Friday, February 6, 2009

Energy Smart, Air Smart

Almost twenty years ago we built what we thought was our dream home on an island in the Puget Sound. With a beautiful view out over the water and neighboring islands, it was a little bit of paradise. Early in the building process, our contractor didn’t have to twist our arms to convince us to build what was then called an “Energy Smart” home. With super insulation in attic and walls, energy-saver dual-paned windows and a room-by-room heat/thermostat system, we would not only save money on our electric bill, but we would pick up a tax credit as well. Smart, right? Not so much.

Shortly after moving into this beautiful new home, we realized that the house was TOO air-tight. I had had problems with chemical sensitivities previous to this time, and we had tried to be careful in selecting the products that would go into our home, but we discovered too late that we had made numerous mistakes, not the least of which was the decision to energy-seal our home. It was as if the whole house was inside a big plastic bag, with no way for fresh air to come in or stale air to go out (what people in the trade call “air exchange”). Thus we found ourselves opening those new energy efficient windows in the middle of a rainy Northwest winter and drilling three-inch holes in the outside walls to install air outlets in every room (they looked somewhat like small smoke detectors), which could be opened and closed with a long dangly cord. (So much for my decorating scheme.)

Four years later we built another home. It didn’t have the killer view, and it was a fraction of the size of the first house, but it did have a ventilation system built into it which could completely exchange the inside air with outside air in a matter of a couple of hours instead of several days. It also sat in the middle of the woods, where the trees and plants of the forest could generate clean air for exchange. And it was built with the simplest, most chemically-free products we could find (a topic for another post).

The moral to this story? Somewhere between trying to save the planet (one of my favorite causes) and reducing our dependence on foreign oil, we have to find a way to build healthy homes for humans to live in. It IS possible, and it doesn’t take a lot of compromise or cost a lot of money (in fact it was cheaper). We just have to be smart.

1 comment:

Susie Collins said...

You've brought up a pervasive problem in current "green house" trends, including LEED certification: not enough emphasis is being placed on the health of the inhabitants of the bldgs. In addition to using nontoxic bldg materials and furnishings, those air exchange units are so easy to install and so much better for everyone's health than a closed system. You were ahead of the curve with your new home! Who needs a view? But everybody needs clean, fresh air!