Health, Environment and Government Regulation

 

One little-known fact is that our homes in America are much less healthy places to live than our workplaces.  Corporations learned long ago that productive employees need lots of light and air that’s free of CO2 and excess humidity.  Too much CO2 and employees get sick; too much humidity and they get uncomfortable, and too little light and they get depressed.

Most Americans think of their homes as hermetically sealed units, and strive to achieve an ever-greater seal against the outside world.  Residential HVAC (heating ventilation and AC) systems are primitive.  The inside air is endlessly recirculated, the only exchange with the outside world happens through the many small leaks that houses have.  This allows CO2 levels to rise and can make you sick.

Commercial buildings are different.  Fresh outside air is brought in and mixed with the recirculating inside air.  Air first enters the building through a heat exchanger that keeps heat out in summer and in during wintertime.  It then goes through an air conditioner to condense out much of the moisture before being reheated (if necessary) and finally goes into the interior spaces.

Besides having healthier air, commercial buildings are also full of lighting, from electrical fixtures to skylights.  Light is important for our health; it keeps our circadian rhythms from drifting out of sync, can help keep us from getting depressed and even mitigate things like seasonal affective disorder.  I’ve religiously used lots of light during the wintertime (I like to buy the high-powered daylight bulbs) for six or seven years, but a couple months ago I slacked off and I was shocked just how depressed I got.

But why are commercial buildings so much healthier than our homes?  The answer is simple: corporations have a strong incentive to keep their employees productive and minimize downtime from getting sick.  The government, meanwhile, seems to see residential real estate as a piggy bank to extract ever-greater energy efficiency.  There’s also a cultural element; many cultures stigmatize excessive energy use, and even if the stigma is mild (as in many parts of the U.S.) it can still affect public policy.  Corporations, in contrast, have to worry about things like health insurance premiums and employees suing them for unsafe working conditions, and so can overcome such minor biases.

My mother works from home (and my father may soon join her), so last year I made them hire contractors to put in a commercial-style HVAC system.  If you work from home, you might want to think about doing that yourself.  The most important part, in my opinion, is the heat exchanger that lets you bring outside air into the house, as well as a suitably fancy air filtration system.  Depending on where you live you may also need the always-on AC system to dehumidify the air or even a humidifier if you live someplace really dry.

Make sure to get second and third opinions from a variety of contractors (it took us several tries to get decent ones), and unfortunately, you do need contractors for this; I tried for years to source the materials myself and never managed to pull it off.  For those on a budget, it helps to have lots of houseplants as well as one of these giant carbon filters.  Carbon filters are great for filtering out any chemicals in the air (as opposed to particulates, which is what most air purifiers get rid of).  Unfortunately, the carbon pre-filters in most consumer air purifiers are far too small to be useful; you really do need the big one.  It’s important to replace them at least once a year, and yes, you really do need the 6-inch one (that’s the pipe connection size, the actual filter is bigger) and a decently powerful fan (I’ve had good experiences with this one here).

Published in General
Tags: ,
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 27 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Thank you, Joseph. That’s an interesting and informative post.

    • #1
  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    I love my porch, even when it is cold for a trip out for fresh air.

    Might have to open my home office window more often.

    Now, my whole life, the temp at work has always been too hot or too cold. At home, I have much more control. Also what so I have at home that was not at work: Ceiling fans!

    Boy howdy, these move the air in the room around. I just need to make sure the air moves.

    Finally, my house is 36 years old. I can see spaces through some doors. Based on the drafts in the winter, plenty of air gets in. Now I am less inclined to fix that.

     

    • #2
  3. Pony Convertible Inactive
    Pony Convertible
    @PonyConvertible

    You are correct about the requirement for commercial buildings to have a certain percentage of outside air.  There are some significant differences between them and your house.

    1. Your house is private.  How much due you want the government regulating your private property?  Is it a good idea to have a heat exchanger in your house and vent in outside air?  Probably if, you live in a new house.  If you live in an old house, or you live alone (low # of people per sq. ft.), it is probably not necessary. Either way do you want the government to require it?  It is estimated that government regulations already add $50,000 to the cost of the average home.  What did the heat exchanger cost to be installed?
    2. Commercial building tend to have higher occupancy density.

    Still your point is valid.  In modern homes that are seal tight, it is a good idea to have a heat exchange and bring in some outside air.  The problem is most people would rather have a marble back splash or brick exterior than spend money on something no one sees. Personally, I just crack open a window in a room that isn’t occupied.  Yeah this increasing my energy use, but considering my entire heating /cooling bill for 2017 was under $200 (yes, I track the power consumption of my furnace and AC) it is cheaper than installing duct work to the outside and an heat exchanger.

