With all of the commotion 2020 has brought upon us, there has never been a better time to talk about healthy living and building healthy homes for the future.
Earlier in the year, most of us were bound to our homes and forced to alter our way of life, work routine, and schedule around a stay at home ordnance. We were spending most of the day indoors, working from the computer or phone (if possible), without much outdoor interaction.
What started as a state or county mandated ordnance, quickly shifted into a new way of life for many individuals. Now, choosing to work from the comfort of their home, in proximity to their family and loved ones, rather than in their office.
One of the most important things to consider when you’re spending so much time at home is how you’re being impacted by air quality. Depending on where you are in the country, many different variables can affect your home’s indoor air quality, so you must be aware of how you can avoid pollution and maximize ventilation.
Installation of a Proper HVAC System for Your Structure
Matching the proper HVAC system to the size of your structure and where you are located, is the most significant factor in increasing your home’s indoor air quality and overall health of the structure.
What is HVAC?
HVAC is a common overarching term to describe the systems used to move warm and cold air from indoors to outdoors and vice versa.
H = Heating
V = Ventilation
AC = Air Conditioning
These systems are used for both climate control as well as the filtration of pollutants. They replace the stale air within your structure with clean, filtered air from the outdoors on a regular basis.
How does it work?
Common here in southwest Colorado, but less so in warmer climate zones is natural ventilation. Natural ventilation involves the movement of fresh air from outdoors to indoors and vice versa via natural forces.
Natural ventilation occurs through window and door openings, vents in the walls, and other openings in the structure. In cooler climate zones, natural ventilation can be very efficient when properly executed, starting with the design of the structure.
Natural ventilation can also be used to cool a structure in the warmer seasons, transferring cool air from the outdoors inside. On the other hand, heating a home that relies on natural ventilation is much more complicated and may require the installation of some indoor ventilation.
That being said, if airborne pollutants such as smoke, CO2, or methane are prevalent in your area, natural ventilation will not be sufficient as it does not provide adequate air filtration.
Mechanical ventilation, much like it sounds, uses a mechanical system to filter and exchange air from the outside and vice versa.
The use of a mechanical ventilation system has become more common in residential construction in the recent past due to the innovation in building materials such as Structural Insulated Panels. These innovative building materials have practically eliminated any excess cavities in the overall building envelope that would historically create a channel for airflow. Therefore, to achieve optimal airflow, mechanical ventilation is a must in most modern construction.
Mechanical ventilation works by drawing air into the structure through exterior vents. The air is first filtered in a handling unit to remove any allergens and pollutants before traveling any further. Next, the air is forced through a climate control system that heats or cools the air to the system’s set temperature while removing any excess moisture. Finally, the air is then dispersed throughout the structure through either a channel of ducts or a central location.
What HVAC system is best for me?
Depending on where you are in the country and the size of your structure, you’re going to want an HVAC system that fits the build.
Depending on how large or small the structure you intend to build is, your HVAC system options will vary.
Smaller structures such as small mountain cabins can typically be heated with a smaller central unit like a wood-burning stove and can be sufficiently cooled by natural ventilation.
Larger structures will often require a larger and more intricate HVAC system involving mechanical ventilation, heating, and cooling to maintain a climate-controlled and healthy living environment.
Where you are located in the country, the local climate zone, and the outdoor air quality of your local area will all impact your HVAC needs as well.
A small cabin located in the rocky mountains of Colorado may not necessarily fit the build for a more intricate HVAC system from the initial looks of it, but with the increase in forest fires throughout the summer months, it should be considered.
Whether it be seasonal or annual, you should always consider mechanical ventilation in locations with poor air quality. It will help keep you and your loved ones safe from any unwanted allergens or pollutants, while also maximizing comfort.
The usage of your structure is one topic that is not touched on as heavily, but it plays a large role in designing and building on a budget.
If you are building a forever home that you plan to spend the rest of your life in and one day pass on to family, installing a proper mechanical HVAC system in your home is a no brainer. You will be spending a considerable amount of your life within your home, and you should treat yourself to comfortability and prolonged health.
On the other hand, if you intend to build a home or cabin that you visit just a few weeks out of the year, relying natural ventilation may help you save money and still be sufficient for your structure. In these situations, it is crucial to spend considerable time designing your structure to maximize the local area’s natural elements.
When designing a custom home, you must consider all of the factors discussed above (scale, location, usage) to maximize the indoor air quality and overall health of your structure.
Beyond those three factors, you should also focus on aspects of design, such as the orientation of rooms within the house and where the house will sit on the property, the location of windows, ducts, and other structural elements that will act as vents.
Thinking these elements through early on in the design process will help you ensure that your structure is suited for whatever HVAC system you decide is most appropriate.
Another aspect of designing a healthy home that is often overlooked is the external building envelope’s quality. A tightly sealed, well-insulated, Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) building envelope can help make a world of difference.
There are two primary reasons why a tightly sealed, well-insulated, SIP building envelope helps maximize indoor air quality:
1: Tight Seal = Minimal Natural Ventilation
In certain situations, especially in areas with poor air quality, minification of natural ventilation can be in your best interest.
Cracks and cavities are virtually non-existent in a SIPs building envelope, and therefore, natural ventilation can be controlled manually through windows and doors. That way, you can let fresh air in when desired, but keep smoke, allergens, and other pollutants out if needed.
2: Well-Insulated = Cost Savings on Mechanical HVAC System
A well-insulated building envelope provides a homeowner with numerous benefits. Cost savings on utilities and a decreased carbon footprint are just a few of the big ones.
Cost savings is a significant factor that plays into indoor air quality. HVAC systems used to heat and cool residential structures are often the major culprit for high utility bills. When you build a tightly sealed and well-insulated structure, it takes less energy to heat, cool, and maintain optimal climate control.
Ready to get started?
Our project managers look forward to discussing your upcoming build!