Zehnder: Health Issues Put Spotlight on Poor Indoor Air Quality

Steeplechase Builders has always been concerned about building green homes with minimal environmental impact, but life-changing events shifted its focus to building healthy green homes. When Steeplechase’s owner, Jay Clementi was recovering from Lyme disease in a clinic, he became aware of how industrial toxins and mold are systemic body burdens. Such pollutants in the body encourage the disease to progress, by weakening the immune system.

Although people may feel healthy despite exposure to pollution, Lyme disease or other illnesses can act as a trigger, significantly degrading health. At the clinic, Jay was taught about the importance of healthy indoor air as a way to reduce his exposure to toxins.

“I decided I wanted to develop a company that builds green homes, where health is the number one priority, be it water quality, indoor air quality, or the products in the home,” says Jay. “Installing Zehnder mechanical ventilation systems is my focus at the moment.”

Steeplechase Builders recently retrofitted an expanded Cape home in southern New Hampshire for a couple with a Zehnder Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) system. The house was air sealed for energy efficiency within the last couple of years, but lack of adequate ventilation caused poor indoor air quality. There was visible mold growth within months.

When the spouse became ill, improving indoor air quality became a major goal for the couple to assist in the recovery process and promote long-term health. As a result, they recently installed a Zehnder ERV to prevent mold growth and other indoor toxins from degrading indoor air quality.

“As the building codes have adopted energy-efficiency criteria, we’re seeing indoor air quality becoming more of an issue,” says Chris Smith, project manager for Steeplechase Builders. “The building codes seem to underestimate what is needed to maintain a healthy indoor environment within the home, once it is made to be airtight. We’re driving towards lower energy costs, but in the end, people will save a lot on energy and will be spending that on doctors and medical treatments.”

Although many homes are equipped with exhaust fans in the bathrooms and kitchen, there needs to be enough makeup air for such systems to properly ventilate. Historically, homes had enough leaks to provide this makeup air. Once cracks and gaps are sealed, however, reduced air movement makes it difficult for exhaust fans to properly remove moisture, odors, fumes, and toxins. This is not an issue with balanced ventilation systems, as an equal amount of air is supplied and exhausted from the home.

Chris and carpenter Nikos Zafirakis installed a balanced mechanical ventilation system that addresses all areas of the approximately 6,000 square foot New Hampshire home, including the basement. The homeowners now have two ComfoAir 350 ERV systems that promote home air quality by removing stale or contaminated air, while replacing it with a constant supply of fresh, filtered air. The installation crew was trained by Zehnder America and was very excited to use their equipment and components on this project.

“Zehnder really takes a very big picture approach to ventilation,” says Jay. “Their systems ventilate every room of the house. They are three steps ahead of everyone else. You would need multiple systems to do what we did in this house, instead of 1 or 2 systems. People could put one Zehnder unit in their home and ventilate the whole home, instead of sticking one in the basement or attic and hoping it is enough for the house.”

With Zehnder balanced ventilation systems, one doesn’t have to pick between energy efficiency and healthy indoor air. During warm weather, Zehnder ERVs save energy by reducing the temperature of fresh intake air, minimizing cooling bills. During cold weather, ERVs pre-warm incoming air, reducing heating bills. Zehnder ventilation systems are up to 95 percent efficient, offering significant savings on heating and cooling bills.

Steeplechase Builders decided to use both the Zehnder ERV and components during the installation process, including manifold boxes, silencers, and flexible 3-inch tubing that easily fits in a typical 2×4 stud wall. Chris appreciates the ability to use fine particle or activated carbon filters in the Zehnder manifold boxes, so the air is filtered at intake and in additional key locations throughout the home. Despite a wealth of technical support from Zehnder, retrofitting the New Hampshire house with an ERV system did present its challenges.

“We had very little margin for altering the aesthetics of the house,” says Chris. “All the components had to be tucked away and super densely installed. The Zehnder ERV system has many advantages in this case because the components are designed to do just that.”

To learn more about how Steeplechase Builders overcame these hurdles while retrofitting the home with a Zehnder ERV system, read the next post in this series.