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Can a Home Be Too Tight?
Sometime during your crusade to seal those energy robbing cracks and holes in your home, you're bound to start asking yourself, "Isn't air flow important for a healthy home? Can I take this whole thing to the extreme?"
The answer is yes.
While it's true that air flow prevents pollutants like dust and mold from reaching unhealthy levels, a leaky home provides no assurance that indoor air pollutants are properly eradicated: during periods of calm weather with no wind, for example, air can sit stagnant in a leaky home for days. On the other hand, during a windy day in the winter, a leaky home effectually needs to be re-heated from scratch every few hours, which is a waste of both energy and money. So the best way to ensure that a home is both healthy, safe, and energy efficient is to air seal the home as well as possible, and to pair air sealing efforts with increased mechanical ventilation to make sure that air cycles in and out of the house at a healthy and consistent rate.
It is imparitive to have the air exchange of the home measured and make sure that you have proper ventilation for the occupants. A skilled energy auditor with the most accurate modeling software can keep you from creating toxic mold problems, carbon monoxide poisoning hazards and other "Sick Building" problems. Don't just insulate and think all is well.
Ventilation standards like ASHRAE 62.2 are used to measure the healthy level of air exchange for your home. The EPA recommends a rate of .35 ACH (natural air changes per hour — that is, just over 1/3 of the air in your home being replaced every hour; or 3 hours for a full air change) for healthy indoor air quality. Even an old home can become dagerously tight when insulated and air sealed.
The best thing you can do as a homeowner to ensure that your home is as energy efficient and as healthy as possible is to talk to your home energy auditor about where you should focus your home improvement efforts. But as a basic premise, as the mantra goes, "seal tight, and ventilate right."