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Healthy Building Principle #3: Ventilate

By HHI Staff

The third principle of healthy design involves ventilation. If ventilation is used alone to clean up the air in a house built of unhealthy materials, large amounts of fresh air may be needed, but if used in conjunction with the first two principles (Eliminate and Separate), smaller, more reasonable, amounts of ventilation will usually be sufficient.


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Ventilation is important because we all need fresh air to breathe continuously. In the past, we have relied on natural forces such as the wind to randomly infiltrate our houses and supply us with fresh air. But the wind isn’t blowing every day, and infiltration can often actually contribute to indoor pollution. Operable windows are always nice to have, but they are not a substitute for a mechanical ventilation system. The concept of “natural” ventilation isn’t necessarily a bad one, but it can be highly unreliable.


Although the principles of Eliminate and Separate are usually more effective at reducing indoor air pollution, ventilation can be used to dilute the pollutants that do enter the living space of the house. For example, ventilation can be used to reduce indoor radon concentrations. In many houses, radon enters the living space from the soil through cracks or gaps in the foundation. If it is impractical to caulk and seal all of the radon pathways, then providing a basement with extra ventilation will reduce the radon concentration by diluting the contaminated basement air with fresh outdoor air.


Basically there are two ways to correctly provide for ventilation in houses. First, a whole house, or general ventilation system running continuously can provide a small amount of fresh air to all the rooms of the house; it can remove small amounts of stale air from all of the rooms of a house; or it can do both at the same time. General ventilation systems are designed to supply the entire house with fresh air. Although they are not yet common in houses, they will probably be required by future building codes.


You are probably already familiar with a second way of ventilating houses. It is often called spot ventilation since it is meant to ventilate only a certain spot in the house. Kitchen range hoods and bathroom exhaust fans are designed to remove pollutants from kitchens and bath rooms where they are generated so the pollutants can’t travel through the house and contaminate other rooms. Spot ventilation usually doesn’t provide any fresh air to the bedrooms and living areas where you spend the most time.


(From Healthy House Building for the New Millennium: A Design & Construction Guide, published by The Healthy House Institute.)
(This article is from the archives of the original Healthy House Institute, and the information was believed accurate at the time of writing.)
(Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The Healthy House Institute, LLC.)



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HHI is committed to accuracy of content and correcting information that is incomplete or inaccurate. With our broad scope of coverage of healthful indoor environments, and desire to rapidly publish info to benefit the community, mistakes are inevitable. HHI has established an error correction policy to welcome corrections or enhancements to our information. Please help us improve the quality of our content by contacting with corrections or suggestions for improvement. Each contact will receive a respectful reply.

The Healthy House Institute (HHI), a for-profit educational LLC, provides the information on as a free service to the public. The intent is to disseminate accurate, verified and science-based information on creating healthy home environments.


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Healthy Building Principle #3: Ventilate:  Created on November 29th, 2008.  Last Modified on October 22nd, 2013


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