This article was originally published in the November/December 1997 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.
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Home Energy Magazine Online November/December 1997
Health, Safety, and the House as a SystemIt's become fashionable to talk about the house as a system. Is this just another expression that impresses customers and helps building performance experts sell their services? As many of the articles in this Health and Safety special issue show, the whole-house approach doesn't just save energy (or sell services)--treating the house as a system is essential for identifying and rectifying potentially expensive and dangerous construction flaws.
Thomas H. Greiner's article on carbon monoxide (CO) detection illustrates the subtle and quirky art of diagnosing CO problems--caused by anything from inadequately maintained and installed furnaces to intermittent pressurization forces. Greiner graphically describes sobering situations in Iowa homes, with consequences ranging from chronic headaches to death from high levels of CO exposure. Because they lacked the training needed to understand pressurization systems and combustion appliance monitoring, contractors who had inspected these houses couldn't find the sources of the problems.
And while bad indoor air is clearly a problem, knee-jerk solutions are no help. Dave Brook explores proper ventilation in his article on kitchen exhaust systems. Ventilation fans are playing an increasing role in maintaining air quality, but too many are being sized and installed incorrectly, resulting in insufficient air movement--or worse, backdrafting.
Ventilation also plays an important role in Scott Finley's article on the construction flaws and indoor air quality problems encountered in the mold-infested climate of the fungus capital of the world (a.k.a. Seattle). In addition to tales of rotten and moldy structures, Finley anecdotally demonstrates the connection between construction defects and health problems.
Construction flaws cost money--big money--in the form of construction defect litigation claims. In Energy-Conscious Construction: Litigation Insurance? Stan Luhr describes how the issues that cause health and safety problems can lead to litigation.
But lawyers can't fix broken houses, so expect increasing demand for experts who understand that headaches can be caused by a malfunctioning furnace, or that a faulty air-distribution system may be responsible for condensation and mold. The construction trade will require experts who can fix the problems and help builders avoid making mistakes in the first place--experts who understand that the house is indeed a system, and that the symptoms may be only subtly connected to the cause.
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