Prioritizing Indoor Air Quality in New Construction

Codewatcher indoor air quality

The Insulation Institute interviews an IAQ specialist about the approach to indoor air quality in new construction.

Joe “Radio Joe” Hughes of the IAQ Training Institute and IAQ Radio has been training builders and contractors for nearly two decades on indoor air quality issues. Through his popular podcast, trainings, and conferences, he shares insights on building science and the complexities of modern construction, and why indoor air quality is becoming more precarious. Insulation Institute recently spoke with Hughes about why the approach to indoor air quality in new construction must change.

Not Just the Methods, But the Materials

While much has been made of the impact of tighter home construction and its potential to contribute to indoor air quality issues, Hughes says there are bigger issues afoot relative to IAQ in new home construction. “I think what has impacted buildings more with respect to IAQ is new materials that are not resistant to mold, a changing climate (wetter and more humid in my region) and awareness about moisture and mold issues on the part of owners and their representatives. Builders must be more aware of moisture generated during construction as we tighten things up. This construction generated moisture (think drying slabs, drywall joint compound, etc.) will become a more important issue that builders must pay attention to.”

“We have to be much more careful about what we put into buildings,” says Hughes. “Yes, construction methods matter, but construction materials are also an increasingly important consideration to ensuring good indoor air quality.”

But, What About Ventilation?

Mechanical ventilation is often seen as the fix for all things related to air quality and tighter homes, but Hughes says the impact of that ventilation varies. Often, new home buyers aren’t taught about the maintenance that is required to keep their mechanical systems in proper working order.

“The effectiveness of the ventilation depends on the type of building and the occupants. Some homes would see a huge benefit it they just go up to code ventilation. It’s great to have a properly operating, maintained bathroom fan or kitchen exhaust but they need to be used and maintained.

When we get to balanced ventilation, which I believe is ideal, the proper installation, use and maintenance become even more important.”

Ideally, builders should educate homebuyers about the various systems within the home and how to properly maintain them, Hughes said. “Builders are smart people. They know that building owners do not maintain their buildings as well as they should. Therefore, they are reluctant to add even more complexity.”

“Every new home should come with an operator’s manual! It’s crazy that we let people purchase the biggest ticket item they will ever purchase, and there is no manual, offer to conduct continuing maintenance, or even information on what continuing maintenance is needed for that home or building.”

Some builders are addressing this in new construction, but when it comes to the purchasing a used home or building that’s rarely the case, as owners manuals aren’t often left behind in a resale home. However, having that knowledge about the proper operation and maintenance of the systems is extremely important in ensuring healthy indoor air quality.

Related Story: Visit the IAQ site at Green Builder.

Why IAQ Training is Necessary for Builders

“On a fundamental level I think builders would understand better what the issues and answers are and how important maintaining what they have built is if they prioritized indoor air quality training, Hughes says. “Builders could help themselves a lot by learning more about IAQ and what building/homeowners should be doing to help with indoor air quality. More often than not IAQ problems are the result of poor maintenance. People think once they buy a new home, it should do everything but clean itself. Owning a home or building is a big responsibility, and too many people don’t understand that responsibility.”

Hughes’ IAQ Training Institute offers online courses and conducts a healthy buildings summit, which will be held this Oct. 16-18 in Seven Springs, Pa.

Stacy Fitzgerald-Redd is the Director of Communications for North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA).