Ventilation and Health

Sleeping StudentThere are a lot of grumblings about a requirement to add mechanical ventilation to homes.  When we gather around the campfire on a starry night, there isn’t a need for mechanical ventilation.  When we bring the campfire into the building, we a flue to take the smoke and pollutants out.  And we also bring a lot of other things into the house including the dogs and cats.  And we cook in the house and generate a lot of moisture by taking showers.  We even bring plants inside to make it feel like we were still outside.  And we tighten up the house to keep it warmer in winter and cooler in summer.  So we’re not out under the starry, starry night any longer.

Okay, but is the indoor environment really hurting us if we don’t have mechanical ventilation?  In a dry climate like Nevada, is there really enough of a humidity problem to need mechanical ventilation?  Although it is difficult to study the relationship between mechanical ventilation and health, studies do exist.  Just this morning on MSN there was an article about “20 things that are making us dumber”.  Along with “Honey Boo Boo” and excessive email that we have to check on our “SmartPhones” every 90 seconds, was “Poor Ventilation”.  The article said, “Excess carbon dioxide is doing more than wrecking our climate – it’s also making us stupid.  Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley Livermore slowly increased the amount of CO2 in a poorly ventilated room while college students attempted to solve a series of complex, strategic problems.  Not surprisingly, the more CO2 in the atmosphere, the more mistakes the test subjects made.”

In a paper in Indoor Air entitled “Ventilation rates and health: multidisciplinary review of scientific literature”, a group of very knowledgeable researchers reviewed 27 papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.  Their conclusion was that “there is biological plausibility for an association of health outcomes with ventilation rates”.  They also said that, “Home ventilation rates above 0.5 air changes per hour (h-1) have been associated with reduced risk of allergic manifestations among children in a Nordic climate.”

In another Indoor Air paper entitled “Association between substandard classroom ventilation rates and students’ academic achievement”, researchers from The University of Tulsa, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Kuopio, Finland studied the relationship between classroom ventilation rates and academic achievement.  They determined that, “There is a linear association between classroom ventilation rates and students’ academic achievement”.

Pine Tree air freshenerSomething else to think about.  The global market for air fresheners is forecast to reach US$8.3 billion by the year 2015. Growing consumer inclination towards fragrance products such as candles for decorating their homes is poised to propel the air fresheners market.  [Global Industry Analysts, Inc.]  (Candles also put out CO.  I’m just saying.)  Air freshener advertising puts people in rooms with wrestlers and brags about how fresh it smells!  If there are no pollutants in our air, why are we spending so much money to cover them up?  In an article in the University of Washington News entitled “Toxic chemicals found in common scented laundry products, air fresheners” author Hannah Hickey says, “”Be careful if you buy products with fragrance, because you really don’t know what’s in them. I’d like to see better labeling. In the meantime, I’d recommend that instead of air fresheners people use ventilation, and with laundry products, choose fragrance-free versions.”  Her study showed, “58 different volatile organic compounds above a concentration of 300 micrograms per cubic meter, many of which were present in more than one of the six products. For instance, a plug-in air freshener contained more than 20 different volatile organic compounds. Of these, seven are regulated as toxic or hazardous under federal laws.”

I have a control on my own ventilation system that uses a sensor that was developed in Japan to react to the chemical soup emitted by cigarettes.  No one smokes in my house, but there have been numerous times when the control has activated the fan when I can’t smell anything foul in the air and I have to wonder why it is operating, but I’m glad it is.  Our homes are full of stuff that we shouldn’t be breathing.  Is it worth betting your long term health and that of your children to save the cost of a fan?

(Copies of these articles are available upon request.)


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