    • #3
  4. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Commercial structures are healthy. Tell that to the guys in the steel mills,coal mines, body shops ,paper mills etc. Not everyone works in a office.

    • #4
  5. Jack Hendrix Inactive
    Jack Hendrix
    @JackHendrix

    I have a couple years before I plant roots and buy a house but I will certainly keep this in mind. In the interim, I’ll pick up some house plants. My wife bought several a year back but we didn’t take them when we moved. And as I often work from home, I’ll stick one in my basement office. Thanks for the tip!

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Jack Hendrix (View Comment):
    I’ll pick up some house plants.

    I have a green thumb, but it seems like everyone I live with has a black thumb. Now, I have cats, and they don’t always get along so well with houseplants.

    • #6
  7. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Pony Convertible (View Comment):
    Your house is private. How much due you want the government regulating your private property?

    None at all, thanks.

     

    • #7
  8. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Joseph Eagar:Corporations learned long ago that productive employees need lots of light and air that’s free of CO2 and excess humidity. Too much CO2 and employees get sick; ….The inside air is endlessly recirculated, the only exchange with the outside world happens through the many small leaks that houses have. This allows CO2 levels to rise, and can make you sick.

    Huh?

    Where do you get the idea that it is high levels of CO2 that makes people sick? We surely have residential air quality issues with Radon, and Carbon Monoxide, and mold, and even methane from gas leaks… but not CO2.

    CO2 in the atmosphere is about 400 parts per million. In order to be dangerous, it would need to be closer to 10,000 parts per million.  In other words, >20X higher than it is. That does not happen in any western homes on record, as far as I know. A home that is merely well insulated is not at risk for dangerously high CO2.

    So I’ll assume you mean CO, and not CO2 – unless you have some sources that show I am wrong?

    • #8
  9. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    iWe (View Comment):
    and even methane from gas leaks

    Yeah, gas leaks. That’s it. Gas leaks.

    • #9
  10. Joseph Eagar Member
    Joseph Eagar
    @JosephEagar

    iWe (View Comment):

    Joseph Eagar:Corporations learned long ago that productive employees need lots of light and air that’s free of CO2 and excess humidity. Too much CO2 and employees get sick; ….The inside air is endlessly recirculated, the only exchange with the outside world happens through the many small leaks that houses have. This allows CO2 levels to rise, and can make you sick.

    Huh?

    Where do you get the idea that it is high levels of CO2 that makes people sick? We surely have residential air quality issues with Radon, and Carbon Monoxide, and mold, and even methane from gas leaks… but not CO2.

    CO2 in the atmosphere is about 400 parts per million. In order to be dangerous, it would need to be closer to 10,000 parts per million. In other words, >20X higher than it is. That does not happen in any western homes on record, as far as I know. A home that is merely well insulated is not at risk for dangerously high CO2.

    So I’ll assume you mean CO, and not CO2 – unless you have some sources that show I am wrong?

    Here are a couple of sources from a random Google search, though they’re a bit hyperbolic.  Originally I read this in old trade journals, they didn’t claim that indoor CO2 could kill you, just that there was a statistical correlation between CO2 levels and people getting sick.

    • #10
  11. Joseph Eagar Member
    Joseph Eagar
    @JosephEagar

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    Pony Convertible (View Comment):
    Your house is private. How much due you want the government regulating your private property?

    None at all, thanks.

    I didn’t mean to imply that we should have even more government regulation.

    • #11
  12. Joseph Eagar Member
    Joseph Eagar
    @JosephEagar

    Joseph Eagar (View Comment):

     

    Here are a couple of sources from a random Google search, though they’re a bit hyperbolic. Originally I read this in old trade journals, they didn’t claim that indoor CO2 could kill you, just that there was a statistical correlation between CO2 levels and people getting sick.

    From the second link:

    Although CO2 is not the only factor, elevated levels can lead to that feeling of lethargy and tiredness often associated with office workers. Studies have shown that performance, associated with lethargy induced by elevated CO2, can decrease by up to 10% for adults and over 20% for schoolchildren (Wyon and Wargocki 2013).

     

    • #12
  13. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Joseph Eagar (View Comment):

     

    From the second link:

    Although CO2 is not the only factor, elevated levels can lead to that feeling of lethargy and tiredness often associated with office workers. Studies have shown that performance, associated with lethargy induced by elevated CO2, can decrease by up to 10% for adults and over 20% for schoolchildren (Wyon and Wargocki 2013).

    10% of performance is money worth pursuing.

