While my sustainability work (which includes managing project scopes such as Passive House Institute US, Enterprise Green Communities, and LEED for Homes) made me aware of the importance of indoor environmental quality (IEQ), I never cared about it as much as I did once I had a baby. IEQ is a broad term covering the overall effects of a building’s interior on occupant health and well-being.
Healthy IEQ has been linked to improved productivity in the workforce (see The COGfx Study – fascinating!), and it is a key component of the newest iterations of green building standards, like LEED v4 and the WELL Building Standard. But it wasn’t economic output I was concerned about in my apartment – just a healthy infant, since, as studies from the NIH, the DOE, and the WHO (among others) have concluded, IEQ can have a very real impact on health and development. So I set out to learn more about what I could do in my own home to improve IEQ for my family:
At the suggestion of a colleague, we tested our apartment with an analyzer kit sold by Home Air Check. The test we purchased measured VOCs, actively growing mold, and toxic formaldehyde. Our apartment didn’t score well in a couple of these categories, which is why we were especially motivated.
The materials used to make and install carpet (not to mention everything that gets trapped in it!) are usually IEQ nightmares. If you do want carpet (I must say our little guy loves it – despite the rug burn), choose carpet certified by The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) as Green Label Plus. We also made a rule that our apartment be shoe free to reduce what we contribute from outside.
Many of us know by now to buy low (or preferably no) VOC paint. Most of our buildings, however, have layers and layers of painted walls – some of which could contain lead. Before making any holes in the walls, we wet the area with a damp napkin and vacuum the area immediately after.
We tried to find products that were GreenGuard (or, even better, GreenGuard Gold) certified or those made from unfinished wood. Since GreenGuard products tended to exceed our budget, we opted for used items since these have already spent years off-gassing! Our beautiful hand-me-down crib is unfortunately not unfinished, and it has plenty of new paint-chipped bite marks at this point…
NASA’s pioneering study on air-filtering plants in 1980 guided our selection of houseplants. We added a small bamboo, a snake plant, a peace lily, a Chinese evergreen, and a few spider plants to our collection.
Ultimately, the best solution in our apartment (which had been renovated just prior to our purchasing it) was to leave the windows open as much as possible. (Although, we are not far from a highway, so that is another consideration.)
Of course, I wish we lived in a Passive House, so we would have continuous supply air filtered through Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERVs), but we’re not there just yet. So, while I continue to be on the lookout for IEQ issues and resolutions (I’m currently saving up to buy an air purifier), I’m also learning to relax, enjoy my beautiful son, and take deep breaths – even if that means sometimes inhaling a few toxins!