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Weatherization without Complete Air Quality Testing can be Disastrous
There is a national discussion occurring about the importance of worst case Combustion Appliance Zone (CAZ) testing after weatherization work has been performed. This is a battery of tests that can show if the house has the potential for creating toxic conditions primarily focused on the back drafting of carbon monoxide from combustion appliances when a home is put under the worst case conditions. These conditions are created by having all of the exterior ventilation fans running while the heating system is also in operation. If this worst case test fails then remediation steps are recommended to create better ventilation and prevent the back drafting of carbon monoxide.
Of course we have to do the worst case CAZ test to ensure that people don’t die, but what about testing to see if the weatherization efforts have the potential for making people sick? An air quality test of at least 4 days that measures the air for humidity, allergen particulates, CO, CO2, and VOCs (chemicals in the air) should be required for each house after the work is done. Even better would be the testing of the home before and after so that contractors can make adequate plans for ventilation and also be absolutely certain that the upgraded home is actually a healthier place to live. Responsible incentive organizations should require these tests and all weatherization contractors should include this type of testing as part of their retrofit packages.
Here in Maine, the push has solely been on weatherization. The feeling seems to be that if the worst case test passes than the home is safe. This is completely erroneous. Research is showing that moderate levels of air borne particulates, CO and VOCs (chemicals in the air) can have serious impacts on the health of the occupants. Unfortunately, weatherization contractors are very reluctant to include the installation of proper ventilation in a home because the added price “might blow the deal” and Efficiency Maine has told people that have asked them about the potential air quality problems that are being created that their mandate is to weatherize homes not provide ventilation.
Efficiency Maine has gone as far as to claim that most houses in Maine are so leaky that ventilation is not a concern. This claim is centered in the belief that air that passes through wall cavities and basements is good clean air. How many of us would insert a straw into our walls or basements and spend the day breathing that air? This false claim about ventilation is great when your goal is to push loans and rebates, but is irresponsible in regards to the health of the home for its occupants.
An independent energy audit assures that responsible weatherization jobs combine proper ventilation with air sealing and insulation. Without the ventilation piece the chances for having an unhealthy home after weatherization is very high. Homeowners do not have to have an unhealthy house due to the one sided weatherization approach. Be smart, be efficient, and be safe.