right. Breathing air coming through building materials is not a good idea. Most of us have seen what happens when air leaks through walls and cavities. As soon as I heard that, I knew I needed to be in the business of closing them up.
So, what about newer “airtight” homes? For several years we’ve designed homes to be built tight and ventilated with a fresh air system. Most of these systems are known as ERV’s, HRV’s, and ventilating dehumidifiers. They are great, but right now may not the best time to be bringing air in from outside. Green builder shared a great PSA on why these systems should be shut down for now.
Many IDI contractors are in the business of air sealing. Some of you are even advising customers on indoor air quality. This may be your best time to reach out to your customers, family, or friends, and let them know what they can be doing. The most important things anyone in an affected area should be doing right now are:
- Closing off any fresh air systems that would amplify the amount of contaminants getting in.
- Replace your furnace, dehumidifier, or other filters often.
- Replace them with the highest MERV rating possible for your unit.
- MERV 13 or better is the lowest that begins to block PM2.5
- Run a blower door test and find where your building leaks are.
- Air seal your buildings or homes.
- Start at the top. Stopping stack effect should be your first priority.
- Sealing the bottom is next. Top of basements, sealing crawl spaces, etc.
- Replace weatherstripping, fix air leakage and eliminate contaminant pathways.
- Here’s a super cool air scrubber Dr. Allison Bailes shows how to make for your home if you don’t have a filter or just want to filter air fast.
- Don’t store chemicals, pesticides, or other irritants inside your air sealed home. Especially with the fresh air system turned off.
- Check your home for Radon or other soil gasses both before and after air sealing.
- Tune into reliable news sources and limit outdoor activity when outdoor air quality is at its worst.
Remember, you may drink half a gallon of coffee, water, or some form of liquid today, and your body has organs and systems to filter what’s in that liquid. You are also going to breathe about 3000 gallons of air today that may be filled with things that could inflame your respiratory system or even bypass it and make it directly into your blood stream. No doubt, fresh air from outside can be better than the air inside, but what do you do when it’s not? Homes are to be our sanctuaries. With that in mind, being able to seal up your environment and having ways to filter and protect your air quality, should be a priority.
For those of you in the retrofit business, you’re the building science professionals in your area. Get the message out. Run a radio ad. Get on Facebook. Whatever it takes. There’s no end to the number of people you could be helping. And don’t forget the 25C tax credit and other rebates out there to help them air seal and insulate their homes. Remember, you, our IDI’s contractors, are the quintessential experts at creating healthier and more comfortable, living, and working environments. The main thing is getting their buildings sealed up.
If you have questions about air sealing, finding an IDI contractor in your area, or any of the products or training at IDI, reach out to your local branch or any of us at IDI, where we look forward to earning your business every day.