Building Materials, Ventilation Affect Indoor Air QualityBy KEN SHEINKOPF
Q. We've started house-hunting and we're especially concerned about indoor air quality after reading many articles about these problems. We're looking at new houses so we want to know what to ask the builder about and what we should look for ourselves. Any tips?
A. You're smart to be looking into indoor air quality issues in homes, and there are several important areas that you should be concerned about. The two major aspects of homes affecting indoor air quality are the building materials and furnishings, and the amount of ventilation. Some of specifics of these factors need to be discussed with the builder to find out what has been used in the construction, while others are things you should be able to see for yourself.
There's a lot of material on the Web about the effects of various kinds of building materials on the environment. Using solid wood products or exterior-grade pressed wood products in floors, wall surfaces and cabinets, for example, can help minimize indoor air problems. Some types of permanent adhesives on carpeting over cement floors can lead to mold and dust mites. Many builders take a very strong approach to using materials and installation procedures that will ensure good air quality, and I urge you to discuss these strategies with them. You also need to ask about steps that have been taken to reduce radon problems.
As for things you can observe yourself in the homes you look at, make sure there are exhaust fans in the kitchens and bathrooms that are vented to the outdoors, look for exterior-vented air ducts near fireplaces that will give the house adequate oxygen for complete combustion while minimizing the flow of cold outside air into the home, and make sure there is adequate ventilation, even in the closets. Air-conditioning ducts in closets and louvered doors and ventilated shelves can keep air moving to reduce mold or mildew. Also, look around the outside of the home to see if there is proper drainage in the area, as well as a well-sealed foundation.
Indoor air quality is a very important issue that needs to be discussed with builders. You and your family will spend a great deal of time inside the home you choose. Make sure it has been built to minimize or eliminate potential air quality problems.
Q. What can we do to cut down on the glare in several rooms in our house? We don't want to keep the drapes closed all day since we really like the natural light, but I find it very hard to work at my desk, read a magazine or even watch TV is some of the rooms. Are they easy (and cheap) ways to get rid of glare?
A. There are two kinds of glare problems that homeowners have to deal with - disability glare, which occurs when light reflects on the visual task, reduces the contrast and makes it hard to see what is being viewed, and discomfort glare, which happens when light from the side of the task is much brighter than the light coming from the task. You try to focus on the light on the task, but the extra light confuses your eyes and makes it difficult to concentrate.
Many people think glare is only caused by sunlight coming into a room, but reflected light from objects in the room can also cause problems. Typical causes of glare include direct sunlight, reflected sunlight, a bright window opening onto dark walls and furnishings, and poor electric lighting systems. The problem is usually caused by big differences between the light in the room and the light coming into it from outside.
Strategies to fix all this include planting trees or putting other shading devices outside of windows to block direct sunlight from getting in, putting window film on the glass or using an interior shade to cut down on the light, or making the room brighter to match the brightness of the window. This last strategy means increasing the amount of light in the room, or painting the room and even the ceiling with a higher-reflectance paint to increase the interior brightness. Brighter colored room furnishings and floor coverings also help reduce the impact of the outside light.
Since you want to enjoy that nice light coming in during the day, your job is to minimize its impact by making it brighter indoors. Unfortunately, this often involves using more electric lighting, but if you're using energy-efficient compact fluorescents, you'll be minimizing the extra cost.