    • #13
  14. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    I know next to nothing about this kind of stuff, but we bought a fixer upper several years ago: it had that kind of tar roofing all over the outside of it, but when we pulled that off, we found beautiful cedar siding. So we just painted it: we didn’t want vinyl siding, and our carpenter agreed with us about that. He said that houses which are basically wrapped in plastic make it hard for the house to “breathe” as he put it. Is there any truth to this, or is our carpenter just a wood snob? :)

    • #14
  15. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Another “good grief” from me.  Sheesh.

    Joseph Eagar: My mother works from home (and my father may soon join her), so last year I made them hire contractors to put in a commercial-style HVAC system.

    Make sure they eat their graham crackers too.  They’re the perfect food.

    • #15
  16. barbara lydick Inactive
    barbara lydick
    @barbaralydick

    iWe (View Comment):
    We surely have residential air quality issues with Radon, and Carbon Monoxide, and mold, and even methane from gas leaks… but not CO2.

    Radon became a real problem as houses were made to be practically draft-proof.  The more  we focused on energy use, the better the insulation products became, resulting in more of a problem for radon in areas where it was prevalent underground.  Older homes did not have these modern products and therefore the radon just seeped through the cracks, not causing any real problems.

    Ah, the trade-offs that are not considered these days – in so many different instances…

     

    • #16
  17. barbara lydick Inactive
    barbara lydick
    @barbaralydick

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):
    He said that houses which are basically wrapped in plastic make it hard for the house to “breathe” as he put it. Is there any truth to this, or is our carpenter just a wood snob? :)

    Yes, Judithann, he is correct – See comment #16 above.  (Didn’t see it when I posted it.)

    • #17
  18. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Make sure they eat their graham crackers too. They’re the perfect food.

    Except for the gluten, of course.

    • #18
  19. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Make sure they eat their graham crackers too. They’re the perfect food.

    Except for the gluten, of course.

    Don’t be intolerant.

    • #19
  20. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    TBA (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Make sure they eat their graham crackers too. They’re the perfect food.

    Except for the gluten, of course.

    Don’t be intolerant.

    Tell it to my guts.

    • #20
  21. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    CO2 is used as a marker for poor recirculation in indoor air quality studies.  It is very easy to measure, and correlates well with

    CO is a potent poison and not a common cause of building related illness.  CO tends to act as a chemical asphyxiant as opposed to common mild building-related illness.

    • #21
  22. EDISONPARKS Member
    EDISONPARKS
    @user_54742

    Arahant (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):
    and even methane from gas leaks

    Yeah, gas leaks. That’s it. Gas leaks.

    I always like this scene:

    • #22
  23. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    EDISONPARKS (View Comment):
    I always like this scene:

    Definite thread drift, but I recently caught a bit from a show on youtube that was interviewing the players involved in the movie years later. Mel Brooks had seen Richard Pryor as perfect for the role of Black Bart, but he was an unknown to Hollywood at the time. Brooks brought him in for the writing team, and instead of concentrating on the things Black Bart would say, he loved the character of Mongo and wrote many of Mongo’s lines. I thought that was interesting, funny, and probably part of why the movie worked so well.

    • #23
  24. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Joseph Eagar (View Comment):

    Here are a couple of sources from a random Google search, though they’re a bit hyperbolic. Originally I read this in old trade journals, they didn’t claim that indoor CO2 could kill you, just that there was a statistical correlation between CO2 levels and people getting sick.

    From the second link:

    Although CO2 is not the only factor, elevated levels can lead to that feeling of lethargy and tiredness often associated with office workers. Studies have shown that performance, associated with lethargy induced by elevated CO2, can decrease by up to 10% for adults and over 20% for schoolchildren (Wyon and Wargocki 2013).

    Understand, of course, that these sources you’re linking are in the business of selling you stuff.

    Grain of salt an’ all that.

    • #24
  25. EDISONPARKS Member
    EDISONPARKS
    @user_54742

    Arahant (View Comment):

    EDISONPARKS (View Comment):
    I always like this scene:

    Definite thread drift, but I recently caught a bit from a show on youtube that was interviewing the players involved in the movie years later. Mel Brooks had seen Richard Pryor as perfect for the role of Black Bart, but he was an unknown to Hollywood at the time. Brooks brought him in for the writing team, and instead of concentrating on the things Black Bart would say, he loved the character of Mongo and wrote many of Mongo’s lines. I thought that was interesting, funny, and probably part of why the movie worked so well.

    I should change my screen name to Thread Drift ….

    • #25
  26. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    EDISONPARKS (View Comment):
    I should change my screen name to Thread Drift ….

    Not a bad one. I also like Spin Drift.

    • #26
  27. Larry Koler Inactive
    Larry Koler
    @LarryKoler

    The cheapest and still very efficient way to handle the air quality is an air-to-air heat exchanger:

    This recovers the energy stored in your inside heated or cooled air as it exits the building in exchange for outside air.

    • #27
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.