Posted by: SherlockHomesSY | 31 Dec 2010

Common Complaints: Breathing Difficulties (1 of 2)

Dealing w/ IAQ ContaminantsDIFFICULTIES BREATHING: VOCs & Dry Air

– Volatile Organic Compounds
– Dry Air
– Soil Gases
– Pesticides
– Mold
– Allergens
– Dust
– Smoke
-Carbon Monoxide
– IAQ Priorities

Some reports indicate indoor air is 90 times more polluted than outdoor air.  Maybe.  There are many things leading to poor indoor air quality: high indoor moisture vapor, volatile organic compounds (VOCs – out gassing of manufactured goods), soil gases, pest control mixes, mold, allergens, fiberglass ductwork—to name a few.

Anything that makes breathing difficult is an indoor air quality issue.  Each irritant is worth one or more blog posts of their own.  Here, we’ll touch on sources of irritation and what can be done in the house to avoid them.

IAQ Priorities. After identifying indoor air pollutant sources, we have a set of priorities for dealing with them:

– Eliminate
– Separate
– Ventilate
– Filter
– Monitor

If you come up with some memorable way to remember this, let me know!

Eliminate. Just get rid of it.  If you still need it, try using a suitable substitute.

Separate. If you can’t remove it, isolate it from the living space

Ventilate. If you can’t get rid of it or remove it, dilute it.  Blow it out of the house

Filter. If its particles, rather than gas, trap it in an air filter

Monitor. When you need to, check frequently to avoid problems

Volatile Organic Compounds. Odors.  They’re everywhere: perfume, paint, solvents, cleaning materials, pesticides, fuel, and adhesives. They’re enough to drive me insane!

You’d be amazed at the dumb things we do or put up with.  We store hazardous materials inside the house or garage.  Many of us store fuel, fertilizer, pesticides, and the like in the garage or crawlspace.  Air just moves these odors right through the house—through air leaks.  Air sealing the house isolates them, but storing them in a shed is a better solution.

Manufactured things tend to outgas, such as furniture and cabinets.  These aren’t likely to be removed, because we want to use them.  Here, ventilation is the solution.  The trick is to do it periodically throughout the day to keep gas levels down.

Dry Air. Dry air dries out skin and membranes designed to keep eyes and lungs moist.  This is a year-round problem in the desert.  For the rest of us, it’s winter time problem—unless you live on the west coast. Then, it might be a summer one. We all experience an indoor dryness condition some part of the year.

When I lived in Arizona, an evaporative cooler was the only thing that worked for me.  I could be in air conditioning all day, but I needed the moist air at night.  Unfortunately, the house was air leaky, so I got a generous quantity of dust too.

When I lived in Alaska, my dorm room dried my skin out and made my eyes itch.  I got a humidifier, only to make a mess of everything.  You can’t pass inspection with a thick layer of white dust everywhere.  At the time, I thought it was particulates in the water I couldn’t see.  I now know it was dust drawn into the building.

When I was in Ohio, I just lived with it, but my wife wasn’t happy.  The gas furnace that ran nearly non-stop just sucked all the moist air out of the house and replaced it with very dry air.

The common denominator? Air leaky walls, floors, and ceilings, along with air leaky ducts.  Air seal the shell and duct seal the ductwork.  When that isn’t enough, then add a humidifier, but use it sparingly.  It won’t ever be enough in the desert or when there aren’t enough people living in the house (# of bedrooms +1).  It doesn’t take much to add plenty of moisture to a tight house.  At least the moisture won’t cause a lot of dust to settle out of the air too!


Here’s a blog post, Indoor Air Quality – How Much Bad is Really Bad ,where the author explores chemicals in our indoor air.

Diagnosing and correcting ventilation is found on our website.

In Conclusion

We covered priorities for dealing with indoor air quality (IAQ) sources and breathing difficulties cause by VOCs and dry air this time.  In our next blog post, we’re covering breathing problems caused by soil gases, pesticides, mold, allergens, and dust.


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