Do Energy-Efficient Buildings Have a Downside?
February 26, 2014
When the Alberta Court of Appeal reopened after a renovation in 2001 to make the building more energy-efficient, it didn't take long before occupants started noticing problems. Judges, lawyers, and others complained of fatigue, irritated lungs, and watery eyes.
A professor of architecture asked to investigate the problem said that "within a couple of weeks, we shut down the whole courthouse," says reporter Umair Irfan.
The retrofitting that had so thoroughly sealed the building "helped cut energy costs but also trapped humidity inside that would otherwise have dried out in drafty air. Without adequate vapor barriers and ventilation, a toxic blend of mold grew in the walls," Irfan explains. Paper court documents now have to be scanned by employees wearing respirators.
While there are standards for HVAC in buildings, "attaching numbers to health is tricky compared to monitoring electricity use or water consumption in a structure. Indoor air quality, for example, changes dramatically from room to room, shifting based on how air circulates and how people use the area," Irfan notes.
Ultimately, it's up to architects and builders to ensure the quality of ventilation in buildings, whether new or retrofitted. Using materials that don't give off fumes or provide a welcome environment to mold and macteria is also important.
Source: "Can energy-efficient buildings make you sick?" ClimateWire (2/6/14)
Updated: September 18, 2019