Researchers: Airtight Buildings Reduce Cognitive Functioning

November 4, 2015 By Carl Weinschenk

air_ventAirtight buildings, which energy managers try to create as a means of cutting energy costs, could be hurting the cognitive abilities of occupants. A Research in Environmental Health Perspectives story reported upon at Inquistr says that research at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that fresher air leads to higher functioning. Green building designs lead to improvements. The gains can be even higher if carbon dioxide levels are lowered, according to the Inquistr story.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from pesticides, paints, fabric conditioners and air fresheners can cause headaches, respiratory infections, nervous system problems, liver and kidney issues and cancer, the story reports. If indoor air quality is improved, improvements are found in crisis response, information usage and planning, prioritizing, sequencing and other strategy skills.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers a tremendous amount of information on indoor air flow, including insight into variable air volume systems, which can provide savings of $0.10 to $0.20 per square foot compared to constant volume systems.

3 comments on “Researchers: Airtight Buildings Reduce Cognitive Functioning

  1. Given some of the negative press that energy efficiency has been receiving lately, it is important to accurately convey the findings from this research
    http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/advpub/2015/10/ehp.1510037.acco.pdf .
    This study in no way indicted “tight” buildings. What it did find is that poor indoor air quality negatively affects cognitive function. We have the technology to deliver excellent IAQ in very tight buildings and to do so efficiently. The study reinforces green building principles and supports the use of commissioning to ensure ventilation systems are working correctly.

  2. This is a sloppy piece of journalism, which passively suggests that ” airtight buildings”…are polluted with
    “Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from pesticides, paints, fabric conditioners and air fresheners ”
    The author needs to do his homework before reeling off another attention grabbing headline.

  3. In support of Jennifer’s comment. The lead of this story perpetuates the idea that “airtight” means “not well ventilated.” In many cases, tightening of a building envelope, coupled with properly designed and commissioned ventilation, can significantly improve indoor air quality by delivering fresh outside air to occupied spaces, rather than allowing air from unspecified sources to move in and out of the building, independent of occupancy.
    A singular focus on any one aspect of building performance will often lead to problems – that’s why green and sustainable building focuses on an integrated, whole-systems approach.

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