Reduce your environmental footprint one strategy at a time.

Healthy Indoor Air – You Need It!: Top 10 strategies!

Posted on | April 13, 2010 | 2 Comments

Healthy indoor air is arguably the most important benefit from green building.

I lived in an apartment for 4 years that had mold hiding somewhere.  Turns out I’m allergic to mold. I coughed basically the entire time I lived there.  It was miserable but I know from where I speak!

When I give a talk about the benefits of good clean indoor air quality, I start by asking the audience who spends an hour a day outside – most of the hands go up.  At the question of who spends about 1 to 2 hours outside a day on average, many hands go down and at 3 hours or more, there are rarely more than 1 or 2 hands still raised.

Given that we spend as much time indoors as prisoners typically do, focusing efforts on keeping our indoor environment as clean and healthy as possible is of paramount importance.

#1 Good Ventilation: The most important component of good indoor air is proper ventilation.  With all the talk about reducing air infiltration to increase energy efficiency, you don’t always hear the other side of the equation which is to make sure you have adequate fresh air both for healthy breathing and for safe combustion at your boiler.   If cooking smells hang around for a while or the rooms smell musty, you might want to check your ventilation rates.  Here’s a great explanation of how ventilation rates are calculated.  In summer, a vented skylight can take advantage of natural ventilation to flush the house of hot humid air and bring in cool fresh air. Bathroom fans should be run at least 25 mins after showers to reduce interior moisture. 

#2 Reduce the Number of Contaminants in the Air that get tracked in on your shoes: 80% of indoor air contaminants can be traced to shoes carrying contaminants from the outdoor world including dog poop, heavy metals from truck exhaust, road kill, garbage truck juice etc….See this post we did about cute mop shoes to wear around the house and 37 reasons to remove your shoes.

#3:  Clean the air. Air purifiers work fairly well to remove allergens and contaminants but they create ozone (which is an allergen), and use electricity to do so.  A less expensive and more aesthetically appealing way to clean the air is via plant life. This book will show you  how to grow your own clean indoor air and this is one of our projects where plants were used to improve the quality of the indoor air. Here’s Treehugger on healing and air-purifying plants in hospitals and the best air-filtering plants according to NASA.  If you’re still not convinced, here’s a TED talk with stats and everything about the air purifying powers of plants.

#4:  Make sure your smoke alarms are working. Change the batteries annually.  By code in NYC, there should be one within 15 feet of each bedroom door (and inside bedrooms in NJ).

#5:  Make sure your carbon monoxide (CO) alarms are working. They should be replaced every 5 years or so.  CO is lighter than air and is basically undetectable.  CO at high concentrations can kill you quickly and at low concentrations can make you feel sick and sluggish.  CO is not a naturally occurring compound – it is created from incomplete combustion and should NOT exist at all in your living space.  The commercially sold CO alarms typically have a lower sensitivity than a personal CO detector.  There should be at least one CO detector within 15 feet of bedroom doors,  one near the Boiler Room and anywhere there is a combustion appliance, including in the kitchen.  You are allowed to use a combination smoke/CO detectors but we recommend a stand-alone CO detector for the Kitchen because smoke alarms are very sensitive and will drive you crazy if there’s any amount of cooking smoke.

#6:  If you smell gas, call the a plumber or the utility immediately.

#7:  Open a window (or windows) for at least part of every day.

#8:  If you have a leak, correct it immediately!  This is a great post describing the importance of managing moisture in buildings.  Uncontrolled moisture will destroy your building.  And quick!

#9:  Use green cleaning products or make your own.  Cleaning products with few or no toxic chemicals make your indoor air easier to breathe and keep our waterways healthier.  Happy Spring Cleaning!

#10:  Remove mold: Mold requires moisture, and a non-ventilated cool area. Repair any active leaks first. Remove mold with (1:5 water:bleach or ammonia/dish detergent). Provide ventilation and heat. Sheetrock is the perfect medium for mold growth, if it comes back after cleaning, you need to replace the material the mold has grown on. Plaster fares much better than sheetrock. Other materials such a densglas can replace sheetrock. Ventilate for fresh air.


2 Responses to “Healthy Indoor Air – You Need It!: Top 10 strategies!”

  1. marisel bernal-epstein
    April 15th, 2010 @ 7:52 pm

    I tried to subscribe tp your feed…wasn’t clear on how to do that…

  2. Jay Hunt
    July 20th, 2010 @ 12:53 pm

    i love the smell of fresh air in the morning. it is so rejuvenation.’;*


Established in 1999, Ellen Honigstock Architect PC is a full-service architecture and energy auditing firm based in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

Our solutions are environmentally conscious and the criteria we use are based on national standards developed to bring long-term saving, efficiency and well-being to our clients. Over 35 years combined experience building in New York City gives us an edge in meeting tough schedules and navigating the city's complicated requirements.

About Ellen:

As the Residential Green Building Advocate for the Urban Green Council since 2007, Ellen has been promoting sustainability in the residential marketplace in NYC.

In the position of Chair of the Homes Subcommittee the NYC Greening the Codes Task Force, Ellen has been heavily involved in recommending new green policy in NYC as related to updating building codes, rules and regulations.

Ellen teaches Building Science, Building Envelope, Water Conservation, Indoor Air Quality, Quantifying Energy and Green Building Plans at the 1,000 Green Supers program for The SEIU Local 32 BJ Thomas Shortman Training Fund.

Registered Architect, NY, NJ, CT
LEED Accredited Professional
BPI Certifications:
Building Analyst
Energy Efficient Building Operator
Multi-Family Building Analyst

Ellen Honigstock, LEED AP
Ellen Honigstock Architect PC
45 Main Street #806
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(212) 228-1585


    Subscribe to our feed

    Join Our Mailing List


    Our usage on