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Victory over VOCs – Energy-Saving Fans and Other Devices Help Keep Indoor Air Fresh

By HHI Staff

Indoor air quality has been a growing concern, particularly when it comes to newer, energy-efficient homes. While tight, well-insulated homes save money and are better for the environment, they may also trap unhealthy indoor pollutants inside.


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What energy-saving homes do well—keep in heat or air conditioning thereby decreasing energy usage—is what also often causes them to retain high levels of harmful compounds in the home air. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that concentrations of volatile organic compounds can be up to ten times higher indoors than outdoors.

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are carbon-based gases emitted into the air by common household products or furnishings.

“A few of the more obvious sources are solvents, cleaning products, fuels, and cigarette or wood smoke,” says Allen Rathey, president of the Healthy House Institute (HHI). “But flooring, upholstery, fabrics, paints or varnishes, and cabinetry can also emit VOCs.” Less obvious potential sources are everyday products like cosmetics, dry-cleaned clothing, hobby and craft supplies, newspapers, photocopiers or printers, moth balls, and even air fresheners.

These gases in the home can have a negative effect on the health of the occupants. Fatigue, dizziness, headache, nausea or irritation of nose, eyes, and throat are a few of the more noticeable symptoms of exposure to VOCs. The severity of the health-risk depends on several factors, such as which compounds are emitted (benzene, for example, is a volatile organic compound and a known carcinogen), the concentration levels in the home, and the length of time those living in the home have been exposed.

While steps can be taken to reduce exposure to VOCs, including removing any known sources from the home, given the wide variety of substances having the potential to release these compounds, some exposure is unavoidable. Therefore, it’s vital to ensure the home has adequate, year-round ventilation.

“Good ventilation is critical in order to dilute the concentration of VOCs indoors,” says Jacki Donner, CAE, Executive Director of the non-profit Home Ventilating Institute (HVI). “Mechanical ventilation systems work year-round in any kind of weather to remove the stale air inside the home and bring the fresh air from outside indoors. While older methods often required a trade-off in terms of energy-efficiency and weren’t practical in all weather conditions, modern cost-effective technology including a range of fans and heat or energy recovery ventilation systems are available that preserve energy-efficiency while keeping indoor air fresh in all seasons.”
Exhaust Fans
Exhaust fans with high-efficiency motors remove pollutants and moisture in specific areas of the home such as in bathrooms, showers, kitchens, and workshops and utility areas. These include:

  • Bathroom Exhaust Fans
  • Kitchen Range Hoods
Whole House Comfort Ventilators

A properly located whole house comfort ventilator draws cooler outside air through screened windows and doors, pulls it up through the house and exhausts it, usually through static vents in the attic. With traditional, high-volume whole-house comfort ventilators, the result is a cooling breeze throughout the house. In the evening, the fan provides relief from the day’s heat by flushing the house with cool night air as the outdoor temperature drops.

Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRVs) and Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERVs)

For whole house ventilation, Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRVs) and Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERVs) bring in outdoor air, circulate it through the home, and expel stale air to the outside while preserving energy. The heat from the exhaust air is retained by the unit’s core, or heat exchanger, and used to warm the air coming in from the outside. In the summer, the process works in reverse, using the cooled exhaust air to remove heat from the air outside. An ERV has the added capability to modulate the moisture, or humidity, that is retained or lost and may be a good choice to minimize the load on cooling systems.

Help for Consumers
Fans for a variety of home applications are readily available from many manufacturers, as are HRVs and ERVs. To ensure that your equipment will perform as advertised, look for systems that have been certified by the Home Ventilating Institute. HVI Certification means that the unit has been tested by a third-party laboratory and meets specific industry standards. Performance data is available for HVI Certified fans as well as HVI Certified HRVs and ERVs .

The Healthy House Institute and the Home Ventilating Institute have produced a helpful Question & Answer e-book that provides information on how home ventilation affects indoor air quality, as well as consumer resources available through HVI. The e-book may be accessed, free of charge, at
About HVI
Founded in 1955, the Home Ventilating Institute (HVI) represents a wide range of home ventilating products manufactured by companies in the United States, Canada, Asia, and Europe, producing the majority of the residential ventilation products sold in North America.

HVI’s Certified Ratings Program provides the means for uniform and unbiased comparison of product performance including airflow, sound and energy usage. HVI Certification has been accepted and recognized as the method of performance assurance by many agencies, including Energy Star, ASHRAE Standard 62.2, U.S. Green Building Council LEED for Homes Program, U.S. Department of Energy Building Technologies Program, National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and the American Lung Association (ALA) Health House Program, among others.

For more information, contact HVI at 1000 N. Rand Road, Suite 214, Wauconda, IL 60084. Telephone: 847/416-7257; fax: 480/559-9722; E-mail: Visit the Web site at



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Victory over VOCs – Energy-Saving Fans and Other Devices Help Keep Indoor Air Fresh:  Created on December 1st, 2010.  Last Modified on March 11th, 2014